x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Interactive study pack puts focus on UAE

Dubai woman has created a study pack using interactive learning to help school children learn about the UAE.

Lubna Sarwar, a semi-retired primary school teacher, at her Flamingo Villa home in Al Sufouh, Dubai, last month. “I want children to look back and say I had a memorable lesson ... that’s the idealist in me.” Christopher Pike / The National
Lubna Sarwar, a semi-retired primary school teacher, at her Flamingo Villa home in Al Sufouh, Dubai, last month. “I want children to look back and say I had a memorable lesson ... that’s the idealist in me.” Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // Interactive and visual learning is the best way to spark curiosity in schoolchildren and encourage them to think critically.

This is the message Lubna Sarwar, a semi-retired primary school teacher in Dubai, hopes to convey with her new study pack, Sandstruck.

The Higher Colleges of Technology are also giving it to their undergraduates in education to get them out to schools when they are teaching.

“It was an in-house initiative,” she said. “I’d been observing teachers scratching around every year.”

Educating children about the UAE can be particularly challenging because there are few resources available and those that do exist are often dull and sometimes inaccurate.

“Largely, it wasn’t stimulating or engaging for the students,” said Mrs Sarwar. “Great teachers are always looking for that connection as to how we can enrich children’s intellectual curiosity and take them to the next level of learning.”

Sandstruck, also known as the “creative student’s activity pack”, focuses on how children can access information for themselves while keeping their interest piqued.

“There’s a place for a teacher who is inspirational but the focus of the pack is so much more about how children can get excited about getting information,” said Mrs Sarwar.

The pack is interactive, with cartoon characters playing different roles.

“Because it’s a critical-thinking pack, it brings the child in so that questions are being asked,” she said. “They’re pondering and wondering so it’s a back-and-forth.”

Aimed at children from grades 4 to 6, the syllabus puts them on the spot to trigger more thinking, instead of taking something that is ready-made.

“It’s cross-curricular so there are different topics like history, geography, maths in a practical sense and music,” said Mrs Sarwar.

“I want them to feel that they’re autonomous and they’re making decisions.”

A “Sandstruck board” allows children to brainstorm their ideas, to think about visual learning and how they can use mind mapping.

“It’s all part of ‘hot’ skills, which are higher-order thinking,” said Mrs Sarwar. “It’s more critical thinking before jumping into something and we want children to be asking the questions, not answering them.

“It’s playful but thoughtful – that’s the theme that runs through the pack.”

Arabic is given a push with bilingual headings on each page.

“There’s also an area that looks at the origins of Arabic,” she said.

“We want to raise the profile of Arabic, the culture and respect for it.

“We want to give it status and make it important so that they’re not just thinking that they have to learn it and that’s when they’re more engaged.”

The aim is to make learning more local.

“Wherever you are in Dubai, you keep being faced by imports,” said Mrs Sarwar.

“What I struggled with was how can we make it more relevant and contextualise it so it’s more local. So my goal was how to develop creative content in the classroom, right here, in this country.”

Teachers agreed that getting students motivated was not always a given.

“It’s a problem that most schools face,” said Adam Omar, an English teacher at Al Safa Secondary School in Dubai.

“Students are not really very motivated or interested, so it’s good to engage them in a variety of activities that will raise their critical thinking abilities.”

So far, the pack has been tried out at Jebel Ali Primary School, where Mrs Sarwar used to teach.

“Old textbooks don’t give children an opportunity for them to question and about 80 per cent is text,” she said.

“It’s what I feel I would’ve liked my children to have when they were at school.

“I want children to look back in 10 years and say I had memorable lessons while I was learning in school here. That’s the idealist in me.”

cmalek@thenational.ae