I can’t believe I haven’t written since “Happy Chrismis Day”. I remember wanting to then, when fifth-graders from all eight schools made cards to send their Christmas-celebrating colleagues in PK-5. My favourite ones had neat little cardboard gift-boxes taped to them – toffees, I think, or car-shaped sharpeners, maybe marbles.
It was also “Happy Quaid Day”, as evidenced by the alternate side of the giant yellow chart presented to me. The predominant theme was tolerance – we talked about the white strip representing minorities in the Pakistani flag, along with many things we didn’t know about Mr. Jinnah (and Mr. Santa Claus). We also made several things up, because there was a quiz and it was important to win. I did manage to jot down a few of the more interesting questions and answers…
Q: What sport did Quaid-e-Azam play?
Q: What did the Quaid-e-Azam wear?
Q: Where did he spend his last days?
A: (Silence)…His aunt’s house?
While rifling through my notes, I came across some from the relatively early days. I’m struck most by the secret despondency that couldn’t be shared in Skype calls with the Managing Trustee. Observe:
“This is going to be more difficult than I thought.
“How to work with open structures, where children are exposed to the elements? How to teach hygiene and cleanliness in a place that is not different from their homes – not an isolated haven of comfort and protection? Wherefore ‘classroom discipline’?”
“There’s too much to be done. I’ve been feeling this for a couple of weeks now, staring at the to-do columns next to hastily scrawled observations. I told myself not to interfere with teaching in actual classes, because the process of capacity-building is a slow one. No matter how much I may want to, correcting a single spelling mistake in a single class will be of little value – if resented, it may even be counter-productive.”
Now, I wonder how I took myself so seriously. The Pehli Kiran School System is run by an extraordinary team – the teachers have been working with these structures for a decade, the technical experts know their stuff, and the higher management has vision, energy and heart. All that fell to me to do was to devise some mechanisms for support, and for the communication of the vision and energy.
I love watching progress, it makes me smile inside.
It’s not just about the colour we now do have and the infrastructure we can potentially have for each school. The reading program that ZQ had been talking about since Day One has finally taken off, and after only two Saturdays the teachers (and I) have become quite fluent in phonic-speak.
By stringing sounds together, we’re hoping that soon the children will be able to read absolutely anything – whether or not it is lifted from the textbooks of the Punjab Board curriculum.
It’s exciting, of course, tracing the evolution of ideas. And it’s heartening to know that every time we have asked for specific kinds of support, the world has proven to be more than generous. At the same time, it’s true that there is still a very long way to go.
While the teachers were rehearsing vowel sounds and ZQ stood sentinel, construction work continued behind PK-5. You can’t see him in the picture, but the boy laying bricks couldn’t have been more than ten years old.