Frequently Asked Questions

What if I have more questions?

Click through these questions and see if we answer yours!

Was this educational philosophy and methodology (Self-Directed Education) tried before in Egypt?

We have previously implemented our tools and principles of self-directed and agile education in several summer and winter camps with children ages 4 – 14 years old. After the success with which the camps were received by parents and children and due to the constant encouragement by our parents community, we decided to open a permanent learning space.

On our Testimonials page you can find some of the testimonials from parents and children who attended our previous camps. 

Does this educational philosophy work anywhere else in the world?

Yes, in our modern days, Self-Directed Education has been tried all over the world from India to South Africa, from the United Kingdom to Canada and the United States , from Peru and Mexico to Jordan and Palestine. It is sometimes referred to as: Unschooling, Free Learning, Democratic Education or Schooling. And there is so much evidence that it WORKS!

Below is some of this evidence. However, it is worth mentioning that SDE has been there before “Schooling” became the norm. It is the way our societies educated children always before modern schools became compulsory. Hence, going to Self-Directed Education is more of an invitation to go back to our roots and find our own wisdom rather than the ones imposed on us by mass-scale education.

What proof exists that SDE WORKS?

First: We are a part of a global expanding network of self-directed education micro-schools, this network is called Agile Learning Centers (ALCs), you can check ALC and its results around the world on their website HERE.

Second: more articles and resources on Self-Directed Education and how it works can be found in our RESOURCES section.  You can start by this article HERE which is a review of the biological foundations we have inside us as humans for Self-Directed Education as well as a trace of the history of such type of schools around the world and what their graduates did. Believe it or not these types of schools have been around in the world since the early 1900s.

Research on Self-Directed Education shows that most of students have figured out what their core passions are and are actively organizing their future around those things during school years.

What does a typical day at your learning space look like?

Please check out THIS SECTION of the website to learn more about how our day and week look like. 

What methodologies do you use to deliver educational offerings/classes?

To know the details of our learning model and the philosophy that govern our work, please visit our LEARNING MODEL page.  You can also visit this page to know how a typical day or week at our learning community look like.

Something else to share here: 

While everything we do is embedded within the framework of Self-Directed Education, we also use different methodologies when we deliver our education offerings. The important thing is, children CHOOSE to opt-in for every offering we present at the learning space and they create their own personalized learning plans. 

Here are some of the methodologies that act as our guide as we design every educational offering, program or experience:

PLAY BASED LEARNING

Learning through play is an essential element of all what we do. This doesn’t only mean that we deliver educational concepts through play which is proven to support children’s overall growth as well as social and emotional intelligence. However, it also means that we believe that just play is learning in an of itself.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 

This entails that learners engage in an offered activity, then reflect on that experience and conceptualize it and then experiment with the new findings. We are agile and hence participants learn through the continuous iterations and reflections on what they do.

INQUIRY BASED LEARNING

Learners ask the right questions and pursue answers to those questions by finding the right tools and resources for it. They are then invited to share those answers with the learning community. Learners lead a process of exploration that feeds their passion and curiosity.

LEARNING BY LIVING AND APPRENTICING 

This learning happens through action and interaction. Learners work on projects, problem solve and do outdoor work like apprenticeships and community volunteering.

They get to be with and around adults and real life challenges and conversations. This is how they really grow, by being subjected to real life not sheltered from it.

PEER TO PEER LEARNING 

Learners do not only learn from one source of knowledge, being the teacher, they also interact, exchange and learn from their peers. 

UNLEARNING

We believe that it is important to unlearn. Our environments have inserted ideas and facts that we take for granted, we re-question, reassess and reconstruct ideas and facts of our world today.

We weave the above mentioned methodologies together to create our learning offerings and experiences. We appreciate diversity. We are all different and learn in different ways hence creating a learning experience that accommodates the specific intelligence and gifts of every child is essential.  

What do you teach and what do children actually learn?

Please visit our page here to know more about what we offer and what do students get out of it. It is important to know that learners create their own personalized learning plans and they follow their interests and passions with the support of their facilitators and other members of our learning community. 

How do you prepare children for college?

