One of the main reasons behind Pakistan’s dysfunctional social and economic state is the inability of its education system to produce innovative, intellectual, and critical thinkers. Our education system focuses on teaching students how things are done, ignoring the “how” and “why” aspect of it. From a young age students are forced to accept things in a certain way. They are discouraged to challenge methodologies or approach things differently. As a result of this, students are transformed into employees who are part of the status quo; who are only good enough to operate machines.
Students choose careers based on the potential salary, ignoring the element of their own interests. Frustrated, they grow into disgruntled employees who live in the hope of significant growth that never surfaces. The problem gets multiplied across generations and the country fails to actualize the full potential of its human resources.
In light of this problem, it is the responsibility of the education system to generate interest within a child for a respective field from a very young age. It is integral to develop romanticism towards a specific field within every child. This would guarantee that every student would consider his/her occupation as a hobby and strive towards discovering every aspect of their field of interest. This would allow them to live a more satisfied and content life, doing what he/she loves. On a National level, this would propel the country towards new heights of innovation and social/economic development.
Science Enrichment Program
The lack of science learning can be broken down into two key components, 1) Lack of practical general science education at the primary level and 2) Lack of practical specialized science education at the secondary level.
At the primary level, our teachers developed an internal science model development program in which they use junk materials to construct specific science models with students. They constructed 3-D models of respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems using household materials such as drainage pipes, cotton, balloons, clothes, and perfume bottles. Our teachers noted that the construction of these models enhanced the conceptual understanding of course materials, as they generated a higher level of interest from the students. Such innovation is a testament to the dedication of our teachers, in taking independent initiatives to enhance the actual learning process.
At the secondary level, we developed basic Chemistry, Physics, and Biology laboratories at our main branch in Kot Ishaq. The labs were internally financed and were developed to provide practical education in the subject. With the introduction of science labs, the aggregate science marks of our 10th grade students (in their metric exam) rose considerably. This exemplifies the significance of a practical education.
In early 2013, the Ali Institute of Education organized a Science model development Contest at the AIE Lahore. The students from our foundation were competing against other contestants from well reputed institutes such as Punjab University and Lahore School of Economics. By a unanimous decision, the models made by our students received the first place in the competition.
In the words of Mr Shahid Majeed, Rektor Ali Institute of Education: “The reason for M.H.SUFI FOUNDATION’S 1st position in the competition was that all their models were made entirely from common household and junk materials”. No other institution was able to demonstrate such innovation and creativity.
The Foundation plans to extend its Science Enrichment Program by further identifying and implementing initiatives that can enhance the scope of Science Learning.
ENGLISH READING PROGRAM
Noticing that our reading skills were not as developed as those in top schools elsewhere in the country, we were determined to create a platform through which we could reduce the educational gap between students in urban institutions and those that are enrolled in the foundation.
Our analysis of the problem revealed three major problems:
- Firstly, the parents of most students have a very limited command of the English language and therefore their children are not exposed to spoken English at home.
- Secondly, while we did have three to five periods of English reading in the junior classes, most children were not getting sufficient attention from the teacher. This was owed to the fact that most classes have about thirty students and the English reading period is only thirty five minutes long
- Thirdly, because outside the classroom, most children do not normally talk to each other in English; therefore many of them were afraid of speaking in English in public for fear that their pronunciation was incorrect and that they would be mocked.
Accordingly, we decided to develop and implement the English Reading and Writing Program to the effect of betting the English reading and writing skills of our students.
Our program consists of 2 main components. The first deals with our Kindergarten section including Prep Junior and Prep Senior classes. In Prep Junior, children learn the alphabet and in Prep Senior, children learn about “sight words”. We introduced a new phonetics based textbook developed in the U.K. called Jolly Phonics. This teaches the children 42 sounds (as opposed to only the 26 letters of the alphabet). Moreover the program integrates active participation from both the teacher and the students alike.
We have found that the children love the new series and teachers report that the children are learning the sounds much faster than they had previously. This was also owed to the increased amount of time spent with the children in targeting English, for reading and writing purposes.
Starting from this year, in our second nursery class (Prep Senior), we have accelerated the existing syllabus and have managed to complete it in two terms. In the third term (beginning in April) we will introduce our reading program, which previously used to begin in Class I. We are hopeful that the outcome will be very positive.
For the last two years, our English Reading Program used to begin in Class 1. There are now two daily periods of English; one of which is exclusively dedicated to reading. During this period a special team of three teachers assist the class teacher in listening to each child’s reading. The class is divided into four groups having approximately eight children per group, and each teacher deals exclusively with one group. We deliberately do not divide the children according to their skills because we feel that doing so would stigmatize the children in the weakest readers group. In addition, we have seen that the best readers often manage to find the time to help improve the reading skills of their weaker class-fellows.
A critical component in the success of this program is the quality of our teachers’ pronunciation. We therefore arranged for our reading program teachers to attend a specialized six-week training course at the Ali Institute of Education, Lahore. Depending on the number of sections in our different branches we have one or two reading teacher teams (each consisting of three members). Each team covers six classes during the day and the school timetable for Classes 1 and 2 is planned accordingly to the availability of the reading teachers.
The second critical component of the reading program is the reading material. We took a lot of care in trying to select books that the children would find entertaining. We initially selected three series: the Ladybird series, the Oxford University Press Reading Tree series, and the Cambridge University Press Bright Sparks series. We subsequently added two American series, namely Dr Seuss series and the Little Critter series. All these books are visually very appealing and have a lot of coloured pictures. (Sadly these attributes are not very common in books used in rural area schools.)
We have found that the children love the reading period. Teachers tell us that it is by far the favorite period for most children. Since each teacher is only listening to the reading of seven or eight children, each child gets a lot of quality time. In addition, since each child can only move on to the next book in the series when he or she can read a book fluently, there is a lot of healthy competition between the children as the weaker children try to keep up with the better students who have mastered more books than they have. The teachers tell us that each child is closely monitoring the progress of other children in the group and always knows exactly how many books the other group members have mastered. More importantly, since the children have to read out in front of the whole group, they develop the confidence to speak English in public.
We have been able to achieve great results from the Reading Program. We expect the results to improve as students pass onto senior classes. The program is another example of the Foundation’s innovative approach towards education.
Internal Mathematics Test (IMT)
Every term, the Foundation hosts its internal Mathematics Test. The IMT is an internally designed program that targets the development of mathematic skills at the primary level. It is administered simultaneously for every class across each of the Foundation’s branches. This gives students (grades 1-6) a chance to compete with students of the same age group in the other schools; enabling healthy competition that nurtures the skill and understanding of students.
The IMT also serves as a KPI to monitor the performance of the teachers in each branch. In an educational system that is often criticized and censures for its lack of innovation, the IMT is a prime example of the innovative approaches used by the Foundation to further the skill set of its students. The foundation also plans to initiate an Internal English test and an Internal Science Test in the next two years.