Science in Cooking: Learning through Integration and Immersion

 

It was a fun filled day.

The girls and boys at Khoj School for Community Education were charged and excited. The air was teeming with animated activity. One could see children set up the local cooking stoves in the shade of the trees, hear the crackling of the twigs to be used as firewood, watch them lighting the kindling for fire, follow the smoke drifting from the stoves skyward and sideways depending on the wind direction and see children putting their heads together and whispering to each other in low voices what could be the best strategy to do a better job.

Obviously, all this was happening with the support and guidance of the teachers.

The stage was set for a roti making and egg frying competition. The idea behind this particular activity took birth from the fact that a majority of girls studying in schools don’t know how to do housework, especially cooking.  And cooking is culturally not considered a boy’s job. A vast majority of the parents in the rural families think that their children should concentrate only on their studies. It is not uncommon to hear from the mother, “I don’t ask my daughter to do housework at all. As the purpose of education is to prepare children for life, Khoj School always tries to respond to such situations. If they are not groomed as contributing and productive family members and citizens then what is the use of the years spent with the ‘education providers’.

One of the main objectives, therefore, was to break the myth in the rural families that the children who study in schools should be exempted from the household work. As gender equality is high on the educational agenda of Khoj School, boys were also asked to participate.

The activity also aimed at learning by doing about the heat, how the heat is transferred; what is temperature and how the temperature is measured and what is the appropriate heat to protect the nutrition of roti and egg.

The boys and girls were making lumps of wheat flour dough and shaping rotis giggling and grinning as they knew the rotis were not coming out perfect. It was not only the shape; they were not able to control the heat to required level resulting in de-shaped burnt rotis. The fate of the fried eggs was no different! But, still, it created a lot of fun and laughter

The cooking activity was followed by a lively and thorough discussion on the heating element, medium of heat transfer and the effect of heat on food and the environment through conduction, convection and radiation.The activity also reinforced the understanding of already learnt states and properties of matter, the impact of wind direction and the mathematical concepts of ratio and proportion. As the children were immersed and they had questions as a result of faltering and failing to do the perfect job, understanding the scientific concepts was not daunting for them.

As language is a vehicle of expressing oneself, children learnt new vocabulary in English and Urdu. This approach of teaching doesn’t make learning a burden on the learners. During the discussions, they keep acquiring new words and expression almost the same way as they were absorbing language from their environment during their early childhood years.

Unlike the conventional method, a handout on heat, heat transfer and temperature was given after the cooking activity and at the end of the discussion on how and why of the activity. This way, the technical write-up reads familiar to them and the learners are not harassed by the onslaught of unfamiliar jargon and scientific concepts.

The whole process was exciting and joyful and children were themselves laughing on the mistakes they were making. When you make mistakes and face the challenge, your mind gets focused on finding a solution. The best of all, you learn the art of thinking and acting that is creatively productive and joyful.

The process of further experimentation and investigation continued for a few more days with the announcement of another competition in a month’s time. The time was given to the children to improve their understanding and skills.

Children who were part of this process will never forget what they learnt and how they learnt!

Don’t Waste Learners’ Time, Integrate

How do children learn in real life? Are subject lines drawn in order to make the learning happen? Obviously, the answer is an emphatic no.

We don’t need to philosophize hard to know that children, before entering a school, have a profound understanding not only of their mother tongue but other languages also present in their social environment. It is common knowledge that children are able to speak three to four languages in a multilingual society. They can think, comprehend and express themselves; they know the right context and their selection of words is perfect. Most importantly, this learning doesn’t take place in isolation in the compartments tightly defined by subjects. A child is learning simultaneously how four bananas can be divided among four siblings; how many toffees are left if he eats up one of the three toffees she had and also how to make fractions of a roti so that two siblings can share it. Science is everywhere around them and they learn very effectively that fire can burn and they need to get away from it; salt and sugar dissolve in water and we can make a drink; water washes away dirt on the body. They can do and undo things. They ask questions of all kinds; what, how and why of everything. And nobody snubs them.

Urdu and English Languages Require Different Teaching Strategies

It seems we have forgotten how to teach the Urdu language. Our Urdu language teachers don’t know what treatment the language is getting at their hands. Are they teaching Urdu as a first or the second language?

Our teachers don’t know even the conventional method of teaching the Urdu language which demands a good grasp of the grammar and is long drawn and time-consuming. What to talk about the new researches and methodologies!

Teaching at the primary school requires knowledge, skills and critical understanding as at this level, one is laying the foundation of future and higher education. But tragically, everyone who is unable to find a place anywhere else feels competent and confident to teach in a primary school. Our schools in the formal and non-formal sectors are the breeding grounds for present and future teachers of the Urdu language who have no clue of how to approach the teaching and how to help children who are naturally ready to learn more than one language. Even the teachers at expensive schools seem to have very little knowledge and expertise which results in failure to cultivate interest and appreciation of the national language among the learners.  On the contrary, the culture promoted at these schools takes pride in being ignorant and illiterate in the language. Countrywide surveys also tell us that half the children in schools are unable to read a simple text in Urdu.

