Sep 22, 2020

Reimagining an arts education online

Artist Talk on Zoom with Shireen
Artist Talk on Zoom with Shireen

Building on from the Learning Packs we sent to our students early on in the lockdown, our art teachers started filming video lessons that were bolstered by Q&A with the students in the Whatsapp classroom. This proved to be a great, practical platform - students could view lessons whenever they got access to a smartphone (usually a relative's and not their own), had time to engage with their teacher's ideas and prompts as well as to explore their own interpretation of the topic. Our teachers designed a host of activities: a haldi (turmeric) tie-dye exercise, arranging fruits and vegetables into portraits as mannerist art, making DIY paints at home with kitchen ingredients, and of course finding a creative outlet to formulate and express their thoughts on being stuck at home, being scared of getting COVID, missing school and suffering from the unprecedented urban flooding due to the recent Karachi rains. 80 of our students also enjoyed a talk with Amsterdam-based artist and museologist Shireen Ikramullah, learning the elements of art through a wonderful curation of some of the most stunning art from all over the world.

 

Being away from school, from their friends and, for many, from the only safe space they can freely enjoy, was a uniquely stressful time for our students, as it has been for children across the world during school closures. On top of this, the fear of catching coronavirus and bearing the economic impact of the shutdowns it necessitated, all added to the mental distress of our schoolchildren. To address this, we decided to begin lay counseling for our students, in order to support their mental wellbeing during this strange and difficult time. Realising that art teachers have always had a special connection with students and that for many students the art room is their safe space where they can truly express themselves, we decided to train our art teachers as lay counselors. After a 10-hour training spread out over 2 days in 2 groups, our teachers began doing phone check ins with students grade by grade. They ask them about their routine, chat about their time at home, give them some self care tips as well as some art activities if they showed an interest in art. Once a week, each group of lay counselors meets me and the School Counselor to discuss and review their calls, get support where they are struggling and refer any serious cases to the school management.

 

We hope you enjoy reading the following accounts of two of our art teachers about teaching art and counseling during school closure, in their own words:

 

"As a new art teacher, distance teaching has been nothing short of an amazing experience. I was connected to the students through online art classes during this difficult time. They showed a lot of interest in the art activities my colleagues and I suggested and were always asking us for the next art activity. This was a way for them to feel that they were not far from us, that they were connected to their teachers, to school. It gave them hope that schools would be back again and they would restart the things they like again. Some students who did not show much interest in art earlier showed a lot of interest now because they were a bit more relaxed, their minds were more free to explore art and so they were able to enjoy it. 

About lay counseling - when you heal others, you heal yourself. I felt I learned something after every check-in call. Children deal with adversity so well, they have "mazay mazay kay" - very interesting and innovative - ideas when we asked how they made use of this time and adapted to the restrictions. I also learned that everyone's life is very different and if there is a difficult situation like this pandemic, everyone has their own unique way of bringing themselves out of it or living through it. Sometimes I would get so upset thinking how a student would survive or manage a particularly difficult situation but the child would find a way, an activity, a hobby, and get through - in fact teaching their teachers how to get through challenges.

After talking to all the students I can confidently say that there is an artist somewhere in every child who shows the creativity of their mind in a new way every day, not necessarily on canvas or through an artwork, but I think managing life well is also creativity, which I learned from my students. The biggest thing I felt was that these children have a lot of hope, they have this solid faith that they will get through this and good times are coming. So, lay counseling was a great lexperience and I learned so much. 

There were some situations where children were going through a really critical time, where the problems they were facing seemed too difficult to overcome through counseling or talking to them. We shared these with our group of lay counselors, with the School Counselor who was guiding us and forwarded them to the School Principal/Project Manager and they tried their best to support the children and their families. Our overall goal was - because this situation was so weird - to keep them involved in activities, to keep them connected to us and to boost their spirits. 

One student, Fareeba, told me she wasn't that interested in art before. She was keeping herself busy in housework during the lockdown until one day she was cleaning a cupboard and found some paints and art supplies which led her to create some art and slowly develop an interest in art. Now whenever she gets some free time, specially given that schools are closed, she makes some art. She's linked to me on Whatsapp and I give her some tips, where I'm usually just gently guiding her to consider a new perspective. Her artwork has really progressed during this time. I really like the art she has been making now. This was one of my favourite stories of change that I saw within a student during the lockdown. One of the most recent pictures of her art that Fareeba shared with me on Whatsapp is of a dark skyline, saying she loves shadows and this image just came to her mind - a sign that art her become a tool for expression for her."

