On a bright Saturday morning, 49-year-old Roohi Sultana dressed up for one of the biggest achievements of her life. A teacher at the Boys Middle School, Kashipora in the outskirts of Srinagar, she was conferred with the national award by President of India Ram Nath Kovind.
Roohi, the winner among 107 nominees, had been selected for her unconventional teaching method of using household waste as teaching tools.
A postgraduate in Urdu and the Kashmiri language and a renowned calligraphy artist, Roohi was among the 47 recipients of the National Teachers Award from across the country.
“I can’t express my happiness. It is all thanks to my students, who cooperated with me and adapted to my style of teaching. The education department and my family supported me to go through various challenges throughout this journey,” she said.
Roohi’s innovative method of teaching
Soon after joining the education department as a teacher, Roohi was selected for a teacher’s course of ‘Art Integrated Learning’ by the National Council of Educational Research and Training.
While all the attendants in the course focussed on the improvements in methods of teaching, Roohi was highly impressed with the ‘play-way’ method, demonstrated by one of the senior professors. This method uses tools to make a long-term impact on students, helping them grasp concepts better.
Roohi wanted to adopt these techniques for her students, who mostly came from underprivileged backgrounds.
What perturbed Roohi was the cost of the tools. Her students couldn’t afford any of them.
Rather than give up, Roohi decided to experiment and make education tools out of household items.
She started collecting scraps and littered items including soap covers, chips wrappers, empty tetra packs, mango seeds, plastic bottles and even thermocol packing material to modify them into various tools.
“My days would end by collecting all these littered items and visualising their modification to make them into something I could use to teach students. I would visit shopkeepers and ask them for empty plastic bottles, and biscuit and toffee wrappers,” Roohi said.
The use of these items was a challenging task for the calligraphy artist, who used her creative bent to make attractive tools of them.
“I would take all these littered items to my home, wash and dry them. With the help of my students, I successfully gave all these items the distinctive shapes of education tools,” she said.
While she used thermocol as a chart, materials like plastic bottles were painted with alphabets, and soap and chips wrappers were modified to help students to understand mathematics.
“I used shells of walnuts and pistachios and fixed them to their original shape. Sponges were used as a brush to paint mango seeds to understand colours. My students love and enjoy learning through this method. I have modified all these items in such a way that they could be used again to teach other classes as well,” Roohi said.
She has also experimented with other innovative and creative methods to make lessons interesting for rural kids.
“Being a language teacher, it becomes important to correct the pronunciation of students. So, I mostly make a song out of the lessons and sing them like a rhyme. Today, my students can pronounce every word with perfection,” Roohi says.
An inspiration for teachers
Teaching has been a passion for the multi-talented Roohi, who is hopeful for major reforms in the education sector.
“There has to be a physical, mental and cognitive development among our children. I have not been doing all these experiments to earn fame but to perform my role as a teacher,” she said.
Many of Roohi’s colleagues have imbibed her techniques, which is yielding them good results.
“I am proud of my colleagues who are using various tools to make learning easy for students,” she said.
Apart from teaching, Roohi performs various roles to help transform education in Jammu and Kashmir.
For example, she produces e-content for Diksha, a platform for training teachers, where she demonstrates her method to make it popular among other schools in the valley.
“During my interaction with teachers, I often suggest them to listen the songs of legendary singer Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar to learn pronouncing words,” she says.
Roohi is also working as a content creator for the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education, which is responsible for framing the syllabus and conducting examinations up to higher secondary level.
From online to door-to-door classes
It has been a year since schools have remained shut in Kashmir due to the abrogation of Article 370 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roohi, however, has not let her students suffer. She continually conducted video lectures or visited the homes of the unprivileged.
“Though we have an internet speed constraint, still I am managing to make my students understand in a better way. I give them assignments, which they do in a better way using their learning from education tools,” she said.
For underprivileged children of Gujjar and the fishers community, Roohi is visiting their homes for lessons of the week.
“I follow all the SOPs by wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and keeping a hand sanitiser in my pocket. I teach students lessons and give them assignments for the coming days. