By Zubeida Mustafa
A WITTY quote runs, “Doctors bury their mistakes. Lawyers hang them. But journalists put theirs on the front page.” I would add, “And teachers exhibit theirs for generations to come.”
Take the case of Pakistan where the malaise in education runs deep. It began decades ago and has increased as poor education for one generation has ensured a worse batch of teachers for the next.
Mercifully, this flaw has now come to be recognised and an effort is under way to rectify the wrongs of the past. The focus has shifted to teachers. All schools worth their salt are now providing for the training of their teachers on an ongoing basis. Workshops and seminars are held regularly. The concept of lifelong education is catching on.
It is in this context that the initiative of the sponsors of the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) to hold a Teachers’ Literature Festival (TLF) was widely welcomed. Karachi became the venue of the first festival of the kind to be held in the country. The turnout was respectable, though I’d have liked to have seen more participants considering this is Pakistan’s largest, most educated city.
The TLF was a huge success in two ways. First, the enthusiasm of the teachers was heartwarming. They came to the Arts Council from places as far afield as Gulshan and Korangi. This was proof enough that such events are the need of the hour to enable teachers to interact with other co-professionals and learn in the process. Secondly, they got valuable exposure to qualified resource persons who conducted workshops on the art of reading with expression, creative writing, the use of new media in classrooms and blended learning.
Another success was the space the TLF provided teachers to voice their views. This is important if solutions are to be found to their problems. Of course, teachers have to work within the framework set by policymakers at the national/provincial level or the school managements. But many minor irritants can be resolved through innovation and creativity.
For instance, Swaleha Alam Shahzada from the Citizens Archive of Pakistan recalled how she used plain white paper and marked it with different colours to explain the game theory to her students of economics when the school management objected to her use of ‘excessive’ coloured paper.
The real test will come later. Will the TLF open the doors to new avenues of teachers’ training? Will it catch on to become a movement which is decentralised to the grassroots level as the CLF is on its way to becoming?
A positive feature of the TLF was that many members of the school managements also attended; hopefully they will facilitate the changes teachers may want to adopt after their exhilarating experience last Thursday. It has been a constant complaint of teachers who attend training workshops that school managements discourage innovation.
While the TLF will hopefully become a catalyst in education in a big way, there are teachers who are extending a helping hand within their own modest budgets. They promise to become models for other teachers to continue serving the cause of education even after they retire.
Take, for instance, Prof Soaliha Ahmed, a former head of the Department of Botany, University of Karachi. This wonderful woman did not allow her age and ill health to deter her from putting to good use her decades of academic experience, knowledge and love of teaching after retirement in 2000. She decided to open her home to children from neighbouring low-income localities, and Payam-i-Taalim Education Centre (PTEC) was born.
She managed to mobilise other highly qualified retired teachers to come and teach the youngsters who came to her for help. Already enrolled in schools but in need of the golden touch of a good teacher, the students have benefited immensely from the vital supplementary support they have received from the PTEC. Its role has been to upgrade the children’s knowledge and language skills while instilling the love of education in them.
Prof Soaliha Ahmed’s approach is very down-to-earth and pragmatic. She has six classes but you will find children of all sizes in one class because the students are graded according to their academic competence and not their age. As they improve they are moved up to the next grade. Since the classes are small the children get plenty of attention. As a result they are articulate and their comprehension is good.
The idea should be that anyone who is educated should not let her knowledge go waste. It must be transmitted to a person who does not have it, even if it is in a setting that is not a rigidly formal one as a school. As for pedagogy, the TLF is available.