Thursday February 22, 2024

A groundbreaking platform for educators provides new ways to collaborate

A three-year-old storytelling competition for teachers illustrates how education, like medicine, transcends borders and religious divides

November 16, 2022
(L-R) Maliha Ahmed, Associate Chair, Conference Professional Council, and Lubna Mohyuddin, Joint Secretary, Spelt, in person at the conference. — Screenshot from online meeting
(L-R) Maliha Ahmed, Associate Chair, Conference Professional Council, and Lubna Mohyuddin, Joint Secretary, Spelt, in person at the conference. — Screenshot from online meeting

The best educators are perpetual learners, gaining from their students and their peers. Many from across Asia recently participated in a groundbreaking ‘Teacher Stories’ competition, sharing and learning how their peers face and overcome challenges.

The idea behind this initiative was to create “a forum to inspire the professional development of novice teachers,” says eminent teacher trainer Zakia Sarwar, who founded the competition three years ago. She came up with the idea to include the competition as a segment at an annual international teachers’ conference in Pakistan.

The conference is a flagship event of the Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (Spelt) that Professor Sarwar founded in the 1980s along with a group of dedicated colleagues. The 38th Spelt annual international conference concluded last weekend at Habib Public School, Karachi. This was Spelt’s first hybrid convention, catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic teaching

The pandemic in fact forced educators around the globe to become learners trying to find ways to avoid compromising the quality of education.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s life in a big way,” writes Asha Rani Khuranain, in her story, which is set during the first wave in New Delhi, India, when there was widespread fear due to high fatalities.

The story is about a secondary-level English language teacher in New Delhi trying to get her adolescent learners to focus on improving their vocabulary and writing skills with the online platform Microsoft Teams. The activity keeps them engaged through a traumatic time while teaching them adaptability and imparting confidence in their ability to write.

We went through similar struggles in Pakistan, where we led the almost overnight move to online teaching for the English Language Centre at the University of Central Punjab. Our teachers also used the MS Teams platform.

The narrative in Pakistan of India as the enemy and vice versa dissipates when we see ordinary people struggling to overcome the same issues.

The 2022 competition received 120 entries from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai. Competition organisers shortlisted 89 for an international panel of English-language teaching experts to judge.

The winning story, ‘A Tale of a Teacher’, by Freeha Sheikh from Lahore Grammar School, shares the journey of an early-year educator to teaching O-levels English. She goes from being a happy-go-lucky teacher to a strict one until a professional development opportunity compels her to reflect on her practice and become mindful of varied learning styles. She realises that being empathetic towards her learners enables them to learn more effectively.

Learning from the experiences of colleagues across borders heightens a realisation of the need to work together. This helps build a resource bank of activities that work in different contexts, benefitting everyone. Sharing such stories connects people at a personal level and shows us that another world is indeed possible.

Sapan News syndicated feature —