May 7, 2021

Reimagining Space, Pandemic Art and More

Student submission for Space Art Competition
Student submission for Space Art Competition

Since our last update in January, schools remained opened until April and students continued to arrive in gradual sets of two on alternate days of the week. At this time, the Art Program provided students with many activities and new learning opportunities despite the restrictions faced due to the COVID 19 protocols. In part this was helped by the return of Anam Shakil, who had helped design our art program in 2015, as Head of the Art Program.

Art Submissions

Students from the 7th grade at the schools in Karachi, SMB Fatimah Jinnah Government Girls School and Khatoon e Pakistan Government Girls School as well as at the Shangla Girls School, attended sessions with Yumna Majeed, a space educator who discussed the many wonders of space and the life of an astronaut. She encouraged students to create art for a competition about the different matters found in space which led to selected student submissions being sent to an international competition held by the Space for Art Foundation. The winners of this competition will get a chance to have their art sent to space – a prospect that our students found delightful and fascinating!

Our 9th and 10th grade students also attended a session with Rida Khan, an urban planner from Karachi Public, on a project about the local Clifton Beach. Our students learned about the role of urban planners and after the session submitted their recommendations on what a public beach should look like, as a part of the urban design process.

Art Activities

In art classes, among other fun learning activities, students were introduced to the work of brilliant local artists like Ahmed Parwaz and the calligrapher Anwer Jalal Shemza, also getting a chance to learn and replicate his unique style of gapped calligraphy. Students from Grade 8 at Khatoon e Pakistan Government Girls School also made self-portraits in which they recognized the achievements and problems they faced during the pandemic and represented them in creative ways. Another activity these students were given was to create fashion illustrations using materials that popped out of the page. Students were also told to draw upon their imagination to create animated characters as a part of a character design activity and many of them produced fantastic artworks that can be viewed below.

A Collaborative and Resourceful Approach

Having joined in March, Anam said that she had decided to work with teachers for improving the Art Program by discussing and brainstorming activities and critically thinking about student learning outcomes instead of providing pre-prepared lesson plans. Since the lockdown in April, Anam said, “We adapt activities so no student would need to buy a single resource, asking them to recycle paper, use items found in their kitchens and provide alternative ways of doing their assignments.” Online teaching has been difficult and this resourceful way of creating art has made students excited and kept them engaged. We hope you enjoyed reading and that the creative spirit shown in our students’ art brings you hope in these bleak times.

Student submission for reimagining Clifton Beach
Student submission for reimagining Clifton Beach
Student work inspired by calligrapher Anwer Shemza
Student work inspired by calligrapher Anwer Shemza
Student artwork showing a pandemic self portrait
Student artwork showing a pandemic self portrait
Student's fashion illustration
Student's fashion illustration
Student's character design, an animated character
Student's character design, an animated character
Apr 26, 2021

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Meals given at SMB Fatimah Jinnah Gov Girls School
Meals given at SMB Fatimah Jinnah Gov Girls School

Our last update for you in December featured our caretaking staff which works tirelessly to provide delicious and nutritious meals to our students. Since then, the schools reopened in January and the students from both schools, once again arrived to receive their breakfast meals. During the cold weather in the beginning of this quarter, students continued to receive the same menu as the last quarter however, as the weather changed in these months, our breakfast menu was modified to befit the warmer spring season.

The menu included milk with boiled eggs, porridge, mashed potatoes and bananas. Students attended school in staggered slots of 50% attendance, with one group of students arriving on one day and the second group on the next day. This protocol required that students remain in their classroom for their meals, as opposed to sitting together in our Breakfast Room, which took longer to serve them the meals, but was similar to the COVID 19 safety protocols followed last year.

April, unfortunately, saw the closures of schools once again due to the third COVID 19 wave, at this time, here’s what parents had to say about the impact of the Breakfast Program and school on their lives and their children. Waseem, the father of Afsara – a KG 2 student enrolled at SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School said “We feel very secure and satisfied by the Program. It makes my daughter so happy that when she comes home, she makes us happy.” He added that the school was providing an important platform for the two of his daughters that are enrolled there and he is hoping that his third can also go there as she enjoys biking and activities like sports which are promoted at the school.

