Monday, November 25, 2013

Context-Specific School Improvement Plan

Individual difference in teaching-learning is quite a common term in educational literature. It implies that students are different from each other in terms of their ability and capacity to learn and that they learn differently, hence should be taught with different teaching strategies. Teachers are encouraged to adapt to a variety of teaching strategies in order to fulfill the needs of individual student in a classroom. At a macro-level the concept of individual differences is equally applicable in terms of individual schools to improve.
There are different ways of school improvement or school reform strategies. In many countries a system-wide reform is in use. In system-wide reform process, all schools are treated at the same scale and reform is planned and implemented on the bases of a uniform standard approach. In such an attempt, schools’ individual needs usually get ignored and so the intended change is either short term or no change at all.  Sometimes such a reform has proved counterproductive in school improvement efforts especially in schools which are in challenging circumstances.  

Educational literature on school improvement suggests to analyse the individual needs of a school and then apply a specific planned strategies based on the needs of the school.  Each school is different in terms of their socio-economic status, composition, and their external influencing factors and so on and so forth. Treating schools differently to bring improvement in schools can solve half of the problem of educational inequality. It will also help in improving education quality in a step-by-step process rather than jumping onto a universally acceptable solution. The later approach can bring a short term change but the step-by-step process of treating each school differently can bring a sustainable long term educational change. How is such a sustainable change possible in our society? Or even if such a change possible?’

The public education system in developing countries  is quite criticized for its low quality and effectiveness. Given the low performing status of our schools, the educational system needs to be more localized. Once localized, the education department of each jurisdiction/region/area can compile facts and figures about the schools in their area. These schools can then be classified into ‘High performing, Average school and low performing schools’.  

For the High Performing schools a national standard plan can be applied. In this plan the policy makers and academics along with the local system and school can develop and implement a standard plan with a set criteria can be implemented. In such a plan the schools will be accountable to the set standard. School monitoring and evaluation can be standard reference and norm reference. In standard reference school performances are assessed based on the national standard set. In the norm reference assessment, school performances can be crossed referenced i.e schools’ performance can be compared with other highly performing schools.

For the low performing schools, a very different approach of improvement needs to be adopted. First of all an analysis of the context and need analysis can be carried out. The situation analysis can be used as a based to develop a locally context-specific school improvement plan. It may look at the physical structure of the school, the resource requirements (material and human), the leadership requirements, teachers’ professional development requirement, students’ family background, an analysis of the community and their needs and so on. Since there can be many diverse needs of each school in difficult situation, more than one plan needs to be developed. The plan may advise on the physical repairing of the school, reduced class sizes, need of expert teachers, resilient leadership, parents and community involvement strategies, specified training needs for teachers/leadership etc. In doing so, the local education system will develop a locally owned school improvement system by involving the local stake holders such as the community and the school. Monitoring and evaluation of such schools need to more locally suited i.e assessing school performance with the school’s past performance rather than comparing them with other schools. Such an exercise will help in improving the school through a step-by-step process and will not assume the status of low performing schools for competing with high performing schools.

An integrated approach of improvement planning can be adopted for average performing schools. These schools can be assessed on standards and comparing performances with other schools, however these schools should also be assessed based on their previous performance. The planning would also integrate some standard based set criteria and also merging the local needs of the area.

If schools improvement plans are implemented based on a classification of schools and meeting to the needs of each category of schools, a system reform is not far away. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Graduation Speech

