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December 1, 2018

Call to make building life skills through play a part of school curriculum


December 1, 2018

A dissemination seminar of a pioneer three-year research in Pakistan highlighting early intervention to address bullying and violence among schoolchildren under “what works to prevent violence among and against children” was held at Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, on Friday afternoon.

The seminar, titled ‘The transformative power of play’, outlined the positive power of playing among children and how it reduced erratic behaviour among them and mitigated the trend of violence among them and towards others.

It highlighted an aspect of child behaviour that is normally taken for granted and is not attached much importance. Guest of honour Qazi Shahid Pervez, secretary of the School Education and Literacy Department, Government of Sindh, said, “Our school scenario is just not conducive to personality development.”

He said that we should be intolerant towards corporal punishment, but unfortunately parents often supported and advocated corporal punishment. Children, he said, needed to be encouraged. “Girls will have to be motivated to speak up. Our policy is the personality development of children.”

The Government of Sindh, Pervez said, would not just welcome duly trained teachers but would make an effort to search them. Firoz Rasul, AKU president, in his presidential address, outlined the need for a humane approach towards children’s problems and a curriculum based on a deep understanding of their problems. He also highlighted the way the AKU and the Right To Play had cooperated in the field successfully.

Ata Soomro, programme manager of Right To Play (RTP), an international organisation based in Canada, suggested a global play-based curriculum transforming lives of children and said they were partnering with the Aga Khan University in taking this revolutionary message to the masses.

“We have worked in 15 countries among nine million children and have witnessed significant results in their behaviour,” said Soomro. He said they had worked on children in 40 schools in Hyderabad district since 2008 and witnessed highly positive results. His talk was accompanied by a power point presentation showing children playing in groups.

Muhammad Usman Chachar, provincial health secretary, another guest of honour, emphasised the formulation of an appropriate curriculum and training.

Dr Rozina Karmaliani, principal investigator of the project and professor at the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Department of Community Health Sciences, AKU, embarked upon the findings from the research. She explained that the study had found that RTP intervention was effective in reducing violence at schools and home.

Dr Rozina added that RTP had significantly contributed in fostering an environment of peace and social harmony among schools in Pakistan. She further stressed that since the new government was in the process of improving and standardizing the school syllabus, it was time to follow the lead from Iran and make life skills building through play as part of the school curriculum.

Dr Rozina suggested formulation of appropriate curricula that would influence married people and children without their being aware of it. She talked of a positive learning environment and discipline for teachers alongside positive disciplining for parents.

This was followed by a panel discussion, titled, ‘Nexus of education and health: enabling social harmony’. The discussion, moderated by Kausar Khan, associate professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University. It included social activist Amin Hashwani; Dr Murad Khan of the Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University (AKU); Dr Sameen Siddiqui, professor and chair, Department of Community Health Sciences, AKU; Dr Anjum Halai, professor and vice-provost, AKU; and Yasmeen Amarsi, professor at School of Nursing, AKU.

Dr Murad Khan spoke about suicidal tendencies among individuals and how a healthy, play-based therapy could stave off such tendencies and depression. “The mental health of an individual has a deep relationship with the mental health of a community.”

“We need to focus on humanistic values. It is these that our curricula should inculcate among children,” said Hashwani.

Dr Sameen Siddiqui spoke of the need to harbour a sympathetic attitude towards victims of violence and the drubbings of fate. He said children had to be dealt with understanding and patience and said focusing their attention on play would go a long way in inculcating a positive attitude among them.

The moderator of the panel, Kausar Khan, said that we had to have an integrated approach towards the issue. The second panel discussion, titled ‘Role of Government and Civil Society: Mainstreaming Peace-building Intervention’, was moderated by Dr Nargis Asad, associate professor at the Department of psychiatry, AKU.

Earlier, right in the beginning, Dr David Arthur, dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, highlighted the pivotal importance of child personality development and the role play had in that. He thanked the government and NGOs for facilitating efforts in the field of mental health of the young people.

Way forward

The experts reflected on the research and raised ideas and opinions for the scale up and implementation of the proposed finding across different schools in Pakistan. The role of the Sindh government and respective ministries was recognised as pivotal in the expansion of the intervention at the grass root level as a step forward followed by the gradual expansion at provincial and federal level.

At policy level, the experts urged appropriate modifications to the school curriculum with the inclusion of content regarding the prevention of violence and promotion of peace, to create awareness among school students for promoting peace and harmony within the school environment.

The called for mainstreaming strategies for the prevention of violence among the adolescents’ group, saying this could be achieved by the development of well-structured school-based curriculum. They believed that the partnership and collaboration of the ministries of education and health was the key for scaling up and sustainability of the proposed research study.

The project is funded by Department for International Development (DFID) UK, through the Medical Research Council of South Africa.