Do We Need to Follow Alphabetic Order to Teach Literacy?

Recently a comment was made about Khoj methodology that it didn’t follow the alphabetic order in teaching literacy and it was a problem that needed to be rectified. This statement prompted me to raise the following questions:

  • Is there a logic in following the alphabetic order to teach literacy?
  • Does this order yield sequential milestones in learning? Is a child able to write certain words and sentences after learning a given number of letters in the alphabetic order? For instance, can they make any given number of words after learning from ا to ث ہ or from ج to خ?
  • Is learning is at a faster pace if the letters of alphabet are first abstractly learnt?

The answer to all the above questions is an emphatic no.

Against All Odds – Story of a Struggle

It was the sweltering heat of May 1999 in the plains of Punjab. The vehicle struggled on the narrow dusty pathways spiraling through the crop fields. There was not even a semblance of a road. The moment the vehicle entered the village of Kot Dina in the district of Sheikhupura children of varying ages flocked after us. Seventeen kilometers away from the main road, like majority of the surrounding villages Kot Dina, with its mud thatched houses, had no functional primary school either for girls or boys. The area was the hub of ghost schools – the schools which were functional only on paper according to a government commissioned survey. The girls were the most deprived of the most basic educational opportunities as they were not allowed to go out of the village. The situation was breeding perennial illiteracy and, understandably, the area could not produce teachers. The fact that the villages were amongst the worst crime hit areas in the country made the prospects of availing the opportunities of getting educated very bleak. School buildings were in the personal use of the village elite – as meeting or storage places.

Daanish Schools – A Case of Misplaced Priorities

This is Daanish School for boys and girls at Harnoli in the district of Mianwal I visited in December 2012. We were stopped at the main gate by the security guards to inquire about our identities and what was the purpose of our visit. Then our vehicle drove through the finely carved out way to the academic block that houses the admin block as well. The school spread over an expanse of 400 acres out of which 120 acres (70 acres for boys’ school and 50 acres for girls’ schools) have been already developed in the form of impressive gardens, playgrounds, botanical gardens, walkways, admin and teaching blocks with auditoriums, state of the art class rooms, library, science lab, IT lab, hostels, elaborate dining hall, principal house and living quarters for the teaching and other staff.

Should We Wait for the Next Century to Become Literate?

Education in Pakistan is crying for help. Thirty per cent of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty-having received less than two years of education. At current rates of progress, Balochistan has to wait for the next century to be able to guarantee children their constitutional right to education while Punjab can achieve that only in 2041, Sindh in 2049 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2064.

And those who are able to attend school, only thirty five per cent of rural school children can read a story while fifty per cent cannot read a sentence. They don’t fare really better than out of school children twenty four per cent of whom can read a story showing almost a parallel performance. What a great performance by those at the helm of affairs.

Is Poverty the Real Cause of Poor Performance in Education?

“According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011 conducted by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), around 58 per cent of the population is food insecure”, the Minister for National Food Security and Research, Mir Israrullah Zehri, told the upper house of parliament. And BISP Chairperson Farzana Raja told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance that 80 million people out of a total population of 175.3 million live below the poverty line. These are staggering figures – 45.7 per cent Pakistanis are struggling to make both ends meets.These statements show the gravity of the situation.

Let’s Revive Our Cultural Heritage for Early Childhood Education

Children learn most effectively and fruitfully when when they are taught through their culture; mother tongue, stories and games play a critical role. Instead of throwing them to the unknown and threatening world of imported games, stories, poems and role plays it is imperative to embed the early childhood care and development in the richness of local cultures.

Khoj Methodology – A Sure Way to Education for All in Pakistan 2

It is a reality of everyday life when children come to school, no matter how young they are, they come with a profound knowledge of a language.  They have already learnt not only the various elements of a language but also make a very skillful and clever use of it. Even before entering the school, they know how to express themselves in various contexts and situations. They have enviable vocabulary to express a range of complex emotions – their anger,happiness, excitement, love, affection, sadness, pain, likes and dislikes and the list goes on. They know perfectly appropriate use of words with falling and rising intonations to communicate with all kinds of relationships in the family and with a variety of friends. They know the age appropriateness of their expression and the selection of words; they know how to communicate with the younger siblings and friends and if required, how to instantly switch the words and expressions while talking with elders like father, mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts and strangers. They also express the understanding of the nuances of language when they make subtle differences in expression when they communicate with their mothers and fathers; there may be many subtle differences. Their selection of words and expressions may be very different. And the list of the variations is endless; how they communicate with the world.


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