KARACHI, June 13: Educationists and experts in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) came together to share their views and ideas on the subject at a seminar organised by the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) in a hotel here on Thursday.

“If the schools and teachers can’t be sensitive to a little child’s needs, it’s time to revolt against the system and pull your children out of school. Go for home schooling,” said Mahnaz Mahmud, an adviser at the Teacher’s Resource Centre, after hearing a mother’s story of how a school principal wanted her sleepy 1.5-year-old, drinking milk from his feeder in her lap, to stand up and prove that he could walk in order to consider him for admission.

She had the same advice for a father who said that his son enjoyed mathematics but did not want to go to school when there was an Urdu period so he’d rather see him miss school that day than be miserable.

“It is essential to provide a positive learning environment where children would want to participate and learn and grow,” she said, adding that teachers must listen to children and interact with them in their activities to help them gain confidence.

A young student at the TRC, Ms Mahalaka, gave a presentation about making a national ECE curriculum that would make the children really want to come to school. “Listen, respect and care are the key words here. Children feel encouraged when you listen to them. We should provide them a space to learn where they are allowed to explore what they want to do,” she said while suggesting to the other teachers and parents, too, not to intervene and correct them every other second or rush them in any way. “Let them discover on their own what works and what does not,” she said. “The curriculum designed for them, too, should have what the child is interested in.”

Mariam Shera, principal of the Froebel Education Centre, stressed that the first three years of life were the most critical years. “Invest time and effort in your child during this time and he will grow up to be morally and educationally secure,” she pointed out.

“At our school, we take children in at two-and-a-half years but before that the home training is crucial during their age of curiosity, development of interests, formation of character, shaping of personality, social development, brain development and development of language skills. Feed your child’s curiosity, don’t squash it. Teach him about good work and responsibility, treat them with respect so that they learn how to treat others. Read stories to them, too. The vocabulary a child builds during his first three years of life will have the words that he will use the most throughout life,” she said. “And then the schools can take it from there to give the child more of a direction.”

Dr Shahida Mohiuddin, an associate professor at Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, said that early childhood learning started in the mother’s womb. “Mothers know and sense this but it should also be understood that nurturing actually begins from here by the father and the rest of family, too,” she said. “Then the teacher also should enable the child to know himself. They should also be educated in indigenous culture and be allowed to carry on learning, at least in the initial years, in the mother tongue.”

“We worry what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today,” she ended her paper with the quote by Stacia Tauscher.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi, said there should be a provincial ECE policy. “There should be genuine investment in pre-schools so that the children can go on to primary and then post-primary schools from there. Otherwise, with the children dropping out of school, we have a human resource leakage,” she said. “Yes, compulsory education for all from ages five to 16 years is great but we need a foundation for that to happen.”

Prof Anita Ghulam Ali, the SEF managing director, said it was good that there were more women in the teaching profession, especially in the ECE, as they understood the needs of children far better than men. She said she hoped that the women in parliament, too, would give the issue of early education more importance in order to come up with an ECE policy.

Dr Almina Pardhan, associate professor, institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University; Abdullah Khan, head of ECD Bridges Rupani Foundation; Amima Saeed, senior manager of Advocacy and Programme Development at the TRC; SEF director Aziz Kabani; Ali Usman and Musarrat Zulfiqar of SEF also spoke.