The project

Through its Worlds in the Making project, Simorgh is developing and testing a tri-lingual primer (in Punjabi, Urdu, and English) for class 1 students in the Punjab region of Pakistan, where the government curriculum is taught in either Urdu or English. The project was developed in response to the rigid curriculum common to Pakistani schools. Students are not often taught in their native language, which adds to the difficulty many face in adjusting to school and understanding basic concepts. The goal of the project is to determine whether education in the mother tongue will enhance learning outcomes. The project model seeks to challenge and break away from pedagogical techniques and materials that inhibit a child’s cognitive growth and acquisition of language and other skills by 1) creating a cadre of school teachers familiar with participatory learning skills through teacher trainings, 2) encouraging the practice of mother-tongue learning by developing alternative textbooks/primers in three different languages, and 3) designing an alternative textbook to engage student interest and imagination through the use of color and culturally relevant stories.

Lessons and challenges

In designing the primers and implementing the program, Simorgh has worked closely with teachers in a mutual learning process. They have found it important to make the process highly participatory and focused around listening to and supporting the teachers. A major challenge that the project had to address was the concern expressed by both teachers and parents that if students learned Punjabi (the regional language) instead of Urdu (the state language), their economic opportunities would be limited. However, once teachers and parents saw that the program was successfully improving student learning, they became more willing to participate.

Another challenges that the project has faced is getting government approval to conduct the program in public schools. Simorgh has met with members of the Punjab Textbook Board, but has had a difficult time mobilizing interest from officials, given bureaucracy and resistance to change in the system. Given this challenge, Simorgh has had to limit distribution of its texts to high-fee private schools to cover costs of producing the textbooks and ensure project sustainability. Simorgh is hoping to expand distribution of its texts to the public and low-cost private sector, but has found it challenging to figure out how to do so given the need to cover costs that low-income parents cannot afford.