By Cesilia Faustina
Images via IELC
Early childhood learning was not something commonly known by many people. It is a branch of education that generally targets children below the age eight – a crucial time for children and their brain development; commonly known as learning through play. As a relatively new form of education, it had just started to gain momentum a few years back and many parents are gladly jumping onboard the bandwagon.
Though this sector is still progressing, the idea of early childhood education was something one family thought of long before its popularity; a thought that was triggered by tragedy.
A mother-daughter initiative
One Jordanian family found peace through early childhood education after losing someone very dear to them. This loss led them to something bigger though, a school – a preschool to be exact.
“Our story began with a family, a family who had a difficult time,”
Lana Muasher is the co-founder of the Iman Early Learning Centre (IELC), a preschool that focuses on early childhood learning for children ages 72 days old to four years old. She started the preschool with her mother after losing her six-year-old sister.
“I had a younger sister who was called Iman, who passed away at the age of six and we wanted to do something as a family, so we decided as mother and daughter to have a club at home for a few years, where we would be doing fun art activities,” Lana said.
“I found myself with a younger age group and we continued from there. And that turned into a preschool.”
Seeing the importance of early childhood, the mother-daughter duo turned their family-bonding idea into a real life preschool.
During the time, early childhood was not a focus for the Jordanian education system. It gained popularity when the sector received international recognition and more research were conducted. It didn’t stop Lana and her mother though.
“Early childhood was not considered very important, but then the research started to come out, you remember, because of Bill Clinton…and also the consultative group, so we started the pre-school at that time, which is why we were very much different,” Lana mentioned.
The dynamic duo took advantage of a rising sector in education and added their own spin to it; one that not only focuses on a child’s education, but their mental wellbeing.
Social and emotional needs
“We think about the whole child,”
Iman Learning Centre covers all needs of a child and their future. Lana explained that the school focused not only on educating the child but also their social and emotional needs. Both Lana and her mother thought about the needs of the children in the long-run, to positively impact their development phase, which was why they not only focused on working with the children but also teachers and parents.
“Iman centre has two preschools and the other is a training centre. So, what I do is I’m in charge of training the teachers and discussing what the children learn, what they know. The colours and numbers and the shapes, but also enriching their learning with social and emotional, for example, like in the time of quarantine I was working a lot on one-to-one activities to send to the parents so that they can do it with their children all day, so they can have something fun to do, so that’s part of my job,” Lana explained.
Understanding how important parents and teachers are in the development phase of children, Lana wanted to ensure the people in the children’s’ lives understood as well.
“We are thinking of what will our children need when they graduate from high school, because it is no longer the need for learning, they need to know how to work with others…because you see information is easy to find, but it’s what you do with it, is what we teach. And we teach a lot about emotions and how to be a good team player, you know, the needs we are finding ourselves in these days, which is completely different,” she stated.
“That’s why we started teaching teachers and parents as well, because at this age, you need to have aware parents and teaching training as well.”
Lana and her mother started the preschool in 1994 and has been doing the job since. Having been exposed to early childhood learning since she was in her teens, Lana knew it was what she wanted to do. After graduating college, she continuously strived to learn to be a better educator, striving to improve Iman Learning Centre as a pioneer in the field.
“We think about the whole child, even with COVID-19, we didn’t only think about us, we thought about social and emotional, so what differentiates Iman centre first of all, is that it was one of the first in Jordan, the first early learning centre, and at the time, it was very new, this was 26 years ago,” she said.
“You have activity-based, you have learning through play, all of this was new in Jordan. Now, people know about it and I’m glad to say that, because being an example for others, we have more preschools in Jordan that know and understand the importance of birth to five [years of age], the most important years, the foundational years.”
Education in times of COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption for many sectors, including education. Many schools have closed and more than a billion learners worldwide are affected by it. The pandemic has also brought into place the use of technology, which many schools and students are utilizing for education these days.
