It’s the end of an era

Suroor Christians, 68, is retiring from teaching.

After 47 years in education, Suroor Christians, the first principal of Al-Azhar High School in Athlone, is putting down his chalk and preparing to take a break.

The 68-year-old, who grew up in Athlone, attended Athlone North Primary and Livingstone High schools and completed his studies at Hewat Teacher’s Training College, from which he graduated in 1969.

He started his teaching career at Grassy Park High School, in 1970, as a Grade 8 and 9 natural science teacher, a Grade 9 English teacher and Grade 12 history teacher.

The following year he moved on to Livingstone High School where he worked as a Grade 8 and 9 natural science teacher, Grade 10 to 12 life science teacher, and Grade 10 and 11 Afrikaans teacher.

In 1985, he joined Spine Road High School, where he took up the position as the head of department for life science as well as the Mitchell’s Plain cluster life science co-ordinator. In 1990, he was appointed principal of Sebelius High School, where he remained until 1999.

Mr Christians moved to England the following year and returned in 2003 before heading off to work as an academic quality controller in Abu Dhabi for a year, returning in 2004.

A year later, the Muslim Judicial Council bought the property on which Al-Azhar is located, and he became the first principal of the high school, which at the time catered for 211 Grade 8 to 11 pupils and 11 teachers, and had 13 classrooms.

Al-Azhar produced its first matric class in 2006, which achieved a 79.4 percent pass rate.

Eleven years later, the school has 495 pupils and 26 teachers.

Given his varied career record, Athlone News asked Mr Christians what had kept him at the school for 11 years.

The school, he said, had a winning combination of passionate teachers, willing pupils, and encouraging parents – and that’s why he stayed.

The Muslim school’s timetable includes academic education from 7.45am till 1pm and Islamic studies from 1.45pm till 3pm.

“I feel Al-Azhar is different because I am able to provide them with the best of both worlds – academic education to provide them with bread for their tables and Islamic studies to help them become better people Islamically,” said Mr Christians.

The school was named Al-Azhar as it is directly connected to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Islamic studies for pupils in Grades 8 and 9 are taught by teachers from Cairo, and pupils are taught how to speak Arabic.

The school is based on four principles: “The Qur’an is our constitution, and our minds are RED – R for respect, E for excellence and D for discipline.”

Mr Christians said his wish is to launch a tutorial programme for pupils who come from a hifz school who struggle to catch up to mainstream schooling.

He will offer a bridging course for English, Afrikaans, and maths. A hifz school is where one learns to memorise the Qur’an.

“My message to the school is to continue to build on the excellence at the school and make the RED even redder,” he said.