PODCAST: Episode 2
Ameera Faber – Defying Traditional Education and Homeschooling Pre and Post COVID
Ameera Faber, a successful entrepreneur and passionate mom of two talks to us about defying traditional education with her children. What an incredible conversation with Ameera, learning about her pure passion for how she decided to take an uncommon and unconventional education journey with her children.
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About Our Guest: Ameera Faber
Ameera is a Creative Solutions Strategist, Executive Producer, and Serial Business owner. She is best known for her work in Time Wealth Creation and Consulting. Ameera founded her first business, a production agency when she was 21 years old.
She created the South African Edutainment television series, Teenagers on a Mission, otherwise known as ‘TOMZ’ which first broadcast on SABC 1 in 2010. It is the story of two teenagers from Soweto who received a message from the future to save the planet. The Science & Technology focused series has broadcast over 700 episodes and still broadcasts to date.
Ameera’s television show ‘1s and 2s’ is also a household name with a primetime viewership of over 3 million people and focuses on the development of South African musicians. Having observed the power of entertainment to educate, Ameera began exploring other unconventional methods of learning including gamification, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality, while simultaneously questioning and exploring the needs of the underlying frameworks that make up today’s education system.
As well as being a successful businesswoman, Ameera is a full-time mother of 2 very talented children whom she successfully homeschools according to her unique guiding principles in an effort to provide her kids with the best learning experience possible.
- Ameera’s personal education journey.
- How Ameera homeschool’s her kids.
- Defying traditional education.
- The shortcomings of the traditional education system.
- How to optimize your day as a busy parent.
- The importance of communicating with your kids.
- How to define a successful education experience.
Full Episode Transcription
Philip Von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Ameera Faber. Ameera is a creative solutions strategist, an executive producer, and a serial entrepreneur. She is best known for her work in Time Wealth creation and founded her first business at the age of 21. She created the South African edutainment television series Teenagers on a Mission otherwise known as TOMZ, which first broadcast on SABC 1 in 2010. This science and technology-focused series has broadcast over 700 episodes, and still broadcasts today. Ameera’s television show, 1’s and 2’s, is also a household name with a primetime viewership of over three million people, which focuses on the development of South African musicians.
Having observed the power of entertainment to educate, Ameera began exploring other unconventional methods of learning, including gamification, virtual reality, and online learning. As well as being a successful businesswoman, Ameera is a full-time mother of two very talented children whom she successfully homeschools, according to her unique guiding principles, in an effort to provide her kids with the best learning experience possible.
In this episode, we cover topics such as how Ameera homeschools her kids, the shortcomings of the traditional education system, how to optimise your day as a busy parent, the importance of communicating with your kids, how to define a successful education and a range of other topics. I really enjoyed this thought-provoking conversation with Ameera, and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I give you Ameera Faber.
Ameera, nice to have you on the show. Tell us a little bit about your personal education journey.
Ameera Faber: Okay, so I was blessed to go to a private school, I think, in the apartheid sort of era, which meant that because I’m a woman of color, I ended up going to a Catholic convent school. And it was a very strict education, a very good one, but quite strict.
I enjoyed school a lot and I excelled. I was at the top of my class and that continued all the way to the end of high school. And I ended up getting a scholarship to do a Bachelor of Science degree. And then I ended up deciding that it would be far cooler to do a degree in TV and Film, and so that is my personal education journey.
And I guess that’s the journey I expected my children to go on as well. I have a 12-year old son and a 6-year old daughter. And when my son was born, I put his name down at all of the best schools that I could think of. So was I put his name down at Michaelhouse, at St John’s, Hilton College. These are the caliber of schools that I grew up with, and my expectation was that he would do the same.
So when he first went to school, a lot of his teachers told me that there was something wrong with him. And I was like, what? What’s wrong with this kid? He seemed perfectly cool to me and people just kept saying that along our education journey.
And I changed schools a couple of times, we went to see an educational psychologist, we went through this whole debacle and eventually ended up at a remedial school. And remedial actually means to change, right? So I go down this journey of remediating, changing my child from who he is to fit into this mold. And at the same time, it was quite a blow, I guess, to my own ego and what I imagined our lives would be like.