- Fizza, Art teacher at Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School

 

"Distance learning was quite a learning experience for me. Lots went well but there were also a lot of challenges. I think distance learning has its limitations - it is not easy, specially for younger children who are not able to pick things quickly. When they're in front of us it's a different dynamic, they understand things from our facial and vocal expressions, from our demonstrated examples on the spot. In the classroom - or art studio - it was easy to communicate with them, to introduce a concept both orally and visually by drawing on the board and adding more details as needed. Now we had to deliver perfectly edited videos which would capture our entire lesson and also proactively answer any questions we anticipate they might have. In the (physical) classroom of course we could easily answer any questions that would come up but now that they were not in front of us we would have to craft our video in a way that would ensure there would not be any need for further questions or explanations as children did not have easy phone access for live back and forth). While this helped me get better at making and editing videos, it also made me realise the limitations of distance or online learning. In art your expressions matter so much and this must have been so challenging for our students to understand but we all did our best.

Overall, it went quite well, our students really enjoyed their lessons and stayed engaged and it also gave them a chance to divert their mind from the gloom of the disease and the lockdown. They invested their time in art and shared a lot of their artwork with us. I was so happy to learn that my young students realised that their teachers wanted to work hard with them, that they valued the explanations we had sent and the video lessons we made for them. Since May, they participated in several art competitions - a covid19 awareness art competition, another on the topic of what they miss about their school by Aahung, another by Colgate. It was a time-consuming process to guide the students remotely, select their work, scan and label it but it was so rewarding to see their wonderful work during the lockdown. Their awards felt like our achievements."

- Minhaj, Art Teacher at SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School

 

* Please note that wherever in this report we have used the full names of a participant or facilitator, we have their consent to do so.

COVID19 art
COVID19 art
Turmeric tie dye - a kitchen art activity
Turmeric tie dye - a kitchen art activity
Artist Talk on Zoom with Shireen
Artist Talk on Zoom with Shireen
"Labelling my lockdown emotions"
"Labelling my lockdown emotions"
Student artwork on urban flooding in Karachi
Student artwork on urban flooding in Karachi
Mannerist interpretation of food as portraits
Mannerist interpretation of food as portraits
Lay Counseling training for our art teachers
Lay Counseling training for our art teachers

Links:

Aug 27, 2020

Gearing up for the new normal

Our breakfast staff waiting to welcome kids back
Our breakfast staff waiting to welcome kids back

Since our schools closed after the outbreak of COVID19 in March, the 500 students from Kindergarten through the second grade to whom we served breakfast every morning in school had been missing out on their daily dose of essential and healthy nutrition. In our last email, we updated you about distributing essential food items to the families of these students during the school closure and citywide lockdowns. Today, we would like to share a bit about the impact of this distribution. We were able to ensure that student families who had suffered the most economically due to illness or loss of livelihood could continue to support the nutrition of not only our students but their entire family without a worry. After the distribution, we received an overwhelming response from the community with many parents reaching out with messages of gratitutde and appreciation. One such family was that of 5-year-old Aliya, a student of KG-2 at SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School. Soon after the pandemic hit Karachi, Aliya's father suffered from an attack of paralysis, had to be hospitalized and was unable to continue his day job to provide for their family. Aliya was one of the many Early Years students whose families received a Care Pack with food and hygiene essentials meant to last a month. Several weeks later, our KG teacher Uzma received a call from Aliya's family who expressed their deep gratitude as they shared how the Care Pack sent by the school supported them in tiding things over till her father recovered.

Now, as we gear up for schools to reopen, our breakfast staff looks forward to welcoming the little ones again and once again establishing healthy eating habits, albeit in a drastically changed environment. Jamna is one of the breakfast chefs at Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School. On a typical day at school, Jamna prepares healthy meal options (such as the student favourite porridge with seasonal fruits!), serves it to the students and maintains the cleanliness of the Breakfast room. She is an integral part of the program and provides valuable input as new meals are added to the breakfast menu. For example, when a seasonal vegetable soup was introduced at Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Jamna tested the recipe to estimate the amount of time it would take to prepare which eventually helped in deciding the days of the week it would be served on, and also tweaked the recipe according to the student's tastes.

Jamna herself has also learned the importance of cutting out processed foods and sugar from the diet of young children. She shares that she initially found it strange when smoothies, oatmeal and salads were introduced in the menu without any added sugar. Over the years, she learned not only that children's tastes can be shaped to develop healthy eating habits at an early age but also why it was important to do so. When her own daughter Suhana - a flourishing kindergartener at the same school - started bringing home lessons of the importance of good nutrition for a developing mind and body, Jamna was grateful that she already knew so many natural, healthy and additive-free recipes! She now not only prepares these healthy recipes at home but encourages her family and her neighbours to give them a try too for their own children.

Jamna and the rest of the all-female staff of the breakfast team have really been missing the eager happy faces they would serve every morning and are excited to have them back soon. We are currently working on a plan for safe school re-opening to ensure that the risk of exposure and transfer of the novel coronavirus is minimized. To this end, the breakfast staff will be trained on important Standard Operating Procedures to be followed in the Breakfast Room such as ensuring safe distance between students and proper ventilation. Preventing malnutrition and increasing the learning capacity of our government school students is a goal which has become even more important in the post-pandemic world. We hope to have your support as we gear up for this new normal - please donate generously to continue providing local, seasonal, healthy and additive-free breakfast. 

The team hard at work before our last school event
The team hard at work before our last school event

Links:

Jun 26, 2020

Innovating Education for Under-resourced Schools

Students' submissions for an Art Competition
Students' submissions for an Art Competition

Innovating Holistic Education for Under-resourced Schools during a Pandemic

Four months into the pandemic-mandated schools' shutdown in Pakistan, we are continually innovating ways to deliver holistic education to the girls in our under-resourced government schools. In the initial days of the lockdown, our focus was to engage our students in creative activities to help them cope with these unprecedented circumstances. With the help of some great local artists, illustrators, and our own art teachers, we formulated learning packs that had activities promoting mindfulness, gratitude, reflection, and fun and sent them to our students' homes.

While our students came up with creative responses to the questions and exercises in the first set of worksheets, the school management and government school teachers, who were previously not tech savvy, made Whatsapp Groups for each section of each class to allow student-teacher engagement. Teachers have sent text, video and voice instructions on these groups both to introduce new topics and conduct follow-along activities with students who have since participated in art competitions, and learnt to tie-dye their clothes using kitchen ingredients instead of fancy art supplies. Our students love engaging with their teachers through Whatsapp and social media and demand more activities to let their creativity flow.

It was important for us to focus on nourishing our students' body and soul along with keeping them mentally engaged, so we introduced weekly online meditation and yoga classes conducted by a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor trained in classical hatha yoga from South India. Many students, including some girls who were very active in sports at school, are attending these classes regularly and feel refreshed after much needed physical exercise. The students have not only learnt several basic yoga poses, including mountain, cat-cow, constructive rest pose, and bridge but also breathing exercises and how being mindful of their breath can help manage feelings of anxiety and anger. These yoga classes are a hit among the students and teachers alike, and as the weeks pass, our students have started involving their family members in these classes too.

Continuing our focus on the mental wellbeing of our students during these challenging times, our school counsellor has been reaching out to our students to check in with them and identify if they need any help. We are also conducting Mental Health First Aid workshops to train our art and sports teachers as lay counsellors, who will then reach out to students for phone check-ins. When the lockdown was announced, we conducted a survey with our students’ families to gauge their immediate needs and their access to technology. Based on the findings, we distributed care packages with food and hygiene essentials to our students to take care of their and their families' immediate needs.

Meanwhile, our teachers were making a second set of learning packs for each class, this time focusing more on academic content and continuing education. These packs were made for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8, focusing on the revision of topics in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Urdu that have already been taught to the students. While some of the exercises in the learning packs are similar to class worksheets, the Science worksheets include a lot of experiments that can be done with material readily available at home. Currently, we are in the process of sending these learning packs to more than 2500 students enrolled in our schools.

As the distribution of the learning packs is completed for each class, teachers will start engaging with students of that class via their class Whatsapp groups – sending them explanations and instructions, helping them where needed, and checking their responses once completed. The students with limited or no access to technology will be reached through phone calls through which their teachers will give them instructions to follow and complete the worksheets in their learning packs. After one month of revision targeting mastery of the previous term’s content, next month’s learning packs will introduce topics from the new term.

Our teachers are also going through rigorous training online to get accustomed to conducting online classes via Zoom, developing pre-recorded lessons, and using Knowledge Platform, a Learning Management System that will not only allows student-teacher engagement but also has its own content deployed for English, Mathematics, and Science which our students will be following. The teachers will conduct online classes with the students of Grades 9 and 10 via Zoom and assign associated tasks for them on Knowledge Platform.

Donate!

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Pakistan, we need your help now more than ever to deliver holistic education to our students. With your help, we can continue supporting our students to continue their education during the lockdown.

Our students bringing life to the learning packs
Our students bringing life to the learning packs
Student sharing a shirt she revamped with tie-dye
Student sharing a shirt she revamped with tie-dye
Students attending their weekly online yoga class
Students attending their weekly online yoga class
Zoom training for ECE teachers
Zoom training for ECE teachers
General Science Worksheet for students of Grade 8
General Science Worksheet for students of Grade 8
 
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