In terms of Credentials and options for certifications, if children that go through our learning model choose to go to college when the time is right, they have several options to do so:

1st: they take the SAT (commonly known as: American diploma) exams or an online high school diploma which qualify them for college.

2nd: they take normal Egyptian high school exams by registering for them ahead on the “home-education” track.

3rd: if your children are planning to study for university outside Egypt, there is a growing number of universities worldwide that accept unschooled children through learning portfolios and college entrance assessments, among which is Harvard and Stanford universities. This is why we care about supporting our learners to develop their own portfolios. Additionally, when children learn how to learn, they will be able to satisfy any college entry requirements or study for any tests they need independently.

You can have a look at this list of colleges outside Egypt that accept children with no formal high school diploma HERE.

Are you curious to know how our model of education prepares children for College, in fact more than traditional schooling, read this article below written by our colleague and Agile Learning Facilitator, Jen Gager. Original Article: How is College Different from High School and How Do We Prepare Kids for It? 

 

Will my child be competitive and prepared to go to college?

If  that’s the direction that they choose.

There is longitudinal data of students who chose self-directed learning as their path in different parts of the world. Most of the kids who want to get into college do. Having alternative forms of record keeping and evaluation has not been an impediment for kids who want to go to college. In fact, there’s a proven advantage for people whose college applications can’t be tidily ranked by Total Scores and academic track: a human has to actually look at their portfolio. Our students document their learning on shareable platforms, such as blogs and Kanbans and they keep digital portfolios.

When a self-directed learner decides they want to go to college, they know why they want to go. Many students unquestioningly spend thousands and several years of their lives going through college because that’s what they think they’re “supposed” to do. Intentionally entering a learning environment to accomplish a specific purpose is more likely to bring about positive outcomes.

Are you curious to know how our model of education prepares children for College, in fact more than traditional schooling, read this article written by our colleague and Agile Learning Facilitator, Jen Gager. Original Article can be found HERE. 

If my child wants to sit for regular school exams at the end of every year, will your facilitators support them?

If a participant in our learning community declares the intention to attend such exams or to do specific exams to prepare for  college, they can schedule time during the day for work that moves them towards reaching their goal. As during any other project a student decides to take on, facilitators are available to provide support, resources, and coaching. So participants can build in more time in their schedule to focus on school studying or doing an exam for example, should that be what they decide to do.

How do they learn to operate in the “real world”?

By engaging with it – consistently. Our students recognize that the whole world is their classroom. They go to the grocery shop for cooking project ingredients, spend time in parks, call restaurants to ask about hours and shops to ask about inventory; they organize field trips around their interests, attend conferences and meet-ups, create entrepreneurial opportunities, participate in community activities and connect with their peers around the world online. They can do all these things and more on any given day. In fact, they are encouraged to.

Why choose a different/alternative model of educationfor my child?

In every educational setting, there is what is called a “hidden curriculum”. A “hidden curriculum are lessons which are learnt but not openly intended such as the transmission of norms, values, and beliefs conveyed in the classroom and the social environment (Wikipedia, 2017). Below is a simple comparison between the hidden curriculum of traditional schooling and that of a self-directed education community.

 

Traditional Schooling

Self-Directed Education Community

Compulsion: children do not opt in for school, they are forced to go at a certain age and between certain times. Children do not choose what they study, when or how they study it.

Choice: an environment where agency, autonomy and freedom of choice are encouraged and practiced. Children opt-in and sign an agreement before joining. We amplify agency by creating space for children to design their own learning experiences accompanied by their facilitators. Children choose their learning focuses and resources in a way that fits their unique passions and intelligence. Choice is at every step of the way.

Competition: children are shamed and stigmatized if they are not among the first top students in class or the ones who get an “A”. Children are conditioned to pursue life as a race for scarce resources.

Collaboration: we create playful, joyful and trusting environments. Our learning community consists of children, facilitators, parents, elders and resource people; we all come together to create an intentional culture, a culture that allows us to live harmoniously together. Children are an integral part of governing the space through the weekly “change-up” meetings where all the community members collaborate to reach common agreements and address any issues. We emphasize on infinite play that allows children to collaborate rather than compete.   

