Sunday, 28 October 2012

Education, Learning and Living Life to the Full

Two articles in this weekend's Guardian newspaper caught my eye - both on the themes of literacy and education, two of my passions. One was the continuing story of Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old schoolgirl and blogger from Mingora, Pakistan who was shot as she returned home from a day at school - shot a point blank range by the Taliban for daring to pursue an education as a muslim girl. She is recovering after life saving surgery after being air lifted to the UK to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. This young woman has shared her experiences through a regular blog for the BBC in which she not only promotes education for girls but also advises local authorities on the matter, but was shot by the Taliban for 'promoting secularism'. The Taliban have threatened to kill Malala if she returns to Pakistan. Muslim women and girls have been photographed with 'I am Malala' banners, showing support of this brave girl who intends to return home and is currently studying for her exams.

Frank Cottrell Boyce fears that children's love of books is at risk because of the way they are educated in schools. Reading for fun should be the emphasis he claims.

When I worked in East London some years ago, my aim was to educate students working through a 'broad and balanced curriculum' to help them become literate, numerate and hopefully live a balanced life where reading for enjoyment would be a part of it. Children learn best when their learning is interesting and fun, so regardless of whether I was teaching phonics or number bonds, the lessons had to engage the pupils.

However, what was central to my teaching and what was central to the message received by my children on an almost daily basis was the notion that Education brought Knowledge, Understanding and Power: the KUP (sp) of Education could bring the students purposeful and happy lives should they wish to work hard enough for it.

Older students needed to know that learning had a purpose. For some it was enough to enjoy a text or love writing their own stories. Yet, for others,in order to escape the cycle of poverty they lived in, learning was their way out - the key to a successful future.

These two stories in Saturday's Guardian were a stark contrast between two worlds and views on education.

School has a purpose first and foremost to give our students the tools they need to learn and be successful. If taught well, students will also develop their citizenship - becoming moderate, tolerant, kind, caring, intelligent and creative adults of the future.

Frank Boyce would do well to remember what good educators do best. We educate through every which medium we can to meet the needs of our students. I'm sure if Frank Boyce were to spend any amount of time in a good school, he would be reassured that we read for fun and children enjoy their lessons. Yet, it is sobering to remember that many children in our world walk  through deserts or danger just to sit in on hard benches or dusty floors to listen to someone who may be able to change their lives for the better.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

All is not as it seems ...

Life has a tendency to amble on in its own sweet way while its participants frantically scrabble in the dirt to keep on track. My last year has been testimony to that. Plans are made, opportunities are grabbed with both hands, yet while life is experienced to the full, I often amaze myself that I manage to move forward with my life at all! Treading water feels like all there is some days, yet from time to time, I reflect on my present and realise that, perhaps, my life is moving in the right direction after all.

Over the last twelve months, I've turned my back on one life and braved the new. New in so much that I have embraced a new way of living my life - independently and by putting myself and my children first, allowing us the time and energy to nurture relationships with friends and family. Allowing myself to move on.

Teaching at one time seemed to be an avenue closed to me, yet as my health improved and the fog cleared, I saw that teaching, writing and being a mum to my boys was everything I needed.

And so, I have moved forward. My own teaching career and writing career running tandem, I am workshopping again and writing at every opportunity.

 Recently, at a residential weekend in Essex, the students sparked with ideas and enthusiasm as we used Driftwood and Amethyst as a stimulus for children's own writing.
I saw myself in so many faces as we ran through a forest where benevolent Mother Nature attempted to scoop them up and keep them safe, as we stumbled along dark cobbled back streets to a puppet shop, where Zauberer, as only true evil can, stole their childhoods and trapped them, ever after. All without leaving the workshop floor.

As with many students, their planning and talking skills were sophisticated, wry and funny, yet when we talked about writing these young writers struggled to translate these ideas to the page. All that was required was the scaffolding, the guiding, the molding of th thoughts

We spent our day building characters, settings, plans before weaving together a rich tapestry of tales, soon to be published for the school as an anthology inspired by Driftwood and Amethyst and the imaginations of some promising young writers.

How I quite found myself sitting with such an enthusiastic group of young writers discussing my first novel, is almost beyond me, as life hasn't always been so generous. But by having a little faith in myself and surrounding myself with those who believe in me, life can now be enjoyed rather than merely endured.