Much has been written in the press about Sufiah’s current occupation, but to be perfectly frank, the vast majority of news articles out there are completely misleading on a number of crucial points regarding the family history. Sadly, it seems that most journalists would rather entertain their readers than focus on writing factually accurate articles; it’s not entirely their fault, though, as Farooq often talked nonsense to journalists and sometimes seemed to be actively trying to cultivate the appearance of eccentricity. Most of the family were embarrassed whenever he gave an interview to the press. In any case, let’s clear up some of those inaccuracies right now.
Misconception 1: All the Yusof children were taught via Farooq’s “accelerated learning methods” — a tortuous regime involving studying in the freezing cold, punishments for answering questions incorrectly, and “stretching and breathing exercises”.
Actually, Farooq wasn’t even responsible for the majority of the teaching! For most of the Yusof children’s early life, Halimahton was practically a single parent as Farooq was in prison (having been convicted of mortgage fraud) or on the run for six years — he only returned to the household when Iskander, the youngest at the time, was seven years old. By this stage, the Yusof children were already prodigies and were also anything from three to seven years ahead in most academic subjects, in spite of the fact that they spent most of their time engaged in less bookish activities (such as tennis or playing with other children).
So who really taught the Yusof children? Why, Halimahton of course! That said, she never intended to “create prodigies”, hothouse/homeschool her children, or in fact do anything other than bring up her children as well as she could under difficult circumstances. But even though she was on her own, Halimahton had a unique skillset that made her ideally suited to the role of caregiver, teacher, and provider for four young children. She quickly recognised that all babies are naturally curious and enthusiastic about learning, so it made perfect sense to not waste the early years of a child’s life by failing to give them any mental stimulation. And in a nutshell, this is why all the Yusof children became prodigies — Halimahton was able to develop a special bond with each of her children that made it very easy for them to learn from her.
Eventually, when Zuleikha was born, Halimahton realised that she had developed something resembling a “method” without really meaning to, but rather than being comprised of a strict set of rules, her techniques were flexible and varied depending on the personality, interests, and mood of the child. She didn’t call it an “accelerated learning method” because she believed it was foolhardy to try to teach a child faster than they were already willing to learn, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that in the long run this only hinders a person’s memory and understanding. In fact, Halimahton wouldn’t even try to teach any of her children unless they were in a good mood and interested in what she had to say, because she felt it was important that her children associate the act of learning with pleasant emotions.
The end result was that by the time the Yusof children were old enough for school, they were already many years ahead of their peers, but like most parents Halimahton decided to enroll them at the local Northampton school anyway — she had no intention of trying to homeschool her kids. Unfortunately, at that point in time (around 1989) most UK schools made absolutely no serious provision for highly able students who were so far ahead. While the school did make an effort to provide resources so that the Yusof children could keep themselves occupied, all that happened in practice was that they were left to study on their own and Halimahton invariably needed to supplement their schoolwork at home. In the end, Sufiah said that she no longer wanted to go to school and wanted her mother to teach her at home; Halimahton was dubious, as she was a single parent with limited finances and she knew that homeschooling would require a substantial commitment of time and effort. But after a long discussion with all her children, it became clear that they were all adamant about the fact that they would rather learn at home, and Halimahton enjoyed teaching (and learning with!) her kids so much that she eventually agreed.
After this decision was made, Halimahton resumed teaching her children; essentially, she just taught them according to her own comprehensive curriculum at whatever rate at which the children wanted to learn. There was never any need to try to get them to learn particularly quickly, as they were already many years ahead. All the “prodigy stuff” had been done in the first five years — the kids just worked for one or two hours per day, and that was it as far as formal schoolwork was concerned.
Unfortunately, everything changed when Farooq returned home in 1993. The children were initially very enthusiastic about his returning home — aside from just being happy to see him, they all wanted to show him what they were capable of. Halimahton had considered divorcing him, but her children’s excitement about their dad being back home made her feel that it was not worth proceeding with a messy divorce, as long as he learnt from his mistakes and avoided any criminal activities in the future. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. Farooq’s conviction made it difficult for him to find a job, so he decided to stay at home to “help” Halimahton raise the kids, and this was the beginning of all the problems.
