Karachi conference was a lesson in communication - Letter from Lahore

15th March 2013 at 00:00

Dear Graham,

As an adviser to Petra Wend's implementation group for your review of teacher education, you grapple with improving the career-long learning of Scottish teachers.

You have an interest in international perspectives. I am working for an education system in Pakistan, which has approximately the same number of pupils as Edinburgh. But there are some differences: it is a private system; its 180 schools are spread over a land mass greater than the UK; and there are culturally nuanced distinctions - one father with four wives had 25 children attending our Quetta campus. Not many Edinburgh schools, I understand, have 25 siblings in attendance.

Recently, I flew to an in-house conference in Karachi, a distance similar to that between Inverness and London. A large hotel meeting room was laid out for 200 people - mostly heads and regional staff - but there were also about 60 parents and a number of A-level students. Two students opened the day with a recitation from the Koran and an inspirational reading, and a third one did some of the compering.

The national anthem and the school song featured before we got down to business: a little different from what we see at a Tapestry conference. The regional director of education gave a five-minute address, stressing that they have full-time school counsellors in all A-level schools.

The central support function of their school system has so far concentrated on academic and careers advice, but is now fostering personal counselling (bit.ly14y5Fg6). So we had a keynote speaker, formerly of the University of Karachi - 30 minutes on the historic treatment of mental illness in Pakistan (not a happy story). She then invoked the World Health Organisation on holistic notions of health (as modern health education in Scotland does) and focused on techniques to maximise positive self-awareness. There were four hours still to go, but the rest of the day was highly interactive. Sadly, as you and I know, that is largely unknown at such events in Scotland.

That led to a panel of experts. We had 30 minutes of views and questions from the audience. The three, three-hour workshops were headed by Dr Asir Ajmal, a graduate of Columbia University and clinical psychologist who was very client-centered; Anika Naeem, a Canadian Pakistani with a degree in counselling, who discussed behavioural control in classrooms; and Rubina Feroz, another clinical psychologist, who spoke about parental skills. There was lively debate among the parents and when they departed, there was an hour's structured discussion among the staff and students.

Commuting to Holyrood conferences is less time consuming, but sadly often less rewarding. Graham, there are two challenges for us in Scotland: 1) to involve more stakeholders, students and parents in our teacher conferences, and 2) to cut the keynotes and develop the dialogue.

Yours, Iain

Iain Smith is an education consultant currently working for The City School (TCS) in Pakistan.

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