Today I am honored to speak on behalf of my fellow graduates of 2007-2009 about the experiences that we shared under one roof and became long lasting friends.
Once, while sitting for a cup of tea during break, a person asked me “What is Curriculum?”
I replied “Curriculum is everything that happens in an educational setting with an intentional goal.” 
The person nodded and said “Have you ever seen a graduate of a specific institute… for example a cadet college?”
I nodded. And he continued “that person is the curriculum of that college. You can judge his background through his actions and behavior……and those actions or behavior will reflect the curriculum of that particular institute”. And I agreed.
Today wherever I go I see myself as the curriculum of Notre Dame. The curriculum which aimed at developing critical and reflective minds, bringing out the best potential, polishing capabilities, developing responsible and conscious citizens and above all cherishing humanity.
 It was at Notre Dame that I learnt that education does not only denote knowledge but also feelings and skills, which according to Bloom is the cognitive, the affective and the psychomotor domain. Somebody asked me why did I opt for NDIE and not any other institute. My immediate response was ‘BECAUSE I LOVE NDIE’ and this is the proof how my feeling for NDIE grew from just paying attention to, to something being my priority.
In the classrooms I enhanced my abilities through presentations, arguments, discussions, searching books/journal, using the library, questioning, sharing, experiencing, imagining my context, critically reflecting and at times feeling helplessness while discussing about the educational challenges my country faces.
 Today I take away with me many of the cherished learning moments. I will never forget
Fatima Hashim’s types of research, and the normality curve;
Barry’s educational changes and its effect on individual and society as well as curriculum Studies’ scope and sequence;
Margaret’s sending us outside the campus to count the cars and motor bikes on the road outside in order to introduce the novice researchers to observation techniques;
Naseem Mughal’s educational psychology theories and her statement “human mind is amazing”;
Dr. Khalid Rawat’s Plato and the imaginary world
and how can I forget the devolution plan of educational administration by Martin.
 The memories of celebration all year round, now at workplace helps me understand about how important it is to develop a conductive environment. All these events created in me affection for other human beings, strengthened in me the respect for other religion, helped me in understanding divers culture and above all respect humanity. The professional attitude that I got from NDIE was not only through studying but also by observing the role models as the NDIE faculty.
 To my juniors, based on my experience I would say that though it seems challenging and difficult but when you will go back to your schools you will realize that joining NDIE was one of the best decision of your life….. and believe you me, for me it is. I wish you all the best for taking a greater responsibility of becoming change agents.                                
Thank you so much

Monday, June 13, 2011

Issues of Assessment in Board Examinations

Education is a process as well as a product. Process includes attending lectures; participating in classroom activities; presentations and actively assimilating knowledge, skills and attitude; participating in co-curricular activities and learning how to interact and live with different people. The quality of the process is judged through examination as the product. The process is as important as the product, but our educational system is more products oriented and hence students as well as parents pay more attention to the assessment/examination rather than what happens in the school. Our examination system/ Boards at intermediate level seem ineffective to assess or judge the quality of the process of education due to some serious flaws.

Our typical examination papers follow a specific pattern of questions/concepts to asses year after year. So students do not bother about exams even if they start preparing for it a month earlier, still they can pass with flying colors. It also develops the problem of irregularities in colleges.

Still there are some students who even do not bother to prepare in the last days of exams because they have approaches and means to pass. Hence they are the most relaxed students.

The culture of solving five-years paper has also gives chance for students to rote learn concept for a 3-hour long assessment without bothering about its application in their everyday life. So they can write a strong rote-leant essay on “how can I contribute to the development of our nation”----- but lack the practical skill of actually doing so.

Professionally students are advised that cheating is not good, but on the first day in the exam centre students decide to cheat. It is the approach used in the exam centers which teaches the students to cheat.

The examiners and paper markers have their own compulsion as they have to earn their living. So they do not see what students have written or how well they have answered the questions, they are in hurry to check as many answer sheet as they can.

All these issues force one to think for an alternative system of board exams which can sincerely assess/judge the abilities of students and the quality of the process of education in schools/colleges without any injustice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nurturing Critical, Conscious and Responsible Citizens

Education/learning is a lifelong process. Learning can take place in a formal educational setting or informal life experiences. In my view an educated individual is a responsible, conscious, motivated and a curious change agent of a society. People have the capability to become such educated individual and they are polished through the process of education and socialization. The role of teaching learning cannot be overlooked in developing a desired society where the people are responsible for their own act. Vice versa by observing the individuals of a society, one can judge the classroom teaching learning process pretty well.

