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Teaching the teachers

February 29, 2016


Amra Alam at the session ‘Art of Reading with Expression’ at the 5th Teachers’ Literature Festival held on Sunday.—White Star
Amra Alam at the session ‘Art of Reading with Expression’ at the 5th Teachers’ Literature Festival held on Sunday.—White Star

KARACHI: The 5th Teachers’ Literature Festival (TLF) held at the Dawood Public School on Sunday addressed multiple issues faced by educationists in Pakistan and sought to find a viable solution to their concerns. In the panel discussions and presentations, among other things, interactive problem-solving techniques were discussed in which an interesting diversity of teaching staff participated.

The launch of Cha Cha and the Forest of Wisdom by Quin Thong and Malik Mirza was a well-attended event which taught teachers how to implement wealth management techniques within the classroom.

According to Thong, who has been teaching the principles of saving money to children for a decade, this is easier to do for younger children than with adolescents and adults. “The basic principle that I teach is that wealth is more than money and not equal to money. Once they understand this, they realise that they have so much wealth and then they can be taught to manage that.”

She spoke about how children needed to be taught to manage time, relationships and friendships, save, spend and share money, as well as understand the difference between needs and wants.

The co-authors took these concepts and contextualised them in contemporary Pakistani society. At their session, teachers were taught how to make children feel more fulfilled with their lives as once they grow older they tend to have a fixed and reductionist concept of wealth merely in terms of money.

The session titled ‘Urdu Shayeri Kisay Parhaein’ was an attempt to introduce the teaching of Urdu through poetry and literature. In attendance were Urdu teachers from different schools who interacted with each other about the problems they face while teaching the subject. They shared examples of how Urdu teaching was not taken seriously by children as well as by school administrations, and precedence was usually given to other subjects. As a result, they found it difficult to introduce Urdu poetry in their curriculum.

The turn-out at the TLF comprised teachers primarily from government schools and according to CEO Maham Ali: “This is possible because we work closely with the government which then mobilises teachers to participate in the festival. Our team is also very much involved in this process”.

And at every session, teachers young and old, and mostly belonging to primary sections, were seen trying to absorb as much information as possible while constantly jotting down lessons on their notebooks.

Promoting critical thinking in the classroom was the topic of discourse at several sessions. To reinforce the idea, open discussions as well as activities were planned around which teachers were taught how to allow students to express themselves independently and not just resort to regurgitated versions devoid of analysis.

One such session was headed by members of the Teachers’ Resource Centre in which several exercises were conducted with teachers to encourage them to be critical thinkers. A stick figure photo was shown and participants were asked to weave a story around it. This allowed them to appreciate the different perspectives and logical explanations that each teacher presented. This in turn can be applied in a classroom too.

Discussing the necessity of mastering the language, a panel discussion was held with Zubeida Mustafa, Salma Imtiaz as panellists and Baela Raza Jamil as moderator. Titled “The language of learning”, the main thrust of the topic was to make teachers realise how students lose out on understanding concepts when they do not fully understand the medium of instruction.

Mrs Mustafa spoke about how the nuances of language impact the concepts being taught in schools and can at times confuse the child. “If they do not understand, how will they learn,” she questioned the teachers present.

“The things we talk about here will allow us to give recommendations to the policy debate taking place with regards to language,” said Jamil, who is also the founder of the Children’s Literature Festival.

A documentary was also screened on the education among girls in Pakistan which posed a question: are we failing our children? Moderated by Izzah Meyer, who represents the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi, the focus of the session was the right to education for all.

The Teachers’ Literature Festival was started in 2014 after it was felt that teachers only played the role of chaperones at previous children’s festivals, and could not participate in discussions and learn something in the process.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016