Lubna Punjwani training the teachers in Karachi
Sharmeen Peshimam from British Council Pakistan discovers that, in some areas, nothing comes close to working with people face-to-face when building cultural relations.
Today we can share information and interact with millions of people across the world at the click of a button, and the British Council is continuously improving its digital platform to reach millions more.
While the digital space is high on impact and low on cost, when building cultural relations in developing countries such as Pakistan, there is no replacement for working with people face-to-face.
Internet penetration in Pakistan is one of the highest in the region, yet more than half the population doesn’t have access to any electronic devices. One of our aims is to reach those on the margins of society and in these circumstances, digital doesn’t quite do it.
Last month in Karachi, we trained 25 teachers from the Tharparkur district of Pakistan’s Sindh province, which ranks as one of the poorest in the country. None of them had ever been trained before, despite some having taught for more than 15 years. For most, it was their first time in Karachi (Pakistan’s largest city), their first stay in a hotel and their first interaction with a female instructor.
In the first few sessions, the teachers were shy to speak up and rather formal when they did. Trainer Lubna Punjwani summed up the stilted atmosphere:
‘While I understood their limitations on paper, it was another thing altogether to experience them first-hand. To accommodate the culture shock, I had to ease them through learning basic soft and social skills by conducting myself in a certain way.’
Over the course of the five-day workshop, the teachers slowly began to change. ‘On the last day, there was no noticeable sign of their early unease’, added Lubna with a sense of pride, ‘They were confident and spoke fairly articulately compared to the first day.’
Face-to-face training not only enables participants to learn social skills, but also exposes them to new ideas in an open and stimulating environment. These kinds of personal interactions are particularly important in a region where life can be isolated and lead to a conservative and myopic worldview, and where economic conditions often prevent people from experiencing the wider world.
Fifty-year-old participant Mir Muhammad was one of those visiting Karachi for the first time. He explains how remote his village is: ‘I have to walk through the desert for at least three hours daily to reach the school and, by the time I come back home, it is already dark.’
Of course, digital engagement can provide useful teaching techniques. But a real environment, where the subtleties of body language and tone of voice play a part, allows dialogue to flourish. It helps people to really open up, grow in confidence and learn the soft skills of teaching. These deeply personal skills will have a lasting impact on the teachers and ultimately benefit their students and the community as a whole.