Teaching learning has its own unique way of bringing up such individuals who can positively contribute to the society. There are many factors involved in this process; however some very basic elements make the teaching learning process more effective than others. For example while teaching in the classroom, the teacher should know the needs of the students. To know their needs a lesson can be started with question answer or some activity to find out what students know and think about a concept. Through probing questions the teacher can help the students in connecting concepts and making associations. In doing so, the teacher can find out the wrong connections but should not give the answers straightaway. One of the goal in doing so is to confuse the students. Once they are stuck at a point, their curiosity is aroused which is the first important step of learning. It is also known as readiness to learn by many psychologists. It gives us a clue that the student is now ready to learn and wants to clarify his/her confusion. Having said that, it is also important to scaffold support with their confusion. Scaffolding is important because at times, when students are confused they get distracted and do not want to go further in that particular activity.

Arousing students’ curiosity has a long term effect and students do not rely only on the classroom teaching and textbook to know about the topic but some of them go beyond that. If they are young students, they ask their parents or elders and if they are older students they search books, internet etc. once the teaching learning process goes beyond the classroom boundaries, it means that learning is taking place in the society though experiences using different sources. It indicates that the leaner has now become responsible for his/her learning and curious to learn and apply knowledge.

Students who are curious to know and are responsible for their learning become change agents for any society. They realize the importance that whatever they learn is not just for the sake of learning but has an everlasting impact in their life as well as in other people’s life. So they become critically conscious human beings who are ready to bring a positive change in the society for themselves as well as for others.

Students come to the classroom with their own background knowledge, skills and attitude. Such knowledge, skills and attitude either come from the home, their surroundings, the previous classes and or the social places they live in. It is utmost important to streamline their previous learning and experiences with the classroom teaching learning. It can be done through whole class discussion, written work, sharing in groups or any other activity. A teacher successful in making a balance of the real life experiences and the teaching learning materials, is then able to help students apply the knowledge in real life. In such cases learning becomes part of students’ life and life experiences become part of their learning. Once people are able to apply the classroom knowledge in their real life and vice versa, they become conscious change agents.

Bringing up such critically conscious beings is not only affected by the outside forces rather the important thing is the person’s inner motivation and willingness combined with the learning opportunities provided. A very important personal effort is having a clear goal in life. It has been observed that people with clear focused goals are more successful than the ones without any goal in life. So it is very important to help children develop their own goal in life by giving them an exposure of a diverse field in the early years. Once they experience the different fields, it would be easy for them to have their own goal based on their own interest. This goal can be their career goal. A clear career goal then helps the students think about other people around them which leads to develop a life goal. People with life goal do not only think for their benefit only but are also interested in bringing a change in others lives by working for them. Hence they become change agents of a society.

Children’s inborn potential also plays a vital role in making them capable individuals of a society. It is the teachers job to unfold the children’s potential. When students learn with the help of a teacher, they are able to bridge the Zone of Proximal Development (a term coined by Vygotsky) which refers to the difference between what a child can learn with or without help or the actual development and the potential development. In order to bring out a child’s potential, individual attention in the classroom teaching is necessary. However it is a difficult job in a class of 30-40 students and a 45 minutes class time. However identifying a group of students with relatively similar characteristic and supporting them accordingly can solve the problem to a some extent.

In conclusion it is pertinent to realize the importance of critically conscious and responsible citizens. If every teacher makes the classroom teaching learning experiences meaningful and is able to give a meaning making life to every child, then we will be able to address the issues of lawlessness, extremism, disloyalty, indifference attitude and such other issues facing by our society today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Adhe Adhoore Khawab

Review by Reshma Perveen

The novel ‘Adhe Adhoore Khawab’ by Dr. Shahid Siddiqui is a call at the right time for the practicality of education in the society. It is a unique attempt to use the genre of Urdu novel to deal with the themes of education, politics, and justice. The protagonist, Professor Roy, is an inspirational teacher who touches the lives of students and becomes an eternal source of motivation for them. The story opens with Professor Roy’s returning to his old city of work where he had taught in a well known education college called Professional Teacher College (PTC). He by coincidence meets Imtisal Aga, a current TPC student who is an enthusiastic girl interested in bringing a radical change through education. Imtisal belongs to a small village of the mountainous region and has come to the city for a teaching course in the same college where Professor Roy had taught. She has heard a lot about Prof Roy as a radical educationist but has never met him. The chance meeting turns into a passionate relationship of mentor and mentee. Imtisal keeps learning from Prof Roy through informal discussions and observations.