Compartmentalization of Knowledge:  School subjects are detached from life applications. Children do not know how to relate complex concepts to simple daily life needs or applications.



Inter-disciplinary and Multi-disciplinary learning:  Learning is holistic. We focus on self-knowledge, knowledge intentionally pursued by children, rather than dictated, fragmented knowledge. We give children long study block times, as much as they need. We apply play-based, theme-based, inquiry-based, exchange-based, apprenticeship-based and project-based education, all of which allow children to draw the force of their learning from within. We nurture children to discover their own passions, talents and intelligence to be able to lead a more fulfilling life and to carve their unique pathways (not the ones dictated by society). We cater learning to the life experiences of the child and the needs that come out of it.  

Mono-culture: Schools imposes uniformity and standardization.  They propagate the viewpoint that diversity is a problem. School curriculum privilege literacy (in a few elite languages) over all other forms of human expression and creation. Children wear a similar uniform, study the same textbooks and answer the same model answers to pass their education exams. Schools normalize and unify children’s individual unique talents, gifts, intelligence and different modes of expression. Children are forced to learn a one-size-fits-all curriculum that disregards their individual needs, gifts and passions. A one-size-fits-all model also does not take into consideration the children’s small community needs (for example rural needs versus urban or bedouin or coastal ..etc).

Multi-culture:  a culture that embraces diversity and sees it as a strength. We do this through catering a personalized learning journey for every student guided by their facilitators. Additionally, we offer student exchanges with our partners at Agile Learning Centers, a global, US based, expanding micro schools network. This allows students to be exposed to and appreciative of diversity since a young age.

Certificate: schools confine the motivation for learning to examinations and certificates. It suppresses all non-certificate related motivations to learn and kills all desire to engage in critical self-evaluation. A learner is assessed externally through one method: exams, a rigid method that does not speak to the learner’s holistic education. Additionally, such exams condition the learner that their self-worth only comes from an external validation, thus, creating intellectual and emotional dependency.

Digital Portfolio: children have a living, pulsating proof of what they learnt, implemented and achieved throughout the year. Portfolios include the learner’s own self-assessment as well as that of their facilitators and the resource people who supervise the child’s work, apprenticeships and projects. It is through these portfolios that children can apply for internships, jobs and even university degrees.

De-contextualization:  Schools create artificial divisions between learning and home, work, play, spirituality. Schooling breaks inter-generational bonds of family and community and increases people’s dependency on the Government and the market forces. Schools de-link knowledge from wisdom, practical experiences and specific contexts.

Contextualization and Community Embedded: Learning is culture specific and embedded within community needs, urban landscape and cultural contexts. For example, a child living in a rural area may want to focus on different things than a child in an urban setting. It is the child who decides at the end according to their social and cultural context as well as interests and passions. Children work on real-life challenges and projects. Through our hands-on learning processes, we facilitate the learner’s awareness of their community needs in order to contribute to the country’s future social and economic situation with one’s fullest self in a collaborative, inter-dependent manner with the rest of the community members.

Commodification: schools are increasingly viewed as for-profit business opportunities which renders education a real burden on average Egyptian families. It is also viewed as a commodity to buy.



Cooperative Working and Gift Culture: We believe that learning is natural and it is happening all the time. We operate on sliding scales of contributions to accommodate different socio-economic abilities. We work with the resources available in our environment.  Parents come together to self-organize and share resources in a cooperative manner that makes learning less resource intensive and affordable.

Carrot and Stick (punishment and reward): rules and structures exist and are protected by the adults in the school. There is a manipulation of students behavior through punishments, incentives or rewards. Hence, diminishing any capacity to do things out of an internal motivation.

Intentional Culture Creation: Embedding values and behaviors into the culture allows us to operate without an oppressive number of rules or overbearing structure. Because everyone is democratically participating in the culture creation, and revisiting the cultural norms every while, everyone is invested in supporting it. Tools that facilitate intentional culture creation serve to make implicit cultural norms explicit. These tools help us practice new patterns of behavior through social agreement, and enhance accountability.

How can I be sure my kids will learn the things they need to know? (math, writing, etc.)

