Like Teacher, Like Child
By Tamara Sutila
KALAT, Pakistan– The reddish brown ink glides over the white slate like a graceful ice skater, forming neat rows of Urdu script. The little hand is even-keeled in its concentration.
Seven-year old school girl Shakira does not look up. “I’m writing something on forests,” she says. The brown mole on her left cheek looks like she is delicately imprinted it with her writing brush. “It’s interesting and easy to write,” she continues, now glancing up shyly, “I want my writing skills to improve so that I can write beautifully and become a doctor.”
Shakira’s opportunity to make something of herself depends to a considerable extent on her school - the Girls Primary and Middle School Pashar in Kalat district, Balochistan - and its quality of teaching.
The school is one of several UNICEF-supported girls’ schools that have been set up in Kalat in a drive to increase girls’ enrolment in primary education. Just under half of all girls in Pakistan enter primary school. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Government with UNICEF support, 28 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls were enrolled in primary education in Balochistan. Although overall enrolment remains low, there are now more girls than boys going to school in some districts.
As girls’ schools grow in strength, the demand for female teachers has risen and an opportunity has emerged to improve the quality of teaching.
With UNICEF’s initial support, the Government has bolstered the teaching force in Balochistan by recruiting more than 440 female teachers over the past three years. Teachers are now being trained to teach in a child-focused manner, where the individual needs of children are taken into account and students’ self-esteem is strengthened.
“Female teachers play an important role in terms of girls’ access to primary education,” says UNICEF project officer for girls’ education, Vibeke Jensen,Vibeke Jensen of UNICEF says, “Female teachers are good examples of women in rural communities who assume responsibility, status and bring in a monthly salary.”
Safia Kadir is one such role model. She is only in her early twenties yet she is risen to the ranks of a teacher trainer and mentor. Today, she is at Shakira’s school conducting her monthly one-day training for teachers from a cluster of neighbouring schools.
“I am sharing with my colleagues subject problems in mathematics, science and English,” Safia says, pointing to the blackboard on which she’s written a numerical formula. Surrounding the blackboard are colourful drawings of hens, cats and camels with their English names scribbled next to them.
UNICEF supports teacher training by providing teaching aids such as stationary, coloured paper and play material. In a country where teachers often use the stick to discipline their class and children learn by rote, something as simple as getting children to draw with coloured pens on pink, red or green paper makes a huge difference in the way teachers and children relate to each other.
The other teachers, clad in a flurry of turquoise, pink, red and yellow, are sitting on the floor with cups of green tea next to them, listening attentively to Safia.
“I am working for my own people, the poor people,” explains Safia of her passion for teaching, “It is my responsibility and duty.” The other teachers nod in agreement.
Two classrooms away from the teacher training session, Shakira is still diligently practicing her handwriting. Her slate is now almost full of text. What she learns and how well she learns hinges on how well her female teacher is supported through her professional development. A solid grounding in quality primary education is Shakira’s ticket to fulfilling her dreams.