Tag Archives: education

Re-thinking rural education: Bringing the outside world to a village

I am from a village in rural Punjab, Pakistan. Like most other villages, my village lacks proper infrastructure. Poor people live in houses built with mud and only the rich live in huge mansions. Children of the rich go to private schools in the city but the poor parents cannot even afford the heavily subsidized government schools. They are left with no other choice but to educate their children in the village school.

Visiting my village as a kid, I remember hearing about the experiences of students in the village school. As you might or might not know, schools in villages have a multi-grade teaching system. A multi-grade teaching system is where a single teacher would teach children of different grades, usually 3 or 4 grades. However, there is only one teacher in my village’s school who teaches students in grades 1-10.

Let me show you how a typical class might look like. Here’s a cousin of mine who volunteered to teach English and Mathematics to a group of students in the village.

Imran Maken teaching a group of students

Would you ever be willing to study like that? As a parent, would you pay to send your children to study in a place like this?

Poor parents in villages have no choice. Not having a choice means they either send or do not send their children to such schools. Talking to parents and children in the village, I realized these people saw education as a need and not as a want. I saw the children sitting on the ground for hours wanting to learn new things. I saw parents forcing the children to go to these schools. Both the students and the parents saw education as they only thing that would result in better lives for them. Unfortunately, due to the unavailability of teachers, the un-friendly environment of schools and the lack of resources, a lot of children drop out after grade 5 to help their parents with other stuff.

Knowing how much students in my village want to know about the outside world and with an understanding of how education can change lives there; I have decided to use my education, exposure and experience in Toronto to take back something for them.

Most people in my village have not seen anything outside the village or they have only been to the nearest urban center. So, naturally, when I go to visit them from Toronto, they cannot stop asking me questions about the world they might never be able to go to. For a while now, I tried to come up with something which would not require them to spend resources they do not have but at the same time be able to get what they want. I found the answers in Internet. I bought a projector to make it even more exciting.

I am going back to my village in December. This time, I am not going to be doing much talking. Instead, I will let the projector, hooked up to internet, show these children all they want to know about the world that is still alien to them. The children are going to be shown a few visual documentaries and a couple of movies to get them excited about the prospects of learning they will have available to them.

The internet and projector can not only be used to educate these children but can also help in trainings for women & men in the village. For example, we can have virtual classes where someone sitting in Canada or anywhere else in the world teaches women in the village a skill or an art. I believe all of us have a unique touch, a talent. Some of us are lucky enough to have the conductive environment that allows us to discover, realize and use our talents. Unfortunately, most of the times these talents and special skills go unnoticed.

A poor kid in a rural area could be a great artist or a great painter or even a singer but due to his upbringing he or she has not been able to find time for him/herself and look within them to see what they are good at. When these children go to the village school, a person who does not care for them, their opinions or their talents, greets them. A new, innovative, friendly, flexible, fascinating classroom for these children can change the way they perceive education. Human beings are the most important resource we have and we cannot let these children and their lives go to waste. The potential is limitless. I am taking this classroom back to my village and hope for it to work successfully. If successful, it can become a role model for schools in other villages. If that happens, thousands of lives will change.

Note: If you have any ideas, suggestions, criticism, or anything else that you think will help in making this happen, I would be very happy to listen to you.

Discovering Ourselves

Just a few days ago I saw a video posted on a friend’s face book profile. It was a TEDx video on our system of education. Sir Ken Robinson was trying to explain how the education system we have kills creativity. He was referring to the education system in general but I found his description to be a very appropriate match for the education system we have in Pakistan.

I believe the greatest resource a nation has is its people. Pakistan has a population of over 170 million. We are the 6th most populous country in the world. Yet how many of us have gone out to achieve world recognition. Not many! For instance take the example of the recently held Common Wealth games in New Delhi. Pakistan came back with 2 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze medals.  Singapore, with a population of only 5 million, came back with 31 medals in total. One would ask why out of a population of 170 million only 5 people could achieve this great mark? Why has only one Pakistani been awarded the Nobel Prize so far? Why have we always done so poorly in the Olympics? Why haven’t we made any discoveries and scientific breakthroughs? Why don’t we hear names of great Pakistani painters, photographers, dancers or fashion designers? Why haven’t we been able to come up with a decent film industry when our neighbor has one of the biggest film industries in the world?

The reason to me sounds very simple. We don’t provide our people with the opportunities and the platform to come out and express themselves. From those who are fortunate enough to get educated, only a few are able to achieve excellence in what they do. I believe the explanation for this lies in our education system.  It lies in the way we bring up our children, in what we tell them and what we think of them.

Our system of education is flawed, to say the least. Education, as it has come to be understood in our society, is not going to take us anywhere. Education is not just instilling concepts of mathematics, equations of physics and plays of English literature into our children. Its purpose should be to help individuals discover themselves.

Most of us live our whole lives without exploring the special talents we have. In some cases we do not even know if we posses a given talent or ability. It is the purpose of education to help us discover ourselves. To help us understand ourselves in a better way and help us use our abilities to exceed in what we are passionate about.  All of us have special abilities, abilities, which if explored can help us achieve excellence.  But we have been told not to question and just listen. We have been told to follow not ourselves but the examples of successful people. We have been forced to kill our creativity and our distinct abilities to pursue some other person’s example. We have been told not to take risks. With this attitude and this mindset, we will never be able to produce anything new. We will never be able to innovate anything or produce great people. We will remain the way we are.

Many a times we have heard stories of successful people who have been school or university dropouts. What was the reason behind their success? The only reason was the discovery of their hidden talent. They found something they were passionate about and pursued it till the end. They realized their potential and cashed on it.

I believe schools and universities don’t realize our potential. They discourage us from following our passions and pursuing our talents.  Math’s, physics and Business are the subjects that are focused on. Drama, arts and dance are not given much importance. In fact some schools don’t even have drama classes. Very rarely schools have photography lessons. Our marks in schools and universities have come to define us. Marks are just numbers. They cannot measure our potential.  In this capitalistic world all we have come to care about is if our education will guarantee us a good job. Our parents tell us to pursue those subjects for which there is a hot job market.  Our teachers fail to see the diversity in us. They fail to help us explore our hidden qualities.  There is a constant fear of making mistakes.

But we cannot forget that until we make mistakes, we won’t learn. We won’t discover anything new.  We won’t be able to come up with new ideas, discoveries and much more. To help us achieve our potential we have to revolutionize our system of education. We have to change the mindset of our parents that finding out who you are and doing what you want is better than being stuck at a job which pays you well but where you dread every single minute spent. We have to encourage our students to take up what they are passionate about and help them pursue their own qualities. We have to stop focusing on the materialistic aspect of our education and instead focus on exploring our talents. We have to let our children be what they want to be. We have to be tolerant of the mistakes our children make and finally we should be willing to help them achieve what they want. This is how we will move forward.