And then at one point, I’m not quite sure when it was, I realized that there is nothing wrong with this kid. I was like this kid is damn awesome. There’s something wrong with the system. Why should I change him to fit into the system when he is already so awesome?
AF: So I think that was really where our journey began, but it had to begin with me. I had to see it for myself, that just because he doesn’t fit into my expectation of what an educational journey should be, doesn’t mean that he isn’t on his own journey and that that journey might be even more incredible.
Ameera Personalizing Her Children’s Education
PvZ: So one of the things that I have a personal issue with is the ease with which teachers, and many times people in the medical field easily, diagnose kids as being ADHD, or having certain learning disabilities without really understanding the kid themselves. And so, I think it’s a really interesting point that there’s nothing wrong with the kids themselves. It’s really something that’s wrong with the education system, and that needs to change. How have you changed your child’s education to suit his personal needs?
AF: I think we started off by looking at what would be the most awesome life ever? If you have to design your life and live the best life ever, what would that life look like? And I think a lot of us forget what the outcome of education is. So we started to look at what is the outcome, what do we want to achieve? We all want to live lives where we’re happy and fulfilled. How do you get there?
So we took a couple of steps back and I thought, just imagine if you could live 60 years of life in 20 years. If you had all the time in the world because time is the only thing that we can’t buy. So when it comes to homeschooling or the way we have redefined our education. Is that my son works about three hours a day of schoolwork, which means that he’s got so many more hours to do absolutely anything else. And then we were like, oh, what else is there? What else can we learn?
PvZ: I’ve given it some thought as to how do you classify a successful education? And you know what you said right now, it touches on that, in that you’ve got to start with what the desired outcome is. And I think if you ask a lot of parents today, “Why do you send your kids to school?”, it’s a question that doesn’t have a standard response. But it’s also a question that I think most parents don’t ask themselves.
PvZ: I’m not a parent, so I’m not qualified to answer that. But I think if I had to look back and redefine what a successful education for me would have been, was that by the time I’d left school, I wish that I’d been educated in such a way to have developed a deep curiosity, or interest, or passion in something. It doesn’t matter what it is, because I think a lot of kids end up leaving school just doing what society expects of them to do, which is to apply to a university.
So for me at least, I think if a kid can develop that passion, they themselves will determine what the next couple of years look like. But I think a lot of us leave school not knowing what we’re passionate about, what we’re interested in. And if you do know, you tend to just find the resources, because they’re all around us.
AF: So with passion and interest, at the same time I want my kid to make money so that I don’t have to pay for his passions and his interests.
PvZ: Of course, of course.
AF: So then I was like, how quickly can I get him to be self-sustainable? Because that is really what I believe is my duty as a parent. So if by the time he’s 13, he knows how to run a business and he can, whatever it is, it means that I don’t have to educate him for longer than that, and he can start to pay for his own education and passions.
PvZ: And that’s something that so many people don’t talk about, is why you are you getting educated? You’re getting educated so that you can function in society, but also, you’re doing it so that you can make money.
AF: That’s it.
PvZ: Like the end of the day, that is the reason why we’re all doing what we’re doing.
AF: So last year I saw the statue of David. So I was fortunate to go to Italy before all of this.
PvZ: I know, just in time.
AF: Just in time, and they were telling me about Michelangelo and how he, at the age of five, had joined the art university. And so by the time he was 20, he was a master at what he did. And that’s because every day for 12 – 18 hours a day, that’s all he did from the age of five.
So one of the things I thought would be great for my child would be to give him a skill or something that he has mastered by the time he has finished his education with me. And I suppose we never finish our education at this stage. Education is an ongoing process. And with online education, I think kids start to learn that it’s in their own hands and that the piece of string is as long as they want it to be.
So one of our major goals is to truly master something by the time you’re 16, 18. To put in your 10,000 hours before you essentially finish school at the age of 18.
