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Bringing HundrED Innovations to Pakistan's Young Students

3.7.2019 | BY SHEEBA AJMAL
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It’s been more than 2 years since I started working on my projects with two schools in Peshawar, Pakistan that cater to underprivileged kids within the community. One of them is the SOS Children’s Village Peshawar (which is an orphanage) and the second is Ranaa Child Welfare foundation (which is a school for street children). My project Technology for a Cause Enhancing Skills Empowering Kids is a voluntary effort to provide quality education experiences to underprivileged kids in the society. Through my work, I try to provide exposure to various global education projects that has led to an increased understanding of global issues , opportunities to interact with their global peers, and become global citizens.

I also believe that kids mostly learn through play based activities and learning experiences. Structured lessons and instructions do not yield expected results as far as learning outcomes are concerned. As per a research facilitated by Harvard University, almost 80% of the child’s brain develops at the age of 3, and almost 15 minutes of play can spark thousands of brain connections every second in a baby’s brain - a pace never repeated again. Therefore, I believe play in early childhood is very important as it helps strengthen a number of skills, including creativity, imagination, problem solving, sharing, resilience, taking risks, social skills, perseverance etc. 

In the early years, children need nutrition, protection and stimulation for healthy brain development, where as the parents focus more on the physical growth and not on the brain development and that might be one of the reasons why kids suffer in adult years.

Jack P. Shankoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has said that the time to invest in the future years of our nation, our economies, and our communities is in the earliest years of life.

The clock is always ticking and the time to act is right now.

In the very same article Raffi Cavoukian, singer and founder of Canada’s Center for Child Honouring says that when you pay attention to the beginning of the story, you can change the whole story. I completely agree as far as bringing up Pakistan's students is concerned. I have been in the education field for more than 14 years now and my observation is that as educators, our main focus remains on scores and grades working towards getting admissions in best colleges and institutes. Since as young an age as 3, a child starts going to school and starts learning alphabets, numbers, etc. Our focus drifts from the child well being and mental health to performance in academics and that’s one of the core reasons kids fail to develop skills like empathy, compassion, resilience, patience, grit etc. that are needed to survive and face daily life challenges when they grow up as adults.

 

This is why I am personally favor the Finnish education system which is the best in the world. Early childhood education in Finland centers around free play, self discovery, learning through collaboration and interaction among peers, encouraging kids to take own initiatives, learning how to learn - it’s all about preparing kids for life and not just exams. Primary school education starts at the age of 7, there are no standardized testing and the curriculum is determined by the Finnish National Board of Education. The teachers are highly qualified, well trained, trusted individuals who have freedom and autonomy to drive learning in classrooms. Technology is introduced in the early years, through computers, smartboard, tablets etc. Using these tools, children are given the opportunity to be creative, innovative and imaginative, which often traditional teaching does not offer.

Inspired from my online courses about the Early Childhood Finnish education on Eliademy, I opened a small school for street kids in my house with the name of Sawubona which is a term used for greetings in Zulu language( from an African tribe) meaning "I see you as you are, I accept you and acknowledge you with all your strengths and weaknesses". And the response to Sawubona is Ngikhona meaning"I am here for you" or Shiboka "I exist for you".  I work with young kids who learn through play - they paint, color, work with blocks, learns numbers and  letters, play online games, etc. 

Through my interaction with these students, I have introduced my students to different hundrED innovation projects like Playground Ideas (building playgrounds to build brains),  Run Jump and Learn (a way to increase motivation through exercise and activities, learning by doing), Smiling Mind (a mindfulness app that empowers kids to take care of themselves, their emotional and behavioural responses , stress levels etc) and Student Agents (enthusiastic learners share their ICT expertise with their school community). 

I was amazed to see their engagement during the various projects. They thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience. While working on the Playground Ideas project kids at both schools felt happy and relaxed. They were given the tools and briefed on the playground idea after which they came up with impressive designs for seesaws and swings using tyres. We were able to create a playground using recycled tyres, wood planks for the early year kids at the Ranaa Child Welfare Foundation. It helped build understanding of recycling and reusing and not polluting the environment. Also it was a great opportunity to do something for their fellow peers, it gave them a sense of responsibility. Kids also created a floor playground snakes and ladders to aid kids in enhancing numeracy skills. 

Similarly I tried the Run, Jump & Learn project with the kids at Ranaa Child Welfare Foundation. I kept a ball and we decided on a rule that who ever wants to ask a question will use the ball and pass it on to the next person who wants to ask a question. It looked as if the whole class came alive. Their body language was different, they looked energized and active. Kids also learned a great deal while working on the Student Agents project, we made pairs and kids taught Scratch to the peer assigned to them. What was amazing was that each one of the kids was able to grasp the idea that by sharing our knowledge with our peers or anyone it grows more, and as a result we are able to build our own understanding.  We have all heard the phrase practice makes perfect and it holds true like anything. The kids were observed recently in a session by the KPITB (KP IT Board) and were impressed by their coding skills in Scratch.

Another interesting and very useful innovation that the kids at both schools have worked on is the Smiling Minds innovation. This was something completely new for me too. I have downloaded the app and have been personally practicing guided meditation and it literally helps remain mindful, calms down stress and help monitor stress levels. As far as the kids are concerned, I found  them more alert and aware in the classroom since we started mindful activities at the beginning of every class. They feel more confident about themselves and have explored various techniques to calm down stress and anger. 

Creativity is intelligence having fun!

With this quote from Albert Einstein's I would like to close this blog and remind everyone that if we want our kids to become future leaders, who come up with new innovative approaches and solutions to our world's problems, we need to change our teaching methodology. We must meet them in the way they are ready to learn, keeping in mind how their brains functions and rapidly develops during the first 3 years of life.

 


You can join passionate educators like Sheeba  Ajmal by becoming a HundrED Ambassadors and  taking education innovations to your community. Read more here.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Sheeba Ajmal
Founder Technology For A Cause - Enhancing Skills Empowering Kids, Author, Education Technology Trainer, Teacher, Google Certified Educator Level 1 & 2, Blogger