As a senior consultant with educational firm The Red Pen, Naqiya delves into her own educational journey, what education means to her, and why it is an ever-evolving journey.
It’s buzzing college acceptances and graduations around the world as students, parents and the entire education consortium heave a sigh of relief. The jury is out; some feel vindicated, yet many are left bewildered. By any angle, and for any player, the maze of higher education is a labyrinth to navigate. Which course? Which school? Which country? And most resoundingly: what defines a ‘good’ education?
In hindsight, it was probably to escape the rowdiness of four brothers that I safeguarded myself in my room and nosedived into books as a child. I could read for hours on end. Then, to the oft-chagrin of the same brothers, I would conjure up the most outrageous stories and insist on enacting them. Imagination animated me with its endless possibilities.
For someone who loved school though, I had a rather unconventional journey. My primary years consisted of a typical English prep school. But outside of that, our ‘education’ was buoyed not with extra classes hither and thither, but by off-campus experiences like travel, our father’s intriguing business associates, and a close-knit community. That our extended family lived across the world further exposed us to the tutelage of an international society.
When I hit my teens, I left London for Karachi where I had sought admission to our community academy, Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah. What followed were a glorious five years of boarding school in an institute which prepared us in every facet of life. The time spent there became the cornerstone of all my experiences and understanding thereafter.
When I married and moved to India, my pursuit for knowledge, and the new journey I embarked upon with my children, strengthened my conviction that the modalities of education are both varied and distinct. In my early years, when my father-in-law offered insight into the implausibility of a stringent degree course whilst managing two kids under two, it was a hard truth to reckon with. But I heeded the advice and instead, hustled to find something that fit my lifestyle and interests. A diploma in design was more feasible, and the experience opened up an unknown creative side of me with the surprising outcome of turning entrepreneur. A novice, I leveraged my family business background, English roots, and newfound design skills to power growth for my home decor brand. Through additional short courses, my quest to stay informed and relevant, remained a constant.
After a six-year stint, when I had to shut down my design firm due to a string of circumstances—I took a year off to recalibrate. I joked I was on ‘extended maternity leave’, but the truth was, I had changed. Times had changed. Further, with four kids entering crucial stages of their life, I needed to re-evaluate. Serendipitously, when a chance encounter with an old client led to me being offered the opportunity to work in the education space, it fit. Five years after ‘trying it out’, I am still energised by the sheer opportunities and impact that education can deploy.
When I was hired as the only non-college graduate in a firm whose core business was servicing aspiring college students, it signalled how much change was abound in the professional world. What counts on your résumé today is no longer just a litany of certificates. Your profile should represent something far more selective. How do you conduct yourself? What interpersonal skills do you demonstrate? Where can you apply yourself? How ‘interesting’ are you? Most importantly, how interested are you?
When I examine my own journey—through home decor, product design, entrepreneurship and educational consultancy—I see how each chapter essayed a different side of me, at a different time in my life. What I have discovered throughout my own experience and those of my students, is that as the world moves towards multi-disciplinary learning and a varied career portfolio—core competencies in technology, design, multilingual prowess, self-directed learning, strong oral and written skills, financial literacy, and a high level of EQ—is what students of every age should be looking to hone. Ultimately, in a future which is hybrid, cross-pollinated, and complex, it will be these abilities that will underscore success.
“Who? What? When? How? WHY?”
My five-year-old funnels these questions into my every day and forms the impetus for my own continued learning. In today’s digital age, the tsunami of information can get overwhelming for anyone and the blueprint for what is the ‘best’ education is so blurred.
The biggest takeaway from my own trajectory, is that education is not a linear derivative. It has no age bar. It does not conform to one school or another. The circuitry of educational tools available today are in no dearth. When feeling a vacuum of stimulation or wrung of ideas, I am known to go off on an awareness blitz. Previously, this has been through professional courses. More recently, this consists of reading biographies, attending literary festivals, identifying mentors and the most rewarding: having meaningful conversations. Maybe it’s because I’ve crossed the hill now; attaining zen-like status is a thing for the Forties Club.
Though not the by-product of it, I am still an absolute and avid supporter of the value of formal education. But what kind of education do we need to combat the challenges of today and tomorrow? Are we—as parents, educators and stakeholders—recognising this need for not only traditional verticals and age-old pedagogy, but a multi-faceted, dynamic approach to educating the next generation?
When my daughters indulge me, we canvas ideas on how—with the freedom of learning anything we want to, and pursuing careers with ambition—should we retain our fundamental roles in society. In tandem with discussing trends such as ‘forest bathing’ or the merits of ChatGPT, we zoom in on what role women can play in cultivating health, relationships and societal life. The metrics of success, and more importantly, a fulfilling life, rests on so much more than textbooks and titles.
So what educational frequency do we need to tune into today? In 2021, Duke university’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences introduced a new program for their sophomore students. “Transformative Ideas” is a ground-breaking look into ‘those enduring questions and big ideas that change lives, link cultures, and shape societies around the world’. Together with The Purpose Project, the aim is to ‘help students imagine their lives as more than a career, but as lives in the context of commitments to character, community, and the world.’
Simply said, when education synchronises with a value system, a metamorphosis occurs which is deep and resounding.
My years at Aljamea moulded my identity and laid the foundation for what I wanted my life to look like. As its alumni forge on to become champions of social progress in diverse fields, I reflect on how, by being rooted in a community and value system, we are able to go deep in our learning, and meta in our impact. Today the institution even has an annual alumni meet where we again revisit the questions of what our purpose in life is, and how we can take definitive, positive action.
As my children transition between starting school (my five-year-old) and ending school (my 21-year-old), and as I consider my own next steps, I find that I am drawn to institutions, programs and platforms which marry this vision—where context, relevance, and purpose cohabit with excellence to bring about the ultimate aim of education: transformation.