Ms. Asnaha Farheen – PYP Head and Coordinator – Abdul KadirMolla International School , Bangladesh
Born in Uttar Pradesh, brought up in Bhopal and now deepening the roots of education in Bangladesh, MsAsnahaFarheen walks the IB philosophy.
With Majors in Chemistry, Ms Asnaha did not have the education sector in her radar. Destiny played its charm when she visited The Eastern Public School, Bhopal and observed that there were no compulsions imposed on teachers about completing portions in a particular year. The flexibility, variety of resources and the absence of prescribed text books opened her mind to the vast opportunities. The new learning methodologies lured her into the field of education.
And hence, she started her career in 2010 at Eastern Public School, Bhopal where she was part of the Primary Years programme as a grade 2 teacher.Today, she heads the Primary Yearsprogramme at Abdul KadirMolla International School, Bangladesh. Under her leadership, the school has sailed through the candidacy process and are moving towards authorization, which is due beginning of 2020.
Tell us how the lack of text books help the teaching process.
In IB, we have a curriculum that is customized as per the school’s setting and culture. All IB schools design their own programme of inquiry. We go from local to global.
There are 6 unit of inquiry from KG 2 to Grade 5, 4 unit of inquiry from Grade Nursery to KG 1 in an IB school’s Program of Inquiry. Program of Inquiry is horizontally and vertically aligned so that students can exploreappropriate, engaging and thought-provoking units of inquiry at each grade level.Here students can go into the conceptual side of things rather than only depending on the content. Content, I agree, is equally important. But, we focus on concepts. Primary Years Programme (PYP) is a concept-driven curriculum.
Text books nudge rote learning – something which does not excite me. I wouldn’t want to be part of a school that promotes rote learning.
Another important factor about IB schools is the healthy student-teacher ratio for instance it is 25:2 in my present school, which promotes a healthy learning environment. In my initial years, I got the opportunity to conduct a training session on differentiated teaching and learning at one of the top notch CBSE schools in Bhopal. The session went well and it was well received. At the end of the session, one of the teachers asked me about the student-teacher ratio required for such programmes because at their school it was 45 (sometimes 50):1. In such a scenario, it is hard to have a differentiated approach.
I have always been with IB and didn’t want to venture into anything different because I love the programme. I have faith in the programme and I believe that IB schools are doing wonders in the field of education.
Can you give insight about the role of a PYP coordinator?
The PYP coordinator role is a bridge between the school and the IB programme. My role is to induce new teachers who step into this programme and ensure the smooth functioning of the curriculum.
The IB PYP is a really challenging programme. The absence of text books is really challenging for the teachers to plan significant, engaging and relevant learning experiences for the students. We sit together and collaborate a lot. I also have 1:1 sessions with teachers and we also have meetings with the specialists.
There is one teacher, known as the home room teacher who plans the unit of inquiry,Math and English language learnings and try to find genuine transdisciplinary connections among these disciples and as well other disciplines like Arabic Language ,Bangla Language ,Visual Art and PSPE .Subject specialists also plan their inquiry based units to dig deeper into the subject specific concepts. Home room teachers work closely withme and specialists to make the learning transdisplinary and concept driven. We as a team sit together and plan yearly integrations to come up with benchmarks they want to setfor learners using the scope and sequence for the entire years and find ways to make connections with other disciplines. Teaching team collaboratively decide what learning outcomesshould be selectedand plan the inquiry-based learning experiences. We plan the learning focussed on the learners and is based on differentiated learning.
The PYP coordinatorensures smooth functioning of the programme and keeps the team updated on the programme. I establish the culture of collaboration and keep the management in sync with the IB programme, how it works and how we implement the IB-PYP philosophy into action. I keep parents updated about the programme too.
Two months back, we had a Parents’ Orientation Programme. As an educator, we can understand that learning can happen without books but for parents this is a huge change. We got them to understand thatlack of text books does not mean lack ofknowledge.
We use ample resources like manipulatives, technology tools and a variety of books. We only restrain from using one set of prescribed books.
The PYP coordinatorputs the PYP Philosophy into practice.
I motivate, challenge and appreciate my staff members. I sharpen their skills and help them side line their weaknesses. I believe in shared leadership. So, they all take ownership of what is being expected. We, my team and I, are in this together.
This is a very vital role, especially when schools transition to the IB programme. PYPC is a part of pedagogical leadership and hence, is also about developing the policies and administering procedures to implement it.
Since there are no prescribed text books, there are many aspects we need to cater to. The learning spaces, the furniture, looking into what is required and what kind of books we need, etc. It is a highly challenging role.
How would you advice schools considering transitioning to the IB curriculum?
New schools stepping into the IB world need to understand IB’s standards and practices based on which they need to develop curriculum, assessment and also need to organise resources and support.
Earlier, the 4 pillars of the IB curriculum was collaborative planning, written curriculum, learning and teaching and the assessments. Now it has enhanced to the learner, learning and teaching and the learning community. When I speak about the learning community, it comprises of the learner, the parent, the local and also the global community which should be a part of the learning process. They are the people those who will grow along with the learners. So, they look up to a lot of role modelling from the learning community.
Apart from that, one of the key features is to develop a community of collaboration. It is not like one teacher is planning something and decides to implement the plan in a particular manner. Here, it is about team work. The team should plan out the learning outcomes, the benchmark, etc. Hence, we develop a culture of collaboration, developing a learning community.