PvZ: Yes, you mentioned that it’s important for your kid to at a young age to understand the basics of business finance. Financial literacy is not taught at school. Financial literacy is one of the most fundamentally important things in anybody’s life. What have you done as a parent to help stimulate that side of a young child’s education?
AF: Well, I guess school is basic education; that’s what we’re being offered. I think maybe there’s a misconception – school’s not going to teach our kids everything they need to know. We have to do that as parents. I think that is probably what our jobs are as parents to teach them how to live in the world.
And a lot of people put them into schools and step back and think, this is it. And then the accountability is sort of gone and you get your product after so many years now.
So my daughter has applied to the German School. They were like, no, we’ll have an interview with you. So I sit down and I said, make no mistake, I’m interviewing you, right?
AF: So I asked them, what are you producing? What is your product? So they had to think about it. They came back to me and said, we produce freethinkers. So I was like, hm, 12 years and maybe R2 million later, you’re going to give me a freethinker. Someone who’s more freethinking than if I had not to put them into your institution. I don’t know.
PvZ: Yeah, so I think the argument for a ‘varsity degree in the traditional sense, is no longer as valid as it was before. Specifically, as technology’s improving our access, or democratizing access to education. You can now, in my opinion, get the same quality education online for a fraction of the cost as what you would attending a brick-and-mortar university.
AF: I think that it really depends. I think the value lies in different places for different people. So I do think there is still a space for universities. As you said, for different degrees, like for architecture and for medicine, there are some things you just cannot do online. At the same time, you can do certain things online better than you can in a group setting. So it all really depends, I think, on where you want to go.
So, for instance, I was reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schooling. Have you read it?
PvZ: No, I’ll put it on my list.
AF: It’s a really, really good one. So he’s talking about this test called the PISA test. So 15-year olds around the world all go and do this test and it ranks countries according to their education. And China was ranked number one for, I think, several years in a row. And then they pulled out of this test, because they said that the education systems in the world are not servicing the needs of their country.
AF: So we’ve got this idea here, we need to create jobs. We need to create jobs. No, we have needs. Meeting those needs creates jobs. So to align one’s thinking, what can you skill yourself with, or educate yourself with to meet needs, will mean that you have a job.
AF: So when it comes to university, is our country, specifically South Africa, a country that requires a lot more theoretical information? Is that where we are going strategically? Or do we need people who are handymen and woodworkers? And there are needs that are just not being serviced.
PvZ: So I think it’s a super important point, that maybe there’s a shift that needs to take place because a lot of people are better suited to those types of trade tasks. Not that it’s something that requires any less of an education, but it’s equally important. And as you say, we do put far too much emphasis on abstract theoretical qualifications that generally suit the needs of an overly developed first-world country.
AF: Oh, you’re far more eloquent than I am!
PvZ: No, so I’d like to talk a little bit about homeschooling. South Africa if you look at, I often bring this up, so probably everyone’s going to hear this multiple times. But if you do a Google Trends analysis of search terms such as homeschooling in this country, South Africa ranks second in the world. Meaning that there are a lot of people looking at homeschooling, specifically now with the coronavirus lockdown. South Africa is one of the most affected countries in the world. I think a lot of parents are potentially looking at homeschooling as a temporary or even permanent alternative.
And that said, a lot of parents are likely feeling pretty intimidated and anxious. This is something that they’ve never done before. Are you homeschooling your kids?
AF: Oh, yeah, but for years now, far longer than the coronavirus.
PvZ: For any parents that are listening to this, what sort of tips or bits of advice would you give them, to make that transition to homeschooling easier both for them and for the kids?
AF: I think the biggest thing is to realise it’s completely not the same thing. Maybe the word schooling is inside the two words, but it’s completely different. So what a lot of people do, is the start of unschooling. So before coronavirus, if you were going to go into the real homeschooling, you take yourself out of that system and you just relax. You chill, you see what your kids enjoy doing, you find out what they’re interested in and then you start to develop those interests. You start to educate yourself about those things.
So, for instance, my daughter, she’s got a keen interest in animals. She just loves animals. She can communicate with them in so many ways. She notices there’s a hawk over there, or there’s a snail over here. Certain things that I won’t see.