“It’s a relief and comfort to me that my daughter gets breakfast at school.” says Nisa, the mother of Wahiba, another student from KG 2 at SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School. She adds that when Wahiba comes home, she tells her mother what she eats in school in the Breakfast Program and asks that she may make it for her at home. Zaib Un Nisa said that she makes it a point to go to school and ask how the breakfast meals are made, so that she can replicate them for her daughter at home as well.

Students miss school and long to once again wake up eagerly, bursting with energy to look forward to the rest of the day. The parents are also looking forward to a healthy return to schools for their children, so that their daughters can continue to thrive in the ever nurturing environment in the school, which is achieved in part through the Breakfast Program.

A student at SMB enjoys a breakfast meal at school
A student at SMB enjoys a breakfast meal at school
Feb 19, 2021

Encouraging social and emotional mindfulness

A mental health awareness workshop at KPS.
A mental health awareness workshop at KPS.

After an initial reopening in October, November 2020 saw our schools being closed down again, with our teachers still coming to school (as per government directives) and students coming in small numbers only to get their homework checked. To ensure that students felt a connection to their schools we continued to conduct virtual programs and lessons designed to be student-centric. Following up with the theme of community and health, we introduced Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) modules which encouraged students to learn more about their own emotional and social behaviors and navigate them through art-based activities.

SEL generated an unanticipated enthusiasm, in teachers and students alike, which us made us realize that while students were hit hard by the consequences of this pandemic, our government school teachers also had to keep with anxieties incurred at the professional and personal level. And so, starting in December 2020, we conducted a series of Mental Health Awareness workshops for teachers at both of our schools, led by our counsellor, Naila. We aimed to include our entire teacher population in these sessions, however due to the pandemic there were some who missed out, despite which approximately 130 teachers attended the workshops.

These workshops were structured to first introduce an awareness of ‘mental health’ and then move into building an empathetic environment conducive to teamwork and learning.

The first session of this workshop established the foundation of what ‘mental health’ is, addressed the taboos that surround it and examined what therapy and counselling really is. Through this the counsellor encouraged introspection about how teachers envisioned behaviors and their own actions as functions of mental health. Upon assessing responses to questionnaires distributed before and after the workshop, it became clear that participants had developed a more nuanced awareness of how adults and children alike can benefit from counselling and emotional regulation.

The second session built on the theme of empathy, asking teachers to consider how to create a positive and healthy environment in school. In this session Naila focused on the sense of community that teachers felt with each other, especially through an activity where each teacher wrote one positive thing about another. According to her, the kind-hearted responses in these sessions did wonders for self-confidence and community building.  An accompanying task included distributing inflated balloons and telling the participants that the victor would be the individual with an undamaged balloon. What followed was a delightful flurry of activity of teachers protecting their balloons while popping another’s. At the end of it however, they were reminded that had no one popped balloons, they all would have been winners thus prompting a consideration of what positive teamwork can look like.

When we asked for feedback, not only did we receive an outpouring of positive and satisfied responses, we also saw indications of genuine introspection and appreciation for starting this conversation. One mentioned, “This session taught me about maintaining healthy relations with co-workers, respecting each other and learning from one another.” Multiple teachers commented that they would like to see similar sessions being conducted again.

Our vision of transforming government schools in Pakistan has never been isolated from the development of our amazing teachers. While Covid-19 continues to present challenges, it is inspiring to see our teachers enthusiastically embrace these opportunities to inform and expand their own knowledge. With our schools reopened again (as of February) and teachers like these, it becomes easy to have faith in our vision of transforming education across Pakistan.

Teachers from SMB attending the workshop.
Teachers from SMB attending the workshop.
KPS teachers intently listening to the counsellor.
KPS teachers intently listening to the counsellor.
An interactive balloon activity to promote empathy
An interactive balloon activity to promote empathy
KPS teachers line up for an interactive activity.
KPS teachers line up for an interactive activity.

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