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.

While comprehending and expressing in a language, adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying things, toys, food, animals, plants and their fellow human beings, differentiating between hot and cold, sweet and bitter they are also learning and practicing the social etiquette of eating and drinking, interacting with elders and friends and the concepts of justice and fair play while playing.

But what happens when they are sent to a school? Instead of building on the rich experience and the huge body of knowledge they already have, the very existence of that experience and knowledge is denied and, in fact, is blackened out. They are treated as blank slates and are thrown to an alien and self-alienating environment where such teaching methods and learning styles are forced upon them which are in total negation of their previous learning styles. Likewise, years and years are spent to explain even the very basic concepts and operations of mathematics which they already know and practice. The case of teaching science is no different; in fact, science is seen as one subject that can be grasped only by the “talented” students. To sum it up, the compartmentalized school education is in total contradiction with their existing experience, knowledge and style of learning.

Children resist the tyranny of the new education; they resist; they sob and cry; they do not want to go to school but who listens to them.  After all, they are children who don’t know what is good for them!

This approach has hardly paid any dividends. If education is not able to teach what children need to know in order to prepare for life, memorizing concepts and formulas of mutually exclusive subjects and applying them in unreal conditions don’t do any good to the learners. They may pass exams but their creative and logical understanding is snubbed and blunted and we don’t see thinkers, artists, scientists, mathematicians and inventors emerging. The truth of the matter is that this education blocks thinking, analysis and free play of imagination.

I have worked with children and adults both for over twenty five years. Working with the communities – what a fantastic learning it has been. They are not in the habit of cutting one limb off the body and finding a solution for it. Their approach is holistic and they know cutting a limb off the body is destructive for both. I still remember a soil fertility specialist’s meeting with a group of farmers. The farmers disagreed with the specialist’s solution and asked him a range of questions integrating the soil fertility management with the issues of water and cost-effectiveness. In the end the specialist had to concede and tell them that many of their questions were outside his area of specialization.

Converting Knowledge into Action

Converting Knowledge into Action

As regards children, I have countless examples

Functional Clocks: something to take home after learning angles in Mathematics

Functional Clocks: something to take home after learning angles in Mathematics

of how quickly they not only learn but also contribute in learning if the teaching is contextualized, integrated and relevant to their life experiences. While working on magnetism I was amazed to learn that the children’s

innovative use of magnets was very practical and creative . They were not only creatively using magnets but also reusing and recycling old toys. Their understanding was beyond the bookish knowledge of the teacher.

My approach to education is to learn from life and to learn for life. And my methodology of teaching and learning is inspired from that.

Let’s not waste the learners’ time; it is precious. Let’s not blunt their creativity; it is needed for a vibrant and progressive society. Let’s not snub their curiosity, questioning and reasoning ; it is imperative for an enlightened and a tolerant nation.

Integrating language learning and Mathematics

Integrating language learning and Mathematics

Integrating language, Science and Social Studies

Integrating language, Science and Social Studies

14 Responses to Don’t Waste Learners’ Time, Integrate

  1. Asma sufi says:

    I wish this methodology and creative thinking could be adopted widely by other schools as well to harness the children’s learning. I have been fortunate enough to see this in effect, minds are like absorbing paper and when learning is fun the response is rewarding.
    Keep it up Nasira!

  2. Seema Ibrahim says:

    AA Nasira, awesome article! I agree with your philosophy of teaching children in their own comfort able environment where they feel more relax and confident of learning. Provided they get that environment. What would you suggest for inclusive education in such environment. Also how would you make these students survive the tough world, As teaching academic success also includes other learnings. Please help me understand here as I am doing a project on inclusive education in Pakistan. I live in USA, & would love to be part of your team.

  3. Khaleda Manzoor says:

    It is the inquisitive nature and curiosity in children that the education should arouse to participate in learning and creating education which is participatory hands on creative learning.Being a life long learner and educator at almost all levels I appreciate the efforts and approaches of your group Best wishes and Regards
    Khaleda Manzoor

  4. Iqbal Akhtar says:

    Absolutely, what a wonderful analysis of what is happening in Pakistani public education. The Nordic countries are on the vanguard of the type of education you are advocating, perhaps they can serve as a model.