In a dramatic progression from the start till the end, the novel portrays the steps and context of how education can be used for creating socio-political awareness. Each chapter starts with a simple narration of the character, the context and the activities. The simple but fascinating style of the novel engages the reader till the end. The author, a renowned educationist himself, has experienced the drawbacks of our educational system especially of teacher education and hence has shown the gaps of it in our society. Teachers and especially pedagogical leaders are focused in the characters of Professor Roy, Imtisal Aga, Tasawar, and other related characters. Here I would like to discuss the pedagogical implications of the novel.
The main character of the novel is Professor Saharan Roy, whose personality is inspiration incarnate for his own students. The context in which educational implications are shown varies from classroom teaching to a wider context of the society. Professor Roy, on his first day of teaching, uses an icebreaking activity of making flowers with three petals and students are instructed to write their names in one, their favorite food in the second and their favorite personality in the third petal. Any teacher with new students in their classes can use this very simple and low-cost activity in their classroom with ease. In his very first class, he inspires the students through many ways like: calling students by their names, even though he was new in the class but is able to read their name tags. Calling students by their names has found to be very positive impact on developing rapport with the students because people love to be called by their names.

Similarly Professor Roy is shown to build students’ self confidence by saying that the flower they drew is very special because it is their own flower. Developing self esteem of the students on whatever they do is not an easy job, but it needs a little effort to approve their work and show them that you as a teacher value it. The teachers’ ability to be aware of every happening of the class is shown when the Professor feels that students are confused during the ice breaking activity. Face reading is another very important skill presented in the novel for effective teaching. Experiencing the different facial expressions and knowing the feeling that is embedded paves a way to solve individual problems. The icebreaking activity is shown as one event encompassing many useful teaching and learning strategies and a good teacher’s characteristics. Later in the story when Tasswar, a student of Professor Roy, is about to take a new session as a teacher reads the list of the students several times so as to get familiar with them and develop rapport with the students in his first class.

While defining the characteristics of a good teacher to Imtisal Aga, Tassawar recalls the characteristics of Professor Roy during his teaching. For instance questioning in the classroom in order to involve the students in critical thinking and discussion is highlighted very clearly. After throwing a question Professor Roy used ‘wait time’, a technique to give time for the students to think about the possible answers. Professor Roy in the novel also utilizes his time as planned which is usually called time management. For example when in one class the Professor gives two minutes thinking time but one student named Fouzia responds before the time; Professor Roy stops her and reminds her that the thinking time is not over. Giving equal thinking time to all students ensures the involvement of all students. After thinking time was over, only then Professor Roy collects responses and writes them on the board and discusses. One very important message given here is patience in holding back information and not delivering all knowledge immediately.

The character of Prof Roy as a whole is shown as the one that touches people’s lives. The students inspired by his teaching try to adopt the way he teaches. Observing others and teaching the way they taught is an important way of learning how to teach. Many teachers in our Pakistani schools come to teaching without prior teacher training; hence they teach the way their teachers have taught them. A key message for teachers in the novel is that while they are teaching they are also giving an opportunity for their students to observe their teaching style. The professor is shown as an inspirational personality, the way he teaches and many of the students try to follow it. This is how he is remembered for long.
The teaching approaches used by the Professor Roy go beyond the narrow confines of textbooks as students are engaged in critical discussion by bringing in live example from society and their lives. Besides critical discussions in the classrooms home assignments for reading articles and presentations are given in order to develop the confidence of the participants. Not only this but the real application of education in the society is shown by setting the lawyers’ movement as the background and the students’ participation in the movement along with their professor is demonstrated effectively. One message that needs to be picked up is the rusted political system of our country which is not refreshed because of the ban on students union in our country.

Professor Roy during a class session discusses in an interactive manner the characteristics of good teachers by using the metaphor of a cake. As the cake consists of layers, so is the teacher, where the first layer consists of subject as well as pedagogical knowledge; the second layer as the teaching skills of the teacher; and finally the passion for the profession and the students they teach. In academic terms Bloom’s Taxonomy categorized these three layers as; the cognitive; the psychomotor; and the affective domain of teaching. In other words it is the 3 H of teaching: the Head, the Hand and the Heart.