Farooq’s ego proved to be the biggest problem — he believed himself to be more intelligent and knowledgeable than his wife, so he took over the children’s tennis coaching from her (but their academic work continued as normal). Unlike Halimahton, Farooq knew nothing about how to relate to children and he frequently grew impatient because he could not get them to do what he wanted them to do; the public nature of tennis would also often hurt his pride, as he would feel personally embarrassed whenever they didn’t perform. This would lead to outbursts on the tennis court where he would shout at the children and occasionally smack them. Again, Halimahton considered divorce but because of her precarious financial situation and the fact that she was pregnant with Zuleikha, she decided to try reasoning with him instead to persuade him that his behaviour was wrong. In retrospect, this was clearly a bad decision but at the time it seemed like divorce would only have lead to extreme hardship and an uncertain future.
While Farooq was coaching the children in tennis, their academic work was still progressing (independently and with Halimahton) and eventually they were ready to start working on their A-levels (apart from Iskander, who was much younger than the others and preferred to study for his GCSEs with his mother). Most of the childrens’ A-level work was undertaken independently; Farooq did not spend much time teaching them except when their exams were near. He was just as bad at teaching maths as he was at tennis coaching, and his inability to relate the material to his children caused the same kinds of outbursts as on the tennis court. Fortunately, the work Halimahton had done with the children previously had given them the ability to work very effectively on their own, so in spite of Farooq’s poor behaviour they still performed very well in their A-levels.
In summary, Farooq contributed very little to the children’s education and academic achievements before university — probably about 75% of their education was with Halimahton when they were still young, and the rest was due to their own independent work. Without him, the Yusof children would have done things just as early but without any of the scandals that he so often created for himself.
Misconception 2: The Yusof children only became prodigies because they were forced to work unreasonably hard and/or were homeschooled.
False. Halimahton never worked with them for two hours per day, and during their A-levels the kids studied as much or as little as they wanted to.
As explained above, the children were only homeschooled because they were already prodigies by the time they enrolled at their local school and it was unable to provide for them. Today, though it depends to a certain extent on the area, many good schools are better-equipped to handle such highly able children.
The children were not born prodigies, but Halimahton’s ability to figure out lots of ways to stimulate and encourage their natural love of learning helped them achieve the potential that she believes is innate in every child.
Misconception 3: TV and pop music were banned in the household.
This isn’t even remotely true. All the children regularly watched many TV series like Fawlty Towers, the X-Files, and Star Trek, in addition to the usual movies, sports, and so on. Their tastes have changed a lot since then, though!
Pop music certainly wasn’t banned either — everyone in the family likes music and it was common to hear anything from rap to classical all over the household. Halimahton actually considers music, singing and dancing (not to mention acting) to be an excellent way to relate things to young children.
Misconception 4: The Yusof parents put tremendous pressure on their kids to succeed.
Untrue, because they didn’t need to — high achievers naturally tend to have correspondingly high expectations and thus they put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. Most of the truly ridiculous expectations were held by people outside the family, who often seemed to believe that a prodigy should be perfect at absolutely everything; in reality, prodigies fail just as often as anyone else, which isn’t actually a bad thing as eventually everyone needs to learn to cope with failure in a sensible manner.
Misconception 5: Sufiah’s abilities were unique, even within the family.
Not really — while she was very good, she’s just been in the media spotlight much more than the others because of what happened after she went to Oxford. Iskander was a year younger when he went to university and Zuleikha was considerably younger than either when she completed her A-levels (although she already has the qualifications, Zuleikha has not yet applied to university as she wants to explore many of her interests and further develop as an individual before entering uni). Of course, the media like to portray Sufiah as a unique case because it makes for a better story.
Source : http://hyusof.com/