Tuesday 30 October 2012

V for Vote not Van

1st Day at work:

Reached the office around 10:00 am (fortunately its located close to my house), met their team. Most of them belonged to Quetta and were here for a short visit. Had a brief interaction; they asked me about TISS and my field setting, earlier experience, etc. After that, they told me that today after an hour their team will drive to Baluchistan to visit their centres. They asked me to come along. I was confused and did not know what to do especially after the conversation I had with my father yesterday. I had the opportunity to meet each of the team members separately for info, hence I took this opportunity and asked each of them whether I should come along or not. One said you can, other said you should not, another said it is insecure but you decide. I was still confused, so I spoke to Dr. Bakhteari and asked her the same. She responded, "it is as insecure for us as for you". I think that answer was satisfactory, or so I thought - called my father and told him that I am going to Baluchistan (the closest city from Karachi) and will be back by night.

The journey was 2 hour long; yes when we reached the border of Sindh and entering into Baluchistan there were quite many army men around but it was nice, fresh air, outside the city and luckily no one stopped us, so we reached the IDSP (Institute for Development Studies and Practice) Centre. The journey was really informative, asked a lot of questions about Baluchistan. I remember, we as a family often used to drive to Baluchistan a few years back and used to travel into the north of this province - it was beautiful. But since the conditions got worse, we haven't traveled in this region.

At the centre everyone was really hospitable. We ate lunch together - biryani :) They have two programs that they run from this centre under the project ZAANTH (a Balochi term that means knowing). One is District Professional Centre. The training is divided into three parts: computer skills, English language and secretarial work; including skills like mobile repairing and other. The purpose is to facilitate especially the drop outs and provide them opportunity to work in the administrative section within companies and organization.

The most interesting is their second program; Community Learning Centre. These centres  are loacted in the villages within the community. Each district has 20 such centres (10 for each gender). It works on the lines of the philosophy imbibed by IDSP; critical pedagogy, influenced by works of scholars like Paolo Frère. I remember study Frere and also including his work in my graduation project; but the entire challenge is how does one use that in a creative manner. Hence I really looked forward to visit the centre and interact with them. We went to a village nearby and met  the facilitator as well as around 14 students. The teacher is selected from the same community, trained for 6 days by IDSP and then conducts a 6 months course with the children of that community. 

The method of teaching is the most crucial part of the entire program. Please Note: none of these kids have ever been part of any formal education - age between 12 and 16 yrs old. The alphabets are not taught they way they are in schools (A for apple and B for Banana). Instead each alphabet is represented with a  picture; for example A for agriculture, N for Nasha. To come up with these words (called as codes), the IDSP team had collected 1500 such codes from five districts of Baluchistan via creating district literacy resource groups, comprising of youth, committees, education department, politicians and social activist, who suggested what is most crucial to the lives of these children. Each work comes with a picture (code) (e.g. A for agriculture depicts an old man farming on a land). Now the purpose of the facilitator is to facilitate children in decoding this code. To decode this there are five steps:
1) Describe what you see in the picture
2) Have you seen it or experienced it
3) Why it happens (raise concerning issues)
4) Identify those issues and discuss and deliberate over them
5) Outline an action plan (awareness campaign, etc)

All these questions are asked keeping in mind the purpose to highlight the social, economic and political significance of each term.

We visited a village in the vicinity, Ghot Gulsher (approx 20 km from the centre). There we sat in the CLC and interacted profoundly with the facilitator Mr. Saddam Hussein and around 12-14 boys (age 10 - 16 yrs). The interaction was about how the class is facilitated, what is taught, how long is the course duration and how is the response. The seating was on the floor; courses taught include mathematics and critical learning through alphabets. The ZAANTH literacy book is used to facilitate where by students are asked to decode each word. During interaction students were asked to share which code they like the most and were countered with questions inciting their creative capacity to respond from their experience. The students responded with confidence and shared their insight; one student shared how learning about weights made him aware that the shopkeeper cheats him by putting his hand on the weight machine, hence increasing the cost; another students spoke about the code V for Vote, explaining how vote is an important tool of power and taking the minister's name said that if we vote we can hold him accountable if we do not receive electricity in our village; another said U for urea, explaining the benefits of organic farming and harmful effects of using pesticide. Also after students learn, they then share their knowledge with the community at large by visible representation and use of other mediums like telling jokes to first attract attention.

This all happened in 6 months: It was wonderful to see these kids speaking with such confidence and responding to our counter questions with a critical mind. Amazing - I was really happy. 

The same night I visited my cousins place - he studies in 8th grade in a private school. He had a test for elocution of a poem the next day. So he was learning the exact words of the poem and reciting them without  understanding a word. I was astonished hence I asked: What will happen in the test. he said we will be asked to stand up and speak out a poem we have learnt. I asked him will you have tell what teh poem says. He said no, the test is for elocution hence that is not required. I asked him, if he had a similar test in the past. He said yes, and told me that he scored 2.5 out of 3. So i requested him to tell me that poem and the meaning. He knew the entire poem word by word but had no idea what it meant.

Its' ridiculous if children do not know what they are speaking and marked an A grade. We did practice the entire poem understanding word by word ... but i really dont understand how they are teaching kids. Especially after visiting that village where I witnessed how much capacity children have and can learn if facilitated correctly.                  

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