Jordan has a relatively small number of cases, probably due to the government’s quick action and tight lockdown protocols. This caused many schools in the kingdom to close and students are forced to study online.
“Basically, what happened was, in March, we were told we were going to school, everything was fine, then we were told to close immediately, we left the school and everyone stayed at home,” Lana said.
“We’re taking it so seriously in Jordan, even the churches just recently allowed people to go to church if they wear masks and gloves, the mosques as well.”
Is there a bright side?
Despite the strains of COVID-19, and not being able to attend her own preschool (due to health concerns), the pandemic has brought a new love for her, technology.
“I was against technology, but now I’m becoming an expert, I think everyone’s like that these days. I’m trying to see what applications are available to parents and see if I can connect to parents in a different way,” she said.
“The rules and regulations are adults are not allowed in so only kids. So, it’s harder for parents, so I want to find a way to help them.”
She had an idea of creating an app herself, even. The fast-paced development of technology today has made a great impact in Lana’s life, especially with her being in the education sector. Then again, could you blame her? Technology seems to have a huge impact in all of our lives these days.
“I have a lot of dreams of creating applications and working through online and doing so many wonderful things, so I’m looking forward to kind of a new phase. I’m doing observations through WhatsApp and Twitter, so it’s exciting, I’m really excited about this phase. Completely different, I wasn’t expecting it, but honestly, I’m enjoying every minute.”
Lana seemed to have a positive attitude in dealing with life. Despite the challenges life had thrown her way, including the death of her sister, she still faced everything head-on with flying colours. And apparently, she does them all while having difficulty seeing.
“I do have an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, I was born with it, but I don’t see it as a disability, I don’t even like the word disability, I like to say I’m special and I have needs,” she said.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic eye condition that involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina, common symptoms include difficulty seeing at night and a loss of side (peripheral) vision.
“I’m special in that I don’t see well, but I have needs that I have to use. So, I always look at it that way, I don’t like to look at it as a hindrance or a difficulty, I like to see it as a learning opportunity,” she said.
The educator stated that despite some challenges along the way, she had always felt blessed and generally, was able to live a life like any other, all thanks to the support of her family and people’s generosity.
“There is nothing without its difficulties and challenges, but I do believe there are two components. One, having parents and a family who have always treated me normal, who say look at the glass half full not half empty, that really helps. Another thing that really helps me as well, is that these days, there are so many technology [to find information on the subject] and once you tell somebody, can you help me please, they are eager to help, that makes the difference,” she mentioned.
So, despite the odds, Lana still persevered, hoping to spread good vibes to people around her, something that is quite rare for our species. On top of that, the Jordanian still has some energy left in her to learn new skills and aim for her goals.
Some words of advice
In her spare time, the educator likes to take some time for her hobbies, focusing on her school while still enjoying some downtime for herself; apparently, she runs two book clubs too. Despite the busyness of everything though, Lana still had her eyes on the prize, stating her two main missions in life.
“To be a model and example to others because [Iman Learning Centre] is very much service-oriented, mission-oriented. I’d like to say we’re more mission-oriented than service, we’re not just considered as a business. We want to make a difference in the community, and we want to inspire others who have children; mothers or teachers,” she said.
“Aside from the school, my mission is that I’ve been so blessed and been given so many beautiful opportunities in life that I want to give back. And I’ve learned so much, I’ve been given so many gifts that I want to bless others the way I’ve been given the gifts.”
Other than that, she’s just enjoying life.
“I’m learning Spanish and learning the guitar and I like to read,” Lana concluded.
Lana Muasher is the co-founder of the Iman Early Learning Centre (IELC) located in Amman, Jordan. It is a preschool that focuses on educational as well as emotional and social needs of children. IELC consists of a preschool and a training institution for teachers, focusing on different teaching methods, as well as social and emotional care for the children. Lana and her mother started the preschool after the death of her sister Iman. She hoped to create a positive impact on children under the age of five and support their overall development stage.