Another important aspect is the IB Learner Profile, which is what leads to the international mindedness. According to me, that is an attribute that humans should have. Hence, developing the learner profile is again a very important thing and having faith in the IB philosophy is something that is highly important. The school needs a leader who can lead with a sense of shared responsibility by training teachers to become more independent.
A few basic things about the IB PYP are:
1. The inquiry-based approach – There is no rote learning and no scope for it. The learners decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn. They are also encouraged to consistently ask themselves why they are learning what they learn. Everything is more learner-centric and they have the choice and ownership when it comes to learning. The entire school revolves around the learner. This is the core of IB PYP.
2. Looking up to parents as stakeholders: Parents should also have a sense of what happens at school. Quoting my present school as an example, the parents were quite restless when it came to this change. From the normal question-paper approach we were stepping into a programme that offered a set of tools and strategies to assist on-going learning.
Implementing this kind of assessment practices needs understanding and calls for educating parents about IB. The governing bodies of the school should also have an understanding of IB and its requirements. There are 25 teachers here who attended the in-school workshop we had on 30th and 31st October. It is a mandatory requirement for all IB schools to have qualified staff.
3. Development of the Library: The library for an IB school is the powerhouse of the entire programme. It is the biggest resource of the school.
4. A complete understanding of IB’s Standard and Practices: That is the Bible for the IB PYP. If you know the standards and practices, you know what is expected since the beginning of the school then you can step into the whole thing with ease.
Tell us more about the library requirements.
Students have the ownership to choose what kind of resources they need in the library. Hence, other than books they also have other digital resources. The librarian does not only play the role of a librarian – they are teacher-librarians. They conduct lot many learning engagements in the library. There are opportunities for learners to reflect on what they have learned so far. Librarians ask questions about the story books that children have read, they query on the children’s interpretations of what has been learned, read etc.
The librarian plays a key role during the curriculum development phase as well. Besides that, Programme of Inquiry (POI) keeps changing. Hence, we need to stock books as per the learner’s needs and we need reading programmes and librarian helps the teachers understand what kind of resources are available and how to use those resources. We have librarian led sessions for the teachers to understand the readiness of the reading level.
The librarians play a vital role in the IB programme.
When it comes to books, the library should have books that cater to the needs of the learners and teachers. For example, when we stepped into IB PYP, I looked for books which helps my teachers to understand the IB pedagogy in a better way. So, I took few suggestions from them and stocked up the library. We have professional development books – books that detail on the power of inquiry, books based on Solo Taxonomy, etc.We have reference books for teachers to understand the national and international requirement. We have resource books for children which helps them inquire into concepts that they learn about. We also have a variety of fiction and non-fiction books, biographies, etc.
How do you transition teachers to get ready for the IB programme?
It is mandatory for teachers to be good readers in IB schools because things change at a rapid pace. Honestly, reading a book in itself attributes to professional development, in my opinion.
Here, we have reading time, book talks, book cafes, etc. in our school. These are opportunities that help teachers build a reading habit.
Students leave the school at 2:30 and until 3:30 is the time when teachers collaborate with each other. We have a 5-day working schedule. Wednesdays and Thursdays are reserved for sharing best practices. During this time, teachers can either share the learning experiences they have implemented, what kind of research they are going through, the books they have read, etc. These opportunities help teachers to understand that reading is highly important. They read from a variety of things.
I keep giving them articles from various blogs and useful websites. Another thing that I have started in this school is blogging. All my teachers are bloggers and it is another platform where they take their teachings to another level.
Right now they are low on book reading so I have begun introducing them to reading articles, so that they can understand what is happening in the world of education. I implement strategies like jigsaw reading and describe, interpret, generalize and apply what you have read. They do all these things and share their experiences. There are professional development stations which teachers take up. For this, they will need to do a lot of research.
I am looking into throwing in more challenges so that my team of teachers become better readers.
Any tips for schools in India, from Bangladesh?
The group that I work with is a pioneer group in the textile industry. This school is their philanthropist initiative and so this is a minimum fee IB school. In terms of Bangladeshi currency, the fee is only Tk 6500/-, which comes up to about $70-80. This group has developed many schools and colleges in Bangladesh and they run it at minimum fees. Hence, there is a drive to bring in a non-commercialized concept of education. I really appreciate them for this. Also, the area in which this school is located has no English medium schools. This school is emerging as a gateway of new learning for the parents as well.
A philanthropist approach to education exudes a lot of power and inspiration. The Eastern Public School in Bhopal also follows the same philosophy. I believe that we should have more of such institutions in the country which will impart equal opportunities for learners to learn and be on par in terms of national and international standards.
How do you visualize your way forward?
My first plan is to make this school a full-fledged IB school. There are pockets that I am really looking up to like having a diverse community of teachers. Currently, I have teachers mostly from Bangladesh and few from India. I need teachers with diverse experience from across the globe.
We are also expanding next year and so we are bringing in hostel facilities, so that we can have children studying here from far away localities as well. I want to establish this school as an example that other schools can follow.
Personally, I am looking forward to stepping into another role called an IB Educational Network Member. I want to be a workshop leader so that I can explore the IB world in a better way. I am also currently leading the Pakistan and Indian network as a network chair.
I am a writer by choice and passion. Two of my articles got published. Last week I had a podcast which got published in 80 countries. So, I am looking at better ways to collaborate with like-minded people who have a passion for the education field.
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