If something is actually basic knowledge that you need in order to live successfully in this world, you can’t help but learn it. The “basics” will be captured in kids’ natural learning, which happens through living. We don’t need to force or trick them into learning something basic.

Basic knowledge and skills are defined by our current world. Whereas once it may have been basic to know how to saddle a horse, today it is basic to know how to open a web browser. The rich world environment in which we operate sets us up to prioritize knowledge and skills reliably and naturally based on our experiences.

We believe that when learners engage with self-generated questions and activities, that come from real life needs, they learn quickly and deeply – covering years of content in a much smaller period of time.

For example: we will not give a learner a Math class just for the sake of learning “math”. We do not believe there is such a thing as learning something except when the learner is ready for it. Hence, we create contexts and scenarios through which our learners get to experience and explore different skills and knowledge. We wait for the natural opportunity of interest to arise from a child’s question and we follow it. For example: a learner maybe working on a project to create a small business, in the process, there comes a point where they find the “need” for Math in real life, that is during their budgeting and sales process. OR a learner maybe sewing a dress and needs to take measurement. The latter two are examples when learners will turn in to their facilitator or community for support to learn Math; there is an internal drive for learning. At this point, children learn in a way that touches their life needs, that is applicable and that lasts with them forever.

Are there certain traditional subject areas that are a priority?

We don’t sort knowledge into subject areas, as doing so discourages learners from interdisciplinary and holistic thinking and exploring innovative applications they may invent. Learning isn’t about amassing data; it’s about making connections, deepening understanding, solving problems, creating, and sharing. Facilitators support students in exploring the relatedness and convergence of learning domains, both in school and in the world around us. Sorting or prioritizing traditional subjects is rarely useful from this perspective.

The most progressive schools around the world now are turning into theme-based or topic-based learning rather than subject-based learning. Topic-based learning allows a learner to study all subjects through the lens of a topic of his/her interest. For example, if a child is so crazy about cars that he only focuses on it all day, there is a huge opportunity for him to learn about math, mechanics, physics, history, anthropology and others through the lens of the cars he is interested in.

We work with what is important for each child and we respect the window of learning that they are ready for at each stage of their lives. Eventually, children will at different points in their lives gather similar things. They just operate and develop their intelligence differently and they do not all have to know the same thing at the same time, because at some point in their adolescence, a child who learnt something earlier in their lives will not be any different from a child who learnt the same thing at a later point in his life when he was ready for it. In fact respecting the time that every child exhibits to learn something makes learning faster, deeper, more enjoyable with more lasting effects.

Are there certain levels of math that you try to achieve? Do you try to teach reading?

Children are naturally curious and capable. In a rich and stimulating environment, we don’t have to try to teach them anything: they teach themselves or ask (of each other and facilitators) to be taught. When they need math to play a video game, track sport statistics, bake cakes, budget for a trip, or otherwise navigate the world, they will request to learn it and we will support them.

When they need to read and write to create stories with their friends, manage their own blogs, use our learning tools (like kanbans) independently, find out what happens in the next Harry Potter book, decipher notes from friends, research dinosaurs, or otherwise navigate the world, they will learn it the same way. Especially in an environment where facilitators model passionate learning and the community supports–rather than shames–students who learn at different paces, children stay curious and eager to keep learning.

How do students prioritize their interests/goals?

In lots of ways. We have learning tools so children can prioritize their intentions. Sometimes they create new tools. Often they set personal goals that they have realized on their own or through conversations with facilitators. They prioritize activities that move them towards their goals, like most of us do when we want something, and they reflect often, during reflection time, on how they are choosing to spend their time.

If you don’t make them take a variety of classes, how will they get exposed to new fields? Isn’t there a chance they’ll miss discovering a passion if they aren’t required to try new things?

Children today are swimming in a flood of information. They get exposed to a greater diversity of ideas, issues, cultures, facts, problems and opportunities in a month than most people got in their lifetimes just 50 years ago. A single newspaper contains more text than a literate person read in their lifetime 100 years ago.

