Saturday is a normal school day for the children of Pakistan. As would be expected, most of them were in school the morning of October 8, 2005 when the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the northern province of Kashmir, originating near the town of Muzaffarabad. Survivors of the earthquake, which is estimated to have killed more than 73,000 people and devastated 90 percent of Kashmir, witnessed the unthinkable—the death of child, a spouse or a friend.
Nine of the 20 Pakistani educators attending the 2006 Pakistani Teachers Institute at Plymouth State University are from Kashmir. Many suffered personal losses, and as educators, are also helping their students cope with the loss of their homes, communities and friends. Before the earthquake, the challenges faced by the Pakistani educational system included overcrowding in classrooms (average student to teacher ratio is 75 to one); teachers who lack proper training; lack of resources, including insufficient classroom space; and a dropout rate of 65 percent by the fifth grade, according to the institute participants.
Since the earthquake, participants say those challenges have been magnified by whole towns being destroyed, ongoing aftershocks and landslides that make it impossible to begin the rebuilding process and tents that now serve as school buildings, which are hot in the summer and offer little protection from winds and colder temperatures in the winter. Additionally, while some schools in Islamabad are being further choked by the influx of displaced students from Kashmir, other schools are struggling to stay open due to a lack of attendance. “Children are afraid to go to school,” explains Ghazala Jabeen, a senior science teacher from Muzaffarabad. “They saw their friends die right in front of them during the earthquake.”
And yet, the 20 teachers participating in this year’s Pakistani Teachers Institute feel privileged to be at PSU and aspire to be “agents of change” states Saeed Wahlah, a director of educational planning with the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD), not only to continue operating the public educational system, but “to find novel ways to improve teacher training, make it more interactive, integrate technology and improve the infrastructure.”
“This year’s institute is all about Taking the Lead,” states Blake Allen, director of the Pakistani Teachers Institute. “Our participants have endured much trauma over the last year, overcoming personal losses and challenges just in living day-to-day life. But they are so honored to be here and eager to learn everything they can, to be leaders and improve the education system in Pakistan.”
Even after just a few days of instruction, their enthusiasm for the program is evident. “The focus on curriculum and training gives us inspiration and courage to make a difference,” says Javed Iqbal Khawaja, a mathematics specialist with the Directorate of Curriculum in Muzaffarabad. “The earthquake has taught us how to adjust and now we have the motivation to go back and take responsibility for making necessary changes. It will take time to rebuild our nation, but this program has also shaped our vision of teaching for the future.”
Aurangzeb Malik, a field education officer with the Literacy Department agrees, “We will bring back much more passion for our profession, with new methodologies on how to better use existing resources.” As technology is lacking or nonexistent in many schools, Malik also adds, “”What you learn on a computer you can learn on a blackboard too.” He also notes that the informal interaction and relationship building between the institute attendees, who represent both the public and private education sectors, will help remove barriers to development once they return to Pakistan.
“The institute is changing how we look at education,” says Sijal Khan, deputy director of human resource and professional development at DSD. “Currently many of our teachers and schools don’t have access to technology, but we can learn to use the resources we have differently. We can also design our teacher training to be more effective, and teach teachers how to involve students more and be more interactive.”
Syed Shahid Gillani, a senior biology teacher from Muzzaffarabad, sums up the effects of the earthquake and the opportunity offered by the PSU institute best, “Now we can work not only as a country, but as an international community. We have many struggles, but are working hard and hoping for the best.”
The Pakistani Teachers Institute is a partnership between Plymouth State University and Pakistan’s Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) or Centre for Education and Consciousness Public Trust. The program has been in existence for two years and is funded by a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education & Cultural Affairs.
The goal of the Pakistani Teachers Institute is to provide exposure to activity-based learning with innovation, student-centered approaches and leadership training that lays the foundation for participants to be master trainers upon their return to Pakistan. This is accomplished through instructional materials and follow-up activities such as post-training seminars, discussions forums, transfer of knowledge and skills to geographically diverse areas and the development of a network through which mentoring models are promoted.
For more information about the Pakistani Teachers Institute, contact Blake Allen at (603) 535-2982 or visit online at www.plymouth.edu/pakistani.
Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.