Central and Southern Asia
In an insecure, unstable region with low economic growth, our priority is to provide lifelong learning opportunities, particularly in English and education, to young people from varied backgrounds, both in and outside large cities. Our challenge is to help improve understanding and trust between the UK and countries in the region.
Building partnerships between schools in Pakistan and the UK helps to tackle stereotyping and prejudice at their roots.
Forging school partnerships across cultural and social divides, the Connecting Classrooms project encourages young people and teachers to broaden their international horizons and challenge their perceptions of other societies.
Our search for schools to participate in the project showed a huge appetite in Pakistan and the UK to take part. Groups of schools in each country were at liberty to select those they wanted to work with in the other country. School representatives attended a ‘partner fair’ and set out their stalls to attract potential partners.
Clusters of schools in Sindh and Punjab teamed up with partners in Birmingham. Schools from Swabi in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Nottingham joined together. Clusters from Bradford and Peshawar in NWFP also formed a partnership.
The first encounters led to each side tackling the preconceptions of the other. Typical attitudes of the Pakistani groups were that the British were unfriendly towards guests, had tasteless food and lived in an aristocratic society. Before visiting Pakistan, many UK participants said they thought Pakistan meant ‘extremism, corruption, a male–female divide, and acute political unrest and crisis’ not to mention an association by some of Pakistan with al-Qaeda.
Contact seminars and study tours involved teachers and education officials from the two countries visiting each other’s schools, identifying their needs in terms of professional development, and scoping projects for pupils to work on in the future. Schools on both sides have now developed a better understanding of each other’s cultures and systems, and the needs of the communities they are based in.
The project goes beyond traditional school linking, by building partnerships within countries too, bridging socio-economic and cultural divides. Schools from differing backgrounds – state, private and faith-based – have to work collaboratively in building the partnership with clusters of schools from the other country. One Pakistani teacher said: ‘This is the first time people of different streams got a chance to get together. It is very rare. We did not know what teaching practices were like in the other schools. Now we know, we can think and work together.’
Involving faith-based schools has been an innovation of the project, which involved overcoming initial suspicion on the part of madrassah boards. ‘We were initially sceptical and thought this was a well-planned scheme to take children away from their religion. But after we got together as a cluster we respected each other and don’t think that way any more,’ one madrassah teacher commented.
Over the next four years, the programme will aim to raise standards in teaching, learning, and school development. The partners will develop curriculum-based projects, enhance use of ICT and work on social action projects with their wider communities.
Twenty schools in Pakistan took part in the 2007–08 pilot. By 2010 we aim to have over 400 schools linked across the region. In 2008–09 Connecting Classrooms will be extended to Bangladesh and Afghanistan with Kazakhstan possibly joining in 2009–10.
|The United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.
A registered charity: 209131 (England and Wales) SC037733 (Scotland)
Our privacy and copyright statements.
Our Freedom of Information Publications Scheme. Double-click for pop-up dictionary.