Towards the end of the story Imtisal goes back to her village and joins a school. Meanwhile Professor Roy gets arrested and is sent to jail for taking part in the lawyers’ movement. He faces the situation bravely but finally succumbs to the torture of the state and dies of heart attack. Even after his physical death Professor Roy remains a source of inspiration for his students who carry on his message of societal change through education. One such student is Imtisal who commits to bring a change in her village school. She is shown taking part in cleaning the classroom along with the students. This encourages the students’ willing participation. This also suggests how important is teachers’ active and visible role in teaching in order to keep the students active by keeping their interest alive.

I would recommend this novel to teachers of all levels who are interested in acquiring a fresh look into their use of education as a tool to bring a social change. Student-teachers particularly need to read it in order to critically analyze their own approach to teaching and learning.

Title of the Book: Aadhay Adhooray Khwab
Author: Dr. Shahid Seddiqui
Reviewer Reshma Perveen
Publisher: Jahangir Books
Enterprise: 2009
Pages: 176
Price: Rs. 250

Referecne: Parveen, R. (2010). Book Review: Adhe Dhoore Khawab. Bulletin of Education and Research, June 2010 Vol.32, No. 1 pp 79-81

Friday, April 16, 2010

Internet------ Some Useful Websites

By Reshma Perveen

The world had changed rapidly due to information through internet in the mid 90s. The information coming into the world of internet on daily bases is out of our imagination. In such a rapidly changing situation, it is almost impossible and hard for us to manage information that we need. The difficulty increases in our context and culture where little awareness prevails among the mass as how to get benefit from internet. The youth of our area as I see on facebook are increasingly using internet. The internet is used for different purposes such as social communication, data sharing, gaining knowledge etc.

We should keep in mind some of the guidelines to use internet. It is important first to have a purpose in mind before searching through internet. Secondly while roaming from site to site we also come across some websites, that seem useful to us and we want to go to that site again and again. Such web sites are saved in the favorites which can be revisited without wasting much of our time. Thirdly we also need to be selective among sites…..some websites are really good but others are just for passing time and still other are not even recommendable. The decision lies in our hand as what to see and what not to.

Below are some useful web addresses which I have personally used and found them effective in terms of learning. Some of these sites are for parents who can use them with their children from age as early as three years. Some are good for learning English focuses all the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Still others give a good practice of standardized tests such as IELTs, TOFL, GRE, GMAT, CAT ect.

This site I specially recommend for parents and teachers to use with their children. BBC itself a well famous website has produced these materials for children of age three till primary years. The games given in this site are useful in engaging the child’s mind and give some good brain exercise. The story telling part is useful for children to learn English by listening and develop interest in reading. The colouring part is a good resource for children to learn about colours. There are many other things such as puzzles, drawing, sketching and many more… I suggest you to explore this site for your children for free.

This site is very useful in learning English through different activities of listening and playing. You can log in freely and can use it for your children.

This site contains teaching material of any level. Teachers, parents and students can get equal benefit……explore it for learning English

I would recommend this site for those students who are at their secondary, higher secondary, college or university education. You can log in freely and each day you will get word of the day which will improve your vocabulary. You can hear the pronunciation, read text about the word and find its origin which gives an ample amount of information to remember the word. You can also learn the previous words. Besides word of the day there are puzzles for learning words, question of the day, thesaurus and many other things which you can explore yourself.

Merriam’s Webster is also a dictionary giving the word of the day and other English related activities. The thing that I liked about this site is that the word of the day is explained relating it to other related words. This way we also can learn the related words and can make a good picture of the word in our mind.

This web site is for common people who want to improve their general English. It consists of speaking, writing, reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. Go and search it, you will definitely find it very interesting and useful. It is also conveniently categorized into different levels such as beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced. So it gives a good hunch of your assessment by knowing your level. The different exercises are helpful in practicing our learning.

This is a good website for those students who are preparing for GRE. It contains a course as each week you can learn the different techniques of learning for GRE and attempting a GRE paper. It contains the frequent words of GRE, synonym, antonym, analogy, the different sections of GRE paper and many more.