    • Nasira Habib says:

      Thanks a lot for your comment. While appreciating the Nordic model, I very strongly feel, we need to have our own home grown model of education. We are trying to contribute our bit. Will keep you posted about our work.

  5. Junaid Akhtar says:

    I’ve heard that almost all natural forces have been idolized, at one point or another, by one group or another, except for gravity. Some say that it is because gravity escaped the attention because nobody could escape it. Quite paradoxical, at first, but then it makes perfect sense. What you say and do about education is just like that, and I sincerely pray and hope that idol-worshipers notice what they’re missing out for their own kids.

  6. Zafreen Jaffery says:

    Excellent job sharing your thoughts and experiences. I always learn so much from you. I am curious to learn more about what the students were doing with magnets and how their teachers’ knowledge lacked in helping them. Also I am curious to know what are some practical stratgeies that you have employed in Khoj school that allows teachers to build upon learners’ prior knowledge? Is it through interactive dialogue with kids to elicit responses about what they already know? Other methods?

  7. Bilal Aziz says:

    My words/endorsement is not much important but I really appreciate this approach which I also tried to learn as an adult learner and now trying to transfer to my own kids and wherever I have a chance………. Let me please repeat follwing lines from above;

    …approach to education is to learn from life…to….for life.
    Let’s not blunt their creativity; it is needed for a vibrant and progressive society. ……..their curiosity, questioning and reasoning ; it is imperative for an enlightened and a tolerant nation.

    • Nasira Habib says:

      Your words are invaluable. You have worked with the learners and the communities and have learnt from them the purpose of education. Let’s take this dialogue to wider circles. People like you can contribute immensely.

  8. Chela Vazquez says:

    Thanks Nasira. A holistic approach to education that stimulates creative thinking on children also helps them develop in other areas as well, including critical thinking later on. Thanks again for sharing.

  9. Chela Vazquez says:

    Dear Nasira, after reading your blog I went to Khoj’s website to see how you use your holistic approach with children, women and farmers. I see that Khoj has developed educational materials. Do you have some material that shows the activities with children (or with women) when they are actively learning? Is there a YouTube on this? I suppose the holistic method for children would be different than for women farmers.

    Anyway, your blog aroused my curiosity. I had a friend who taught art in a Waldorf school in Minnesota and some of the things she did may resemble your methods. However, you are working on your own home model for Pakistan, which is relevant to the local context and reality. I imagine there might be rewards and frustrations for you and Khoj and in the long run there would be results, which would be important to keep track, maybe document it somehow.

  10. Chela Vazquez says:

    I would love to visit you and Khoj and see Khoj’s work.

    Documenting Khoj’s work on education would be a long-term project. Understanding the language would be important.

  11. Sarfraz says:

    Crystal clear analysis of the wrecked and so sad sorry state of the degeneration of the generation’s minds through educational system. I am teaching since 8 years now at university Level. And the same haunting problems, which you have presented in the blog, are there even in the university level. Curriculum taught rather preached (Yes… preached…) in such a disconnected and uninterested manners that the university students get bored and most of the time very hopeless. How sadly the university education is crippled in the sugarcoated way of educating the children rather equipping the minds with memorization and no challenge at all of building something of their own. How University professors teach their courses without integrating the concepts within a course and then across the different courses; ignoring the holistic picture where their course fits. When it comes to connecting the links, they altogether miss this part. When they teach in disconnected fashion, the students forget (as everything, most of the time, is just learnt rotely to pass exams and no other motivation). The essence of building a panoramic picture of the entire field is entirely missing, resulting in extremely under-prepared students who should have the breadth knowledge of the field they graduated in. I personally feel that this forsaken, hunger and the need of knowing and building a panoramic picture leaves the adults clueless resulting in actually harming the minds with hate(yes literally hate in most of the cases…) and uselessness of the entire list of amazing needs of the topics of different courses. They develop habit of always swallowing concepts in disconnected fashion (fulfilling the need of passing the course and then forgetting…after the exams are over). In my opinion the entire revamp of the mentality of the teachers at university and college level has become the need.

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