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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.

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