Bringing Social Cohesion and Resilience to Classrooms
By Hira Tanveer
BARI IMAM, Islamabad, 1 October 2013 – Neelum, 12, with her school fellows, listens carefully to the story of ‘Kassim and Adam’ narrated by her teacher. She patiently waits for her turn to participate in the post-session discussion and share her thoughts about how she is trying to make sense of a world that she no longer relates to because of the trauma she had recently faced, just like the characters in the story.
Neelum is a student of class six in Mashal school, Bari Imam, in a rural suburb of Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, where UNICEF has introduced learning material to promote social cohesion and resilience. She has recently moved from Quetta, a city in the province of Balochistan, with her family because of the on-going violence in the region. She, along with her parents and nine siblings, was forced to relocate because of the threats received against her father’s life, Mohammad Amjad, who was the manager of an Imam Bargah (a place of worship) in Quetta.
“They abducted one of my father’s friends in front of his house, took him to the mountains and killed him after acquiring the ransom money. They threatened my father too and because of repeated threats we were house bound and could not go to school”, Neelum recounted with teary eyes.
Undeterred by the hardship, Neelum, is determined to rise above the situation and continue her education. She aspires to be a doctor one day and serve everyone on the basis of equality.
Introducing reading material
Kassim and Adam’ is one of the four stories developed by UNICEF with support of the Government of the Netherlands as part of a four year cross-sectoral programme focusing on how education plays a key role in social cohesion and resilience.
UNICEF in partnership with Mashal School is pre-testing these stories before they are introduced at provincial level as supplementary learning material to the curricula.
“The stories are only one part of the materials. The activities suggested in the adult’s guide will help the children to reflect on their behavior in real life and learn to deal with multiple perspectives. It will enable all children to grow in self-respect, gain social and problem-solving skills and develop a sense of having some control over their lives” says Bibi Nabat Ali, Education and Social Cohesion Specialist.
These stories lay a strong emphasis on values for peaceful co-existence, unity in diversity, and development of positive attitudes towards fellow human beings through respect and tolerance. The stories themselves, as well as the accompanying adult guide that can be used by teachers and parents, encourages cooperative learning where children in schools are encouraged to work together in groups and pairs to solve problems and carry out activities to foster learning and sharing.
“It is crucial that children take back into the community what they learn here and we remember the communal values they bring into the classroom”, says Sabina, Teacher and pre-testing facilitator at Mashal School.
An activity based approach helps to foster the skills of negotiation, leadership and teamwork to achieve a task and all of these help to build self-esteem, a sense of shared responsibility, and engagement with others.
The stories being pre-tested in Mashal school explore five core concepts relating to social cohesion: resilience, social responsibility and working together, prejudice, managing and overcoming conflicts, and problem-solving. Two of the stories, ‘You are too Little’ and ‘Going Somewhere’ are for younger readers with a light-hearted look at how young children can learn to peacefully coexist with children of different backgrounds and life experiences in the society. The other two stories, ‘Asma’ and ‘Kassim and Adam’, are for adolescents, with comparatively complicated themes. These stories are a reflection of the realities that some of these young people have or are living through.
Education for social cohesion and resilience
UNICEF strongly believes that in order to build social cohesion and resilience in a diverse community that we live in, it’s important to teach ourselves and our children to question generalized and bias perceptions. Building social cohesion when living with communities from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, languages and abilities, requires effort and action. This means not pretending there are no differences, and enforcing conformity and assimilation, but instead learning to live with and promote such diversity.
The programme aims at strengthening resilience and social cohesion in countries at risk of - or experiencing and recovering from – instability. Towards the end, the programme will strengthen policies and practices in education for social cohesion and resilience.
*Names have been changed to protect identities