So I’ve come to realise she’s got an affinity and a connection for animals, which is completely different to my son. He’s a different type of person. And so the fortunate thing about homeschooling is that it’s essentially customised education now. As you said before, you have a classroom where there’s so many kids and they all have to be doing the same thing. Now, I can say, you know, Philip likes this and that, and that’s what we’re going to start to jump into.
So when you assess what they’re really interested in, you can bring in all of those school benchmarks that need to be in there in ways that are interesting to your kids. Because you’ve got so much buy-in from them, because it’s interesting to them, the results are far quicker, and schooling becomes it just becomes a lifestyle. It doesn’t become a thing that you go and do.
Defying Traditional Education
AF: And I think the whole family becomes a part of that, which is also really interesting. There are learning opportunities everywhere you go. So a little earlier, you asked me about financial education and my kids. I think it just comes into what we do and how we do it.
So I run my own business, and I chat with my kids about that all the time. We talk about cash flow. We talk about how invoices are done. We talk about certain business strategies and case studies. And I think I can offer that education because I run my own business. At the same time, I can’t teach them things that I don’t know about, which I guess makes homeschooling a little tricky because it can end up being a little insular.
So what I find a nice thing to do, and I suppose a good tip, would then be to start exposing them to other things and other people. So with the time that we’ve got, also with homeschooling, it’s not like an eight-hour school day. Kids, when they’re doing one-on-one, it’s so much quicker.
PvZ: Okay, so it frees up more time for them to do the things that they actually want to do with their day.
AF: So much time, so my son is very, very interested in war, World War I and World War II. So I thought, ooh, this is a great education in history. So we went to the Simon’s Town Museum, and to all of these places. So you can really get out there and get involved, and it becomes far more practical.
PvZ: Yeah, I think one of the things that a lot of parents are concerned about when it comes to homeschooling is, and perhaps this is just the default argument, is that your kids lack that social aspect of education. Is that something you agree with? Is it something you disagree with? And if so, what are your thoughts on kids learning from home, but still remaining social and building relationships with other kids?
AF: So how I’ve reconciled it in my mind, is that education and socialisation can actually be two completely different things. So if you think about it, being in a room with 25 other people all day, unless you’re working in a factory or you’re in prison, you only really see it in university and in school. When you go into the real world, you work in groups of maybe four or five at most at any one given point in time.
So the social setting that we create in school isn’t a reflection of most real-life circumstances in the first place.
PvZ: That’s a good point.
AF: So how we do it is my kids do a whole lot of extracurricular activities, so say it is team sports. That is something that involves working with a lot of people, and you create opportunities for friendships to build that are built on interests that are not necessarily educational interests. So if he’s going to be doing math, it’s better for him to sit down, concentrate and get through the maths. Instead of having his friend talk to him, and he’s now concerned about, they’re going to go watch a movie, or play a game of basketball, etc.
And I think that’s why your education can end up being three hours a day for doing Grade 8 work, for instance. And then you’ve got the rest of the day to go to, he’s part of a drama club. He’s a part of a kung fu group. So every day we do something different so that he engages with his friends in many different activities.
PvZ: So now I want to touch on your personal career. Super successful businesswoman developed award-winning TV shows. Tell us a little bit about that edutainment industry. What motivated you to go down that route?
AF: Hm, so I love science mostly, which is really a curiosity about the world and how the world works, and that’s why I studied science initially in university. And at the same time, I really love stories. I love consuming stories in every single way. And then I came to realize that the best way for anyone to learn anything, and it’s happened for millennia, is to pass information down through stories.
So one can sit and learn a page full of facts, and you cram that in there and the kids have got to remember it. Or you can tell it to them in a really interesting story. So it sort of just evolved. It wasn’t something I had set out to do, it was an evolution. And I absolutely love what I do, absolutely love it.
