Press Releases 2010
An Advanced Course for Pakistan’s Educators
By Jeff Baron
Washington - The 40 Pakistani educators who descended on a New Hampshire college campus for a month this summer had some unanswered questions: What would they learn? How would it help them transform Pakistan's schools and society? How would they get along with one another? And what could they possibly eat?
As the month neared its end, the educators said the program exceeded their expectations. They talked about it on a visit to the State Department in Washington, where the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has sponsored the Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute each summer since 2004 and doubled its size this year.
For one month, the educators lived in dorm rooms at Plymouth State University and learned techniques in classroom management, leadership, education technology and other topics that they can take home to use in their own classrooms and share with colleagues. The group included educators from the primary, middle, secondary, university and technical training levels.
Zakia Ishaq, who trains primary school teachers in Quetta, Baluchistan, said education at all levels in Pakistan tends to follow a traditional model: The teacher lectures and the students listen. She said her own approach has been more student-centered, using activities occasionally to bring lessons to life. "Here, we did everything on the basis of activity - activity-based teaching. Previously it was my method, but I will improve it more," Ishaq said. "And my attitude: I basically was a friendly teacher with [students]. Now I'll be more friendly with them, more helpful, as I learned from this group."
Abida Begum, who teaches at Aga Khan University's Professional Development Centre North in Gilgit-Baltistan, said she sees the effectiveness of the hands-on approach the institute used in a unit on the water quality of New Hampshire lakes.
"We went there. We selected samples. And by ourselves, we went to the laboratories," she said.
"We have some understanding from books, from Internet, from teachers, and then try to go to fields to really see what is happening. So this is total new learning for me, and I am thinking, when I go back to my own context to give trainings to teachers, I will first introduce the [material], then I will take them to different fields to really see what is happening. So this, I liked it very much."
Begum said another section of the program, on leadership, showed her how to work a film into a lesson effectively, first introducing a concept and then using the film to reinforce it. She said she plans to do the same to show the teachers she works with how to make the process work for them. "I will try to use theory and practice at the same time," she said.
Muhammad Nadeem Farooqui, who teaches science and educational leadership at Aga Khan University's Karimabad campus in Karachi, said that message became meaningful for him, too. "Earlier, I was of the opinion that this course was going to be in the university - ‘in the university' means confined to some rooms. The new dimension that I could see is that the program was more like a balance of theory and practice. So we went to several places where we were able to implement the theory which we study in the morning, but also a broader application side of the concept."
Farooqui said he also noticed one of the benefits of an interactive, student-centered approach to learning: He had a lot of fun. "Before coming to this program, I was of the opinion that I bring fun to my classes in Pakistan, but this experience made me realize that my earlier fun was very limited and it was inside the classroom," he said. "I could realize that the fun should be very much visible and the fun should [involve people in] the program."
And then there were the educators' doubts about American food. As Muslims, with Ramadan approaching shortly after their return from the United States, Farooqui said: "We thought that this time we are going to have two months of fasting -one month in America and one month in Pakistan. But it never happened."
"Initial days were difficult in terms of the food, and then soon we realized that we are here for the cultural exchange program, so why not we develop a taste for the American food? So we did try to eat more American food rather than try to look for some food which we already eat." At the State Department meetings, Farooqui drew laughs when he pronounced himself a full fan of American cuisine.
Farooqui will play a key role in the program as its students return to Pakistan: He will use his experience in the Aga Khan University alumni association to help coordinate among the program's alumni, who come from all parts of Pakistan and represent an array of ethnic groups. "It is about connecting the alumni and sharing resources," he said.
All the alumni are expected to expand the work of the leadership institute by passing on its lessons to students and colleagues and by advocating for a modern, professional education system in Pakistan.
Ishaq said her mission is clear: "I will go. I will train 45 teachers of three schools - 15 [in each]. I will train them on activity-based teaching. When they ... go to their school, they will train their colleagues. ... Then in this manner, three schools I will cover. Then I will carry on - inshallah."