Kids today carry in their hands devices with instantaneous access to almost the entire documented history of human knowledge. Then we tell them to put down their devices; we lock them in classrooms and spoon-feed them bits of information, isolated and out of context. We tell them that they need to memorize things they could look up in an instant. Then we grade them on whether they can regurgitate the current politically correct answers on a test. The assumption behind this question is upside down. 

Traditional schooling cuts students off from the flow of information available to them and divides selections of that information into little boxes disconnected from their lives (English, Math, Social Studies, etc.), then presents this information as if students would never have encountered it otherwise. Knowledge is something holistic and integrated, and students are integrating it all the time — whether or not they’re in school.

The real question today should be: In this staggering flood of overexposure, how will my child learn to filter to what is important from the unimportant, to focus on their domains of passion, and to determine “good” information from “bad?” These are the important skills for a modern child, skills they won’t get from some school board doing the filtering for them.

How do they learn if you don’t teach them?

We do teach them, but they would learn even if we didn’t. Learning is natural and it happens all the time. Babies learn to crawl, walk, and talk without being explicitly taught these things. If we think of what a baby can do in his first 3 years without any “teaching”, we will know that it is miraculous. They look at who and what exists in the world around them, copy and experiment with what they see, practice and learn the skills they need to grow in inter-dependence and connectivity to others.

In learning communities that value authenticity and collaboration, it’s inevitable that we’ll teach each other. Sometimes this happens through classes and workshops, sometimes through conversations and modeling. But it’s always happening.

What do Learning Facilitators do?

Facilitators witness.

Facilitators model.

Facilitators reflect.

Facilitators facilitate.

Facilitators hold the space.

Facilitators support students in clarifying their intentions, getting connected to the resources they need, reflecting on their decisions, engaging with the community, and sharing their learning. They work to keep the space safe, legal, and respectful. They collaborate with students to develop a powerfully positive culture. Facilitators model clear communication, collaboration, and authenticity. They embody our learning model and are grounded in trust. 

Additionally, facilitators do offer sessions in multiple topics and themes every day using our different learning approaches. Last, facilitators track the trajectory of a child holistically (head, heart and hand level) and can recommend certain activities or resource people based on a learner’s interests.

Do you just let kids do whatever they want?

Yes and no. Our communities have very clear expectations and boundaries that the children agree to in order to participate. These include productively engaging with the group process, taking care of the space, and taking care of each other. Pursuits must be safe and legal. We clean the messes we make together and follow a simple conflict resolution process when those messes are relational. We collaborate to build positive cultural norms rather than lists of rules.

A maxim we reference when creating new structures is “maximum support with minimum interference.” Our students have a lot of freedom as they get clear about what they truly want to create for and of themselves. With clear boundaries and agreements, they also have the support they need to feel safe using that freedom to question, experiment, explore, and grow.

What boundaries are there?

Our communities set boundaries to create safe, legal, and respectful environments. Students commit to uphold certain agreements to participate in our learning community. These include productively engaging with the group process and meetings, taking care of and respecting the space, and taking care of and respecting each other bodies, emotions and belongings. Communities meet weekly to review cultural patterns and create new agreements together; parents may request certain limits so that home and school space are aligned like refusing their children to travel for example.

But what if we define “boundaries” more broadly than just as “rules”? Then this question becomes an interesting one about priorities and opportunities to practice skills that students will need to grow into empowered individuals. In environments where students don’t get a say in their work loads, levels of physical activity, or collaboration styles, they don’t have as many opportunities to practice recognizing, setting, or holding personal boundaries. We recognize that these are vital life skills; as such, Facilitators are intentional in both modeling boundary management and supporting students doing the same.

Why are your learning communities age-mixed?

Segregating people into age cohorts, a practice that really only happens at school, limits their exposure to accessible role models and their opportunities to teach skills they’ve acquired. In an age-mixed environment, older students learn patience and compassion while supporting the younger students. Younger students watch and emulate older students. Everyone gets practice both teaching and learning from people with varying skill levels, learning styles, and attention spans. The results tend to be awe-inspiring.

What if a child is regularly missing morning meeting?

