Child friendly school: Igniting young minds

Who doesn’t need inspiration? As it turned out in a government school in Khospora, and Rawathpora, not only were the students looking for a spark, but so were their teachers.

Azera Parveen Rahman
Children playing cricket in classroom.
UNICEF India/2019/Mukherjee
22 March 2019

Usually quiet, 15-year-old Jamid Qayoom’s eyes light up the moment someone asks what his favourite thing about going to school is. Cricket, he says without a doubt. “I am an all-rounder in the school cricket team,” he said in a voice lined with confidence. Jamid had dropped out of school a year ago but after relentless efforts by the school’s teachers, he returned. Rather than feeling left behind, Jamid loves coming to school now more than ever. The secret lies  inside the newly provided sports kit—one of several initiatives supported by  UNICEF and the IKEA Foundation that had made the government middle school in Rawatpora, in the Badgam District, into a model Child Friendly School since 2016.

Sports as a medium for psycho-social support

There is enough scientific research pointing to the benefits of sports in a child’s overall development. Apart from health benefits, it builds confidence, teaches team spirit, resilience, and life skills, and helps channel energy in a positive way. In Jammu and Kashmir, 250 government-run schools are functioning as model child friendly schools. For Jamid, the positive energy and the confidence that he draws from the cricket field channel into an eager mind in class, ready to accept challenges and learn from his teachers.

“The sports kit generates interest in children, which is necessary for learning,” one of the teachers in his school said.

Children in classroom.
UNICEF India/2019/Mukherjee
Children in classroom.

Child friendly schools like Jamid’s use activity-based teaching-learning methods in class, putting children at the centre of learning and engaging them in the process.

Teacher training on innovative teaching methods

Peerzada Javed Dar, a teacher in the government middle school, Khospora—also a model child friendly school—said that when he underwent teacher training supported by the UNICEF- IKEA Foundation partnership, he came away with a fresh perspective.

“What I liked about the training was that it was so well-suited for classroom teaching. These activity-based teaching methods helped create a friendly environment and children learnt through play and fun. Suddenly it was as if new life was infused in the students . . . they wouldn’t want to leave the class.”

Talking about his own experience, he said, “When I was doing my Bachelor of Education degree, the focus was mainly on making lesson plans. But since these concepts [of activity-based learning] were introduced to us, a relationship of trust and friendship has developed between teachers and students and learning has become more effective.”

Children clapping outside the classroom.
UNICEF India/2019/Mukherjee
Children clapping outside the classroom.

To support the teachers in effective teaching—and improve learning amongst children—child friendly schools were provided with an early learning kit that covers teaching of English language and mathematics.

“I teach maths and had, for most part of my career, relied on writing on the blackboard to teach. With the modules in the mathematics kit however, I can see that children are able to grasp concepts better,” Mohammad Ashraf Dar, another teacher in the same school said.

Grasping basic concepts is the foundation on which children can understand more complex lessons better in the future.

Igniting young minds

Sabrina, a student of class 8 in the child friendly school in Khospora, said that she used to find mathematics boring. “But now I find it interesting. Geometry is my favourite and I like solving maths equations,” she said.

These innovative changes in the way children now learn and the ample opportunity to play sports has led to a happy atmosphere in class, as teachers have noted. The enthusiasm was evident on the day of our visit—a cold, snowy March morning. The bitterness of the weather was in sharp contrast to the children’s laughter and chatter as they walked in their classrooms in their pherans (traditional Kashmiri attire for winter).

“At home, we girls are expected to behave like grown-ups and do household chores. In school, we are free to be ourselves, play, talk with friends, and learn interesting things,” said Asifa, a girl in class 8, “That’s why I like coming to school.”

“I enjoy doing the commentary for school cricket matches,” piped Tanweer, a young boy of class 5, “When I grow up, I want to be a journalist or a radio jockey.”

Children learning geometry in class.
UNICEF India/2019/Mukherjee
Children learning geometry in class.

Teachers bring back children who have dropped out of school

The role of teachers is not limited to the boundary walls of the school campus. Absenteeism is a major problem among school children here. “Children miss school either because they have to do household chores or contribute towards the family income by working outside,” said the head teacher of the school in Rawathpora, Arif Rashid Dar.

If a child suddenly stops coming to school, the teacher visits his or her family and keeps trying to convince the parents to send their child back to school until they agree. Jamid was one such child. “When he dropped out of school a year ago, I visited his house and spoke to his parents. The Village Education Council did the same. Finally, he came back and is now very happy to be in school,” the head teacher said.

The Village Education Council is a body of 14 members including parents of students and education experts who meet at regular intervals and act as a “bridge” of communication between the school and the community.

Ashraf Dar went on to say that for him, as a teacher, a typical day begins much earlier than the set school hours. “Before coming to school every morning, I visit five or six houses to ensure that the children come to class,” he said.

Imagine then a teacher’s delight when a child who had dropped out says that he or she now loves coming to school. For Jamid’s teachers, every time he tells outsiders.

“I like coming to school and play cricket better than my teachers!” the happiness in their eyes is more than he can imagine.