So our first series, I do a science show for teenagers, was these two teenagers who get a message from the future to save the planet. And so in each episode, they had to solve a problem that’s happening in the world. So say, for instance, it’s fossil fuels, the world is running out of fuel. So you learn about fuel and about combustion and you learn about all of these aspects of what’s happening in the world in a way that is fun to digest.
And then you’re like, but why not, why not make it fun? It’s so easy to put facts on a page and say learn this. It’s a little bit more work to bring the creativity into it. But I guess with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and everything that’s occurring. I know a lot of people are concerned about where the job space is going. And I’ve heard that creative thinking is something that we should be giving our kids more opportunity to do.
Screen Time and Technology at Home
PvZ: Yeah, most people are doing business online today; the digital economy has exploded. Your kids, and the next generation’s most likely going to running their own business or conducting business online. So in that regard, I think it’s important that kids get exposed to tech at a young age. What are your thoughts on screen time specifically as it relates to your kids, and the use of technology at home?
AF: So I suppose when we were children everybody said, you can’t watch too much TV. You can’t let your kids sit in front of TV for six hours a day. I’m pretty sure I sat in front of the TV for six hours a day, and I think I’m pretty fine. And at the same time, I got a lot of education. I think most of what I learned about the entire world came from the television at that point in time.
AF: I think that screen time, or the use of iPads and technology, is evolving our children. I don’t think it’s a bad thing; I think it is the way it is in the world. Balance is always important, as the Greeks said, everything in moderation. So if we maintain moderation, I don’t see there being an issue. And yes, for everything that occurs, there’ll be consequences, I know. But I also believe that does come down to an evolution. So whether our eyes will grow bigger in the next 10 years because we’re looking at screens so much, who knows what will happen? But it’s not to say that it’s bad.
So at the same time, technology is a tool. So I think it’s the way we teach our children to use these tools will help them use them to their advantage or not. So an iPad, you can sit all day and watch YouTube. It’s not necessarily using it as the tool that it is meant to be. It’s an encyclopedia. It’s a calculator. It’s a space where you can use lots of different apps. It’s everything in one space.
PvZ: Yeah, and it’s an extension of yourself in a way if you look at your phone. It’s sort of that additional layer to your brain that immediately gives you access to an infinite amount of information. So teaching kids to use that in a productive way, I think is super important.
AF: Some parents choose not to expose their children to technology from a young age, or limit it. And I guess it does come because there are a lot of dangerous things out there as well. So you’ve got to be very on top of it as a parent.
PvZ: Of course.
AF: At the same time, it being a tool, I think you are at an advantage if you know how to wield that to the best that you can. And the technology is also not just an iPad. There’re so many different technologies, so I think it’s important to expose our kids to all of them.
PvZ: I would say, as you mentioned now, for anybody from a young age, the sooner that they’re able to use technology to help further themself in a productive way, they definitely have an advantage.
AF: So with my son, here’s a great example of that. He struggled with handwriting, and he struggled, and he struggled, and that’s what set him back at school. So eventually I said to the school if handwriting is slowing him down, why don’t we not write? How about that? So we can still do the math and you can still do history and you can still do so many things. And if we don’t develop this writing skill, then you know what? It’s OK. We can actually leave that one out.
And I’ve gotten so much pushback for so many years until I eventually got a concession from an educational psychologist to use a dictation software. And so my son started dictating his work and in particular his English. And it changed everything, because the stories that he used to write with his hand, versus the stories that he writes while he dictates, are chalk and cheese. I didn’t know what was in this child’s mind until he was able to get it out.
And I use it, too, and doctors and authors also used this very same dictation software, because you can really get through so much so quickly and it’s so accurate. And I’m like, damn!
Ameera’s Opinion About the Future of Education
PvZ: In your mind, what would the ideal outcome be in the next five to ten years, as it relates to education?
AF: So we started homeschooling three or four years ago and everybody said that I was crazy. Look, how could you do this? How could you take your kids out of school? And now during COVID, everybody phoned me and they were like, ooh, I’m so sorry, you were right, how do you do this? And I looked at that and I felt very thankful that this pandemic has given people the opportunity to see that you can take education into your own hands.
