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Teaching the teachers in Pakistan’s mountains

GILGIT, Pakistan – Teachers-in-training are now being taught in Pakistan’s Mountains.

Good teachers are friendly, firm, and fair.

They are organized, punctual, and polite. And they love children.

All of these attributes are important, master trainer Aafiat Nazar told a group of teachers from Central Asia Institute-supported schools recently.

But good teachers also push their students, said master trainer and Wakhi poet Nazir Ahmad Bulbul. They challenge and motivate them – and themselves – to greatness.

“I salute you teachers because you are working with limited resources,” Bulbul told the 93 teachers, most of whom had traveled great distances in winter from their remote mountain villages to participate in the annual training.

But that is no excuse for letting students slack off.

“One thing we lack in this area is that we do not expect high performance from students,” Bulbul said. “Give them challenging tasks. And believe that they – and you – can do it.”

TEACHERS IN CLASS

For the third year running, CAI-Gilgit held its teacher-training program in January, during the winter school break. This year’s 17-day training was particularly intense, “without any day off,” said Saidullah Baig, CAI-G program manager.

INTRODUCTIONS: Hussan Jahan, a teacher at the CAI-supported school in Rashith, a village in Pakistan’s Chapurson Valley, introduces a fellow teacher during the opening orientation. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

INTRODUCTIONS: Hussan Jahan, a teacher at the CAI-supported school in Rashith, a village in Pakistan’s Chapurson Valley, introduces a fellow teacher during the opening orientation. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

The teachers were also required to do their own cooking, rather than having meals prepared for them – an additional learning experience for many.

A team of 10 master trainers helped organize the program and coursework, Baig said. On opening day, they divided the teachers-in-training into three groups – science, methodology, and early childhood development (ECD) – and gave them pre-tests to determine existing skills and capacities.

Then the work began, with every day crammed full of lectures, question-and-answer sessions, roleplaying, laboratory work, group discussions, and presentations.

“It is not easy to cover this mighty ocean in just 17 days, but we tried to create an environments for learning,” Bulbul said. “So we made displays, gave activities to the participants. We made the library corner and asked the teachers to find the answer themselves. We tried to learn new words every day.”

And, he told the teachers, “You have to speak English. You have to make mistakes, talk rubbish. That is the way you learn.”

TEACHING SCIENCE

This year’s emphasis on science-specific teaching stemmed from observations in the field, said Dilshad Begum, CAI-Gilgit’s director of women’s development.

 

FIELD TRIP: Members of the teaching methodology group stop for a photo after a visit to Mehnaz Fatima School in Gilgit, Pakistan. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

FIELD TRIP: Members of the teaching methodology group stop for a photo after a visit to Mehnaz Fatima School in Gilgit, Pakistan. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

“Whenever the CAI-G team visits the schools we feel that the teachers need subject training,” she said. “This time we arranged training for science teachers. Next time we focus on other subjects, too.”

Chemistry trainer Saif Uddin said the science teachers in his workshops ranged from high school graduates to a few with master’s degrees in science. “But they all were hardworking teachers; they did not make us feel that they cannot do this,” he said.

“First we gave them basic concepts and then we increased their teaching skills. One important thing I shared with all of the teachers is that if you are well prepared going into the class, the environment itself will be a learning environment. It is up to the teacher how she/he makes their lessons interesting for the students,” Uddin said.

Qasim, a teachers-in-training in the science group, said he was grateful for the breadth and depth of the program.

“Before the training I was thinking that my subject is physics and I could not teach biology and chemistry,” he said. “But now, after getting this training, I am able to teach all three subjects of science. I am thankful to CAI-G and CIA-USA for providing us this platform to learn from these experts.”

ART OF TEACHING

The methodology and ECD groups’ lessons touched on specific subjects – such as history, art, and geography – but with particular emphases on “pedagogy,” or instruction, and on the psychological components of children’s learning processes.

The trainers underscored the importance of lesson planning, classroom management, homework, feedback, and assessing students’ progress.

LESSON PLANNING: Teacher-training course participants discuss the importance of lesson planning during CAI-Gilgit’s annual winter training program. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

LESSON PLANNING: Teacher-training course participants discuss the importance of lesson planning during CAI-Gilgit’s annual winter training program. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

But none of this should be done in a vacuum, Bulbul said. Teachers must understand each child and adapt teaching methods and styles to suit.

“For teachers, three things are important: content, pedagogy, and disposition,” he said. “Teachers must know the stages of growth of the students. That’s why we ask them to discover their students, to know about the multiple intelligences.”

Rather than rely on old-fashioned rote lessons, teachers were encouraged to experiment with other approaches.

ECD trainer Shahana Bibi, for example, expounded on the value of “cooperative learning.” Students work together in small groups while the teacher coaches the process, she said. As students discuss material, organize their ideas, and help and encourage each other, they develop leadership, active listening, conflict-management, and decision-making skills.

She summed it up this way:
“We Learn:
• 10 percent of what we read
• 20 percent of what we hear
• 30 percent of what we see
• 50 percent of what we both see and hear
• 70 percent of what is discussed with others
• 80 percent of what we experience personally
• And 95 percent of what we teach someone else.”

GOOD TEACHERS

All of the teachers and teachers-in-training are encouraged to push themselves.

Too often, in these remote regions, people become teachers due to a death of options, Uddin said.

“If you choose teaching as a profession, this is good,” he said. “But usually what happens is that teachers take this job as a last option. If you only take it as the last option, you are doing yourself and your students no justice.”

Teaching is a profoundly important job, he said, and teachers must be committed to their own continued education.

“I ask you people to be motivated toward learning,” he said. “Reading, yourself, is most important.”

So, too, is taking what is learned in the training and applying it in the classroom.

“I hope that all the teachers will practice what you learned here,” Ghazala, an ECD trainer, said at the closing ceremony. “Don’t keep this knowledge to yourself. Rather, convey it to your students. Use the provided materials. Make it part of your lessons.”

Education is an honorable calling, said physics-subject trainer Fida Muhammad.

“The most beautiful thing about this training session was that your zeal and your zest, all of you have a wonderful interest to learn,” he said. “Being a teacher, it is our duty to know and explore the potential of our students and point them in the right direction. We are here to work for the welfare of the people. We the teachers are part of those who work for humanity.”

QUOTE: “You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.” – Conrad Hall

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

With reporting assistance from Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Read our 2013 blogpost on the first CAI-Gilgit teachers-in-training program, and follow-up stories on the teachers, teachers-in-training, and the training in the 2013 Journey of Hope.