Participation in meetings is one of the major commitments students agree to when they join our learning space. Regularly missing morning and afternoon meetings is a breach of this agreement, and it negatively impacts student ability to shape the learning we have in our community. Why the fuss? The few meetings we have serve to support student intention-setting, collaboration, reflection, and culture creation. Missing these meetings significantly impacts a student’s ability to participate in the community. Furthermore, parents of students who miss meetings–who opt out of the structures supporting regular practice of intention-setting and reflection–often end up asking staff how to support their student in more deliberately taking advantage of opportunities at the space. Step one: help make sure they’re present for meetings.

How do kids adjust coming from traditional schooling, or going back to it?

Children, especially older ones, coming from traditional schooling usually have a “detox” period where they test their limits to be sure that they really aren’t going to be forced to do things or graded on their “performance.” When it turns out that there isn’t much to rebel against, boredom and positive peer pressure usually motivate them to start trying new things and engaging with the community.

Learning is always occurring. As a result, students coming from traditional schooling arrive having learned communication styles, value judgments, and assumptions about power dynamics (and their own capacities) that they then un-learn at our learning community. This is why unlearning is in fact one of our learning strategies.

If students choose to return to traditional schooling, we expect they will be able to communicate clearly, manage their time, and find information/resources they need to achieve goals. They take the skills they learn at our learning community with them–along with the knowledge that they’re choosing to go for a reason. As a result, we expect they will transition smoothly.

How will children learn self-discipline?

If you have experience with small children, you’ve probably seen them incredibly focused while persistently working towards a goal: stacking all the blocks, trying to reach the drinking fountain unassisted, mixing ingredients, playing with a pet, etc. When kids are intrinsically motivated to pursue a goal, they typically practice self-discipline where necessary without being bribed or threatened by adults. And when the goal is their own rather than an adult-imposed one, achieving it establishes a correlation in their experience between self-discipline and satisfaction. They know and practice self-discipline; they get to learn that it has value.

How do you assess children without tests?

There are several ways. Our primary assessment is that each student is a capable and powerful human with value to add to the world.

Relationships:

How do we track learners growth and progress? By developing authentic relationships in which we support their self-reflection and self-assessment and bear witness to their journeys. When children trust us as facilitators, they tell us where they feel they are at with a certain skill or knowledge. Otherwise, if kids feel watched or monitored or assessed all the time, they tend to hide the things they don’t know and only put forward what they are good at, which is not conducive to their learning and growth.

Documentation:

Learners document their reflections and projects on their blogs, where both form and content illustrate the evolution of their thinking and skills.

Additionally, learners have digital learning portfolios that document their learning and progress and which include feedback from people they have worked with. These portfolios support them as they seek jobs, internships or college admissions.

Feedback Council:

Every child has a feedback council that consists of one of his peers/friends, one family member and a third person that is either a facilitator, a resource person or a person from the school’s wisdom council. Children choose the members on their feedback council for the year. Feedback councils accompany a children through their learning journeys, help him set their learning intentions, direct them to learning resources and assess their work.

Personal Learning Proposals/Maps: 

Elder children plan their learning on a more longer term span through using their learning proposals with the help of their feedback council. Learning proposals are iterative and they change as the child’s interests and passions change and as new inquiries arise.

Special needs students: How do you meet their needs?

On the one hand, due to the amount of self-possession our participants are expected to demonstrate and limits on our resources, we don’t currently meet the needs of all types of children. On the other hand, certain learning differences don’t show up as problematic in our environment like for example, children with ADHD diagnosis.. 

We know that participants with ADHD, for example, usually learn to choose jobs that are active, changing, and stimulating rather than tasks that require sitting and writing for hours on end. They know their strengths and challenges and then pick corresponding kinds of activities and thrive in our environment.  In traditional school, children aren’t typically given the chance to make such choices; no matter their energy and attention levels, they are expected to all do the same thing–sit, listen, and write–all day.

At our learning community, students are encouraged to pay attention to their patterns and work styles, and they’re supported in making choices accordingly. As a result, they learn to adapt, to maximize chances to play up their strengths, rather than feeling shamed for and fixating on their limitations. The result is that they keep their confidence and grow their capacities.

Having said all of this, we are not ready yet to receive a student who needs constant supervision or individual care-takers.