So I do think from this pandemic, and what do they say? Disruption breeds innovation. That more parents have found themselves being teachers than anything else. So I think from this, some people have realized how easy it is to teach their own children. Some people have realized how much harder it is to teach their own children.
But I think we all have a very different respect for where things are going. A lot of people don’t want to send their children back to school for various reasons, mostly lifestyle-related reasons. Instead of driving through traffic, and paying school fees, and wearing school uniforms, and packing school lunches, it seems a far better lifestyle, and people are far calmer.
So where things are going? I don’t know where they’re going. I do know that everybody is going to take a very different look at the school system, and I’m thankful that it’s going to be looked at. Because I think for a long time, because people didn’t need to look at it, they didn’t look at it.
Day in The Life of a Working Homeschooling Mom
PvZ: Yeah, yeah, so let’s just take a step back. Yourself, what does a day in your life look like?
AF: Okay, well, it takes a village to raise a child. And I think a lot of women and a lot of people think that you have to do it alone like if you’re a successful woman, you’re just standing there all by yourself. That’s not the case, I have a great support system around me, and that’s what makes everything work.
So a day in our lives, hm … So the kids and I, we wake up at about 5:00, we exercise, we train in the morning, we have breakfast, and then the kids go and do their school work. So I’ve got a tutor who during COVID moved in with me, so I’ve been that lucky person who’s living with my teacher, and so she teaches the kids for three hours in the morning.
They also do this free app. It’s a typing app, it’s called typing.com, it’s like the best. It teaches the kids how to type really fast, which is quite nice, so they’ve just picked that up. And then in the afternoons, they do all sorts of activities. So my daughter does horse riding, my son plays golf, he does kung fu and they do gymnastics, and so the afternoons are quite full. On Fridays, they go and they do an outing. So they’ll go somewhere cool, whatever is interesting and happening in the world and in the country.
But what we do often is we will take breaks. So maybe we don’t feel like doing schoolwork, or I won’t feel like doing work. So we’re kind of brought up in this five days of work, two days of rest, five days of work, two days of rest.
PvZ: Yeah, it’s just a …
AF: It’s a construct where I would say in some places, ten days of work, three days of rest. So we have our own rhythm and then we will go somewhere. So we’ll spend a week, we’re thinking of going to the West Coast National Park and we won’t do schoolwork intensely. I will work, they’ll play, we’ll take a look at the environment. So we get a lot of real-life experience in there. And that’s what I enjoy as well, not having to be in a set curriculum.
At the same time, let me tell you something cool about my son. So when he was at school, when he went to the remedial school, they told me that he was not succeeding. He was not going to succeed; I need to make a plan for university. So we started homeschooling, and just the different approach for him, he excelled really, really well. I said to him if you get 100% for maths, science, and English, I’ll fly you, first-class, to Japan. I got to eat my words, I kid you not.
AF: He got 100% in each one of these subjects. So what I did is, I skipped a grade. We were supposed to be, we’re in Grade 4, we skipped Grade 5, so he went straight into Grade 6. He excelled at grade six, also getting in the high 90s for everything. So I skipped Grade 7, and he’s doing some Grade 11 subjects. He’s doing some Grade 8 subjects and he’s 12 years old.
So I’ve come to realise that kids when they’re younger, can actually do so much more. So there’s a trend I’ve seen at the moment where a lot of kids are taking four years to do Grade 11 and 12, from the age of 12 to 16. So you don’t have to do it all over two years. You can do a little bit at a time because at the end of the day, what you need is a Matric. Yes, all the other stuff in the middle is really unnecessary. And that’s if you want to do Matric.
PvZ: So to round off, I’m going to ask that one big question, and that’s going to be, what do you believe about the education system, or about education in general, that you think most people may disagree with?
AF: So I think there are lots of people on the planet and that in order to be successful, you have to be extraordinary today. And I believe that schools are producing ordinary people. And in order to be extraordinary, you have to take extraordinary measures.
PvZ: That’s a really good point, and it’s a great way to end off.
AF: Thank you for having me here, Philip.
PvZ: Thank you for being on the show.
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