After the coronavirus outbreak, IEI Pakistan began finding new techniques to interact with its students to curb the forthcoming educational loss. While we were figuring out different ways of communicating with our students, (i.e radio, telephone, SMS) we were also searching for ideas to keep them engaged with learning. Lack of connectivity in the localities where we work meant that we had to tackle this problem creatively.
We found a solution to this problem through a free distance learning program by Rising Academies called Rising on Air. Designed and used during the ebola epidemic, this program provides high quality learning content designed for audio delivery. As partners, we have received access to holistic lesson plans which not only include segments to enhance literacy skills, but also focus on mindfulness and storytelling to augment the students’ overall growth. The lesson structure beautifully supports the child’s need for learning while also finding a balance to address their social skills, and emotional well-being. This resonates very closely to IEI Pakistan’s vision of transforming education, through creative and innovative tools, into a quality experience that supports a child’s overall development. Recently IEI Pakistan participated in a webinar called “Continued Learning for All during COVID-19 & beyond” with several other movers and shakers in the education sector to understand how storytelling can be used as an imperative tool not just in ‘normal days’ but also amidst a pandemic. The conversations that followed were inspiring; participating organizations shared their own stories of how they have innovatively used storytelling to connect with children to support learning, while also providing a joyful experience.
At IEI, we believe in blending arts with education across subject areas – it helps students create a unique space for self expression. Storytelling is a powerful mixed media art form; it has the right ingredients to capture every student’s attention including sound, expressions, reactions, and emotions. Every human being weaves their life around stories. Even the earliest humans – in a time when language wasn’t fully developed – used storytelling to express their feelings, share their experiences, and entertain each other. The earliest cave drawings from our hunter gatherer ancestors are a testament to the innate human need to share stories.
For our students in the remote northern valleys, storytelling is a familiar art form. Much of the history of the northern mountain valleys of Pakistan exists in oral form; even their language, Brushuski and Wakhi, only exists orally. Children have grown up hearing stories about their ancestors, and their valor, and about traditions that are followed to this day. Since IEI’s inception, we have learned that if we engage with our students through storytelling, they gain confidence, and reciprocate by sharing their own stories.
Storytelling has been used as a powerful medium to conduct successful first interactions with our students. As a volunteer organization, we have several volunteer teachers that join us every year in new valleys. Stories create a beautiful exchange of values, culture, and ideas between our volunteers from all over Pakistan, and students studying in these remote areas. Time and again our volunteers have used storytelling in their own distinct ways to connect to their students. For example, one volunteer used after-school storytelling as a way to connect with students outside class, and to motivate them to read. Another volunteer used a local folklore about an anaconda to initiate a project-based writing activity.
“Other than the pure joy of listening to, and telling stories, storytelling also aids in tremendous gains in literacy skills, and social and emotional development”
Inside the classroom, storytelling makes an integral part of our Literacy Improvement Framework. We allot a separate time in the regular school schedule for a Creative Reading and Writing class where we focus on reading and writing stories. During the storytelling time, we abandon all textbooks and use storybooks to read together. These sessions are coupled with role-play and live illustrations to encourage participation, and visual imagery. In the post storytelling session, we draw, paint, or create installation based activities while encouraging students to write their own narrative followed up by the story they just read. Anecdotal evidence from our programs shows us how storytelling is conducive to grasp students’ attention which is the first step towards creating a learning environment.
Storytelling garners students’ attention, and in doing so it creates a space for educators to encourage learning. Listening to and telling stories helps us achieve basic learning objectives like vocabulary and grammar, while also stimulating the powers of imagination and visualization, which are keys to comprehension, and higher order thinking.
Back in 2018, two of our volunteers, Asma Javeri and Bisma Yousufzai initiated a project called “Storytellers of the Karakoram” where they encouraged students to write and compile short illustrated story books. The project was a great success because storytelling is a multisensory medium which helps to create an inclusive learning environment; students who are usually hesitant, shy or timid in regular classes come alive during storytelling/writing sessions, and they were excited and happy to share their work in the form of a storybook.
The practice of storytelling not only helps students build confidence and self-esteem, but it also enhances their interpersonal relationships. When children have access to stories or storybooks, the impact it creates reaches the entire community. In marginalized communities where parents do not have the required skills or resources, students become the storytellers. They share stories with their parents, grandparents, and siblings at home creating a ripple effect that impacts the whole community.
Other than the pure joy of listening to, and telling stories, storytelling also aids in tremendous gains in literacy skills, and social and emotional development. This makes stories a powerful tool in these uncertain, and trying but transformative times, to support children learn while also providing them something to cope with the situation, rather than feeling lost, confused or angry. Therefore, our Distance Learning Program volunteer team is diligently translating all the scripts provided by Rising Academies to Urdu, so we can reach out to as many children as possible. One of our voice-over volunteers, Zara Hussain records a story in her living room in Grimsby, England with countless emotions and expressions, which will be delivered to our students living in remote areas of Pakistan through Radio Pakistan or mp3 players. We have a hundred lesson plans spread across twenty weeks in which we plan to read and discuss two stories every week.
Even though we won’t be able to interact with our students in person this year, we hope that they keep learning, and growing by understanding the world through the age-old method of storytelling.