This site is really useful for people interested in higher education abroad. The different standardized test such as GMAT, GRE, TOFL, IELTS, SAT and other kind of tests, their information and practice is given. People working on their writing skills or want help in different types of essays could also get benefit.

Besides learning English, you can find materials related to other subjects. Teaching of English language material can also be found.

I hope you will enjoy learning through these sites. I also invite you to put up some useful sites which can benefit others as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“Taare Zamin Par” – A critical analysis

June 25, 2008 Pamir Times-->
by Reshma Parveen

The film “Taare Zameen Par” by Amir Khan has undoubtedly attracted the attention of educationists, teachers, parents, administrators and others interested in education. It is almost the first film, especially in Urdu/ Hindi speaking context, which may contribute to the educational theory and practice tremendously. A film can change the thinking, attitudes, behaviours, and practice of people much faster than any other technique.
The film gives some very important messages for parents and teachers alike. The role of the parents shown in the film is a typical role existing in our society, may be in a different form. For instance most fathers believe that they are responsible for earning money and therefore the internal responsibility of the house including child development is of the wife. This is a very dangerous notion, because the children may develop an indifferent attitude towards their fathers.
The film also shows a blaming attitude of the mother towards the child when she mentions that she has left her job because of him——here the child feels as if all the wrong happenings are because of him/her. Parents should be very careful and try not to make the child realize as if he/she is a burden on them, this affects the self-esteem of the child. A mother being with their children all the time is not necessarily giving quality time rather a mother who even spends less time but is of quality is much more important. One very important and critical situation which is presented in the film is comparison of the two brothers——a reality existing in our society. Many of the parents as well as teachers I have come across depend on this notion of comparison in order to either check students progress or to see who is more able. Children are very different from each other, even twins have got different abilities which needs to be tackled differently. Praising one child infront of the other and stating that the other is so duffer, creates many psychological problem for the child as it stops the personality development, affects the self-esteem which many lead to failure in life.
The role of the traditional teachers shown is an eye opener to our society. We should move away with it but on the other hand the role of the modern teacher played is also of a very ideal state. Can we imagine this role of the teacher in our schools? Nevertheless, the modern role of the teacher has so many messages embedded in it. Firstly, catering for individual differences is an important aspect of teaching and learning. We generally believe that all students have same ability in a class and teaching one students is same for all therefore whatever one student learns in the class should be learnt by all equally well—–is this a right belief? Even I have heard teachers blaming students “so and so stands first in the class and learns all material I give, do I teach him/her differently?” Each child needs are different and treating them all equal is ineffective teaching. Secondly, the teachers’ attitude with the students is friendly and unthreatening, therefore the students are able to follow the instruction and share their problems through different means. Thirdly, each child has got his/her potentialities and they only need opportunities and guidance to bring them out. In the traditional class the teachers was to decide what to draw and paint but in the modern class the teacher gave them a freedom to draw whatever they want. This gave an honour to their work and thus raised the self-esteem of the children.
At one place when the teacher was asking some questions regarding the names of some scientists, contradicts with some psychological aspects of teaching. For instance this class was of 9/10-years old students and the concepts which he was asking were very abstract. Piaget (a psychologist) argues that at this age children cannot understand abstract thinking and thus it develops rote leaning. The questioning style and not giving time to think is another contradicting point.
Some of the points which we should examine in our context are:
The context of the film is very different from ours—-they being in an urban situation and we in a rural context—–therefore coping things straightaway might be dangerous.
The class which the teacher (Amir Khan) teaches is a specific class of “Art” it may not be generalized in all subjects and disciplines
It is also possible that the film affects the children/students watching it, negatively, because children idealize such situations—–the teacher, the way he behaves, the school, the facilities—–and when they do not find it in reality in their context may affect them. My own 3-years old son one day comes from school and asks me “mama! Why my teacher does not sing ‘bum bum boolay…’” and I was stuck, how to answer to this little boy. Therefore we should be very careful about the audience if we want to show it. Thus the film is more focused for parents and teachers rather than students.
Anyhow it is a very interesting and intensively researched movie and a person related to a film industry may bring more changes in understanding and practices of teaching than educators. It is a good contribution towards teacher education and parental education. I recommend to watch the film and enjoy it but with a critical eye.