New Delhi: “A little girl came to me one Saturday and said, ‘Sir, I get bored at home on Sundays’.” Mohammad Ali, a 43-year-old acting head teacher based in Ladakh, chuckles as he recalls what one of his students said to him about weekends.
Ali, who won the National Teachers’ Award along with 43 others this Teacher’s Day, is not just a darling of his students, he is also credited with introducing learning methods that are experiential, fun and effective. From giving an interesting twist to attendance roll call during the morning assembly, to creating ‘subject-specific’ classrooms, and engaging students with the artificial glacier project.
The award citation for Ali, who teaches at the Government Middle School at Karith Shargole in Kargil, describes him as an “extremely passionate educator who subscribes to the belief of learning by doing”.
Shri Mohammad Ali, an acting Head Teacher in Ladakh & National Awards to Teachers 2021 awardee, has innovated many strategies, significantly ‘subject-wise classrooms’ enabling better focus & facilitating experiential learning.
Watch his journey: https://t.co/ACQZWWjHDm pic.twitter.com/gS06sPH6n0
— Ministry of Education (@EduMinOfIndia) September 16, 2021
Speaking to ThePrint over the phone from Kargil, Ali described education reforms as a dear cause. “I felt strongly about bringing some reforms in the education sector,” he said.
Motivation behind school education reform
Ali studied in a government school at Kargil. After completing his BSc from Srinagar’s Amar Singh College, he got selected as a teacher in 2006 and taught science at four government high schools and one higher secondary school in Kargil, before joining the institute at Karith Shargole.
During his teaching career, Ali said, he observed how students struggled with the English language and how even Class 12 students were not able to name the elements of the periodic table.
As a science teacher, it was unsettling for him to see the laboratory apparatuses “covered in dust in the almirahs” and the teachers not being able to make sense of various “subject kits”.
“I realised I could not have worked on these fundamental problems at a higher secondary or high school level, so I decided to deal with the students at a middle school or primary level,” he said.
Ali joined the English-medium Government Middle School at Kargil’s Karith Shargole village as the acting headmaster in 2016. The school has classes from UKG to 8, with 44 students.
“The school is located in a far-flung area of Kargil and has had virtually no communication facilities with a mobile tower only installed over two months ago in the area,” he said.
Subject-specific class, unique learning methods
Ali’s work was also appreciated in 2019 by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council for making the school “a model of exemplary teaching-learning process despite the lack of communication facilities’”
While engaging with the students here, it occurred to him that the learning environment should have a subject-specific stimulation. The school then started to build subject-specific classrooms in 2018 to impart “learning by doing”.
“For classes 5 to 8, we have subject-specific rooms namely, Science, Maths, Language, SST and Games. For UKG to Class 4, we have ‘123’, ‘abc’, and ‘alif bey tey’ (Urdu) rooms,” Ali said.
In every subject-specific classroom, there are ‘teaching and learning materials (TLMs)’.
“Since the TLMs of various grades of a particular subject are kept together in that subject-specific classroom, we are also able to tackle the aage daud, peeche chhod (advance, forget earlier lessons) problem as the students can revise the concepts of the previous grades and subconsciously get familiarised with those of higher grades, making learning easier,” he said.
Ali added that he wanted to do away with “simply translating from the books as a way of explaining the concepts as done in the conventional grade-wise learning method”.
“Hence, under ‘What to do in a class’, the teaching framework has been designed as ‘read, write and activity’ for a 35-minute duration spanning over separate days.”
Ali said students have become more inquisitive and “we get good feedback from the schools these children have joined after Class 8”.
Ali has also introduced some unique teaching methods in the school, such as assigning countries and capitals, elements from the periodic table and forms of verbs as attendance roll call during the morning assembly to help students remember them.
“I realised almost all the students have learnt these when they started responding to the roll call as proxy for the one who was absent that day,” he added, laughing.
Learning material created using waste products
The school, however, battles a lack of resources in creating the TLMs. Ali has used this crisis as an opportunity to instil environment and climate consciousness among the students, and it is their endeavour to build the TLMs from waste material.
As an example, he described how the model of a constellation in the science room was made using cardboard and thrown-away fairy lights from weddings. Similarly, they collected small plastic bags thrown away in weddings and used them as display bags for various kinds of soils, seeds and grains.
Realising how the children get detached from school during the winter vacation, he engaged them in a project called artificial glacier, popularised by innovator and education reformist Sonam Wangchuk. It gained recognition in 2017.
The aim was to conserve water in the village, keep the students familiarised with the school, and make them climate-conscious.
The Ministry of Water Resources awarded the school’s ‘Project Glacier’ with the first prize for ‘Best Research/Innovation/Adaptation of New Technology for Water Conservation’ in 2018. Wangchuk too felicitated the project with a cash award.
“When we get appreciated for our work, we want to work more,” Ali said.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)