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Salima Begum among ‘10 best teachers in the world’

An inspiration to our community and to teachers worldwide

Salima Begum, a Pakistani teacher born in remote village of Gilgit-Baltistan, has made it to the top ten finalists of Global Teacher Prize 2017. The Global Teacher Prize is a one million dollar award for an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. To be considered for the prize nominees must be regarded as ‘exceptional teachers’ who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Salima Begum is one of just 10 teachers around the world to be nominated for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize by the London-based Varkey Foundation. Over the past 25 years, Salima Begum, who holds three master’s degrees, has worked in roles across the education sector — from leading change in classrooms as a teacher and headmistress in her hometown, to conducting research in the field of education as a faculty member in universities in Sindh and Balochistan, to leading the implementation of wide-ranging programmes in the development sector with the IED, USAID, AusAid and Germany’s GIZ-GFA.

She strongly believes in students ‘constructing’ meaning for them through the information they receive, and holds that classroom activities should correspond closely to real-life situations. In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, February 11, Salima Babar opens up about the steps she has taken to champion science education and a girl’s right to education. She went to the local school in the village of Oshikhandass in Gilgit, northern Pakistan. Conditions were there was a very rigid approach to teaching. The emphasis was on rote learning and on students memorizing text with little to no interaction in class. There were no desks or chairs in junior classes and there wasn’t much beyond a blackboard and chalk for the teacher to use. There were no classes beyond Grade 7 and local traditions meant that girls were expected to be married as soon as they ended school. There were phrases such as ‘A girl’s place is in the home’ or and people expressing fears that the outside world would ‘corrupt’ the character of a girl. The ambitions of girls in this village to go to school were not supported by their family and so the women of village lacked the skills to pursue any profession at all.

Salima Begum started teaching in 1992 in a government school in Gilgit-Baltistan. Back then it was a common practice for teachers to come to school with cradles and even their cattle. She was very wary of the casual attitude that most teachers had and acted as a mentor to them. She guided them on how to plan their daily lessons and how to formulate annual work schemes. A year later, she was asked to be a part of the school management committee where she worked with teachers and parents to ensure that the school was meeting its targets. She felt that she could do much more if she had formal qualifications in teaching.

She began bachelor’s degree in Science Teacher Education at Punjab University where she deepened her understanding of subjects in science and the humanities and grasped the best educational methods for such subjects. That degree gave her the confidence and the skills to return to her village and to introduce science education in schools.

She had two goals. Firstly, she wanted to increase the number of grades in the local school in her hometown so that girls could complete their secondary school qualifications. Secondly, she wanted her students to learn about the world around them and how the application of education through subjects such as biology, chemistry and botany can improve their lives. She within a year of her returns in 1997 introduced Grade 8, 9 and 10 classes in local school.

She had multiple responsibilities back then. Not only was she was teaching eight subjects but her role as head teacher meant that she was responsible for the guidance and training of other teachers too. She remembered seeing teachers working in isolation. They wouldn’t share plans and activities with peers and an absence of professional development courses in the area meant that there was a rigid adherence to teaching methods that they were comfortable with.

By actively mentoring teachers she slowly persuaded them to experiment and to constantly ask themselves if students were learning what they were teaching. This led to her mentees introducing cooperative learning strategies and applied project-based learning approaches in school.

 

She also conducted professional development sessions for teachers that improved their writing and speaking skills to make them into better communicators. These sessions really help make the classroom more interactive which is particularly important for science subjects where children need to grasp concepts.

By working with volunteers and the local community she also convinced parents to let their girls study longer. As a result, community members willingly paid a nominal fee for grade 9 and 10, which enabled her to hire additional teachers. This initiative raised their confidence and trust in the school management and teachers. Enrollment at school increased from 130 students to more than 400 just two years and she is proud to say that many of those girls are now nurses and doctors who are playing a vital role in Oshikhandass.

While she loved teaching and being involved in community, there was so much progress in the field of education and teaching practice that she wanted to be exposed to. That’s when she decided to begin a master’s degree in Education at the IED in 2002. The IED master’s program was a turning point in her life as it gave her the conceptual knowledge to understand curriculums, the structure of a country’s education system and the tools to appreciate how to improve an area’s educational outcomes.

She learnt different ways to assess students and gained a deep appreciation of how reflective teaching practices can transform the experience of education in the classroom. After her degree, she stayed on with IED and began applying her knowledge in the Institute’s programs. She started to work at the IED’s Professional Development Centre, North, where she led the implementation of a Whole School Improvement Programme (an EU-funded project aimed at uplifting the infrastructure, leadership and management practices of schools) in five districts.

She then went on to implement the AusAid-funded Educational Development and Improvement Programme in Gilgit. Both projects had wide-ranging effects in northern Pakistan as they led to higher enrollment rates, better-equipped schools, better-trained teachers who were innovating in the classroom, and a community that believed that education had a role to play in developing the character of girls and boys. She continued to support needy students who lack the means to pursue education.

She had helped students to complete their secondary education but now she would able to financially support those who want to go to university. The costs of higher education, particularly accommodation and fees, are prohibitive for people from her hometown. She liked to expand systems of need-based financial assistance so that underprivileged students, particularly girls, don’t have to worry about paying their fees and accommodation expenses.

Throughout her career, Salima has contributed to teacher training, instructing more than 7,000 teachers across her province, and 8,000 more throughout Pakistan through the education reform programme. Her leadership has resulted in her being made head teacher of her school, and under her guidance students have performed exceptionally well in official examinations, resulting in an increase in enrolment in her school.

Salima has adopted the technique of developing students’ local wisdom and to make students brainstorm about their contribution to society with their knowledge. Developing ethical, moral and social values in her students has been top of her priority list.

She designed and implemented an environmental project with her children and the local community. Conditions in her own education were cramped and she was fortunate to complete higher secondary level. She believes strongly in students ‘constructing’ meaning for themselves through the information they receive, and holds that classroom activities should correspond closely to real-life situations.

She has helped create awareness amongst parents regarding girls’ education and its benefits, pioneered a strategy of mentoring in the community and encouraged aspiration in the feeder schools that send pupils to her. During her teaching and learning process, Salima always tries to develop students’ local wisdom and at the same time question them on how they are going to contribute to that knowledge, connect with people around world and encourage people to work together for the betterment of humanity.

Developing ethical, moral and social values in her students has been top of her priority list. The female teachers are not restricted to their teaching field but they have also proven their selves in other fields also.

She is the genuine teacher and we think that each and every teacher in this world should be like her. Each and every student will be able to excel in all of the fields if they will be getting teachers like this. It is time to learn something from this super teacher and it is the time to make career and future more super by taking help from this teacher.

Without support of her father who fought with old traditions and society of her area, she could never have reached where she is today. Her father supported her despite the financial pressures he faced. He sent her to Inter College for Women in Gilgit. During that time she had to travel for almost 2 hours every day in two buses bought by two societies in village.

She started teaching; she used to teach two classes in one room. Her main challenge was providing girls with education as in her region, the community believed that girls should be taught till 5th grade at the most, and after that they should be married. She had to challenge this tradition. Along with teaching science, she had to do this as her personal goal.

After that parents allowed their girls to continue studying after 8th grade and many girls are now working as nurses, six of them are working as teachers in the same school and some even became police officers, which not only increased their social status but also enhanced their economical stability.

Pakistan as a nation is very much proud of Salima for being such an inspiration to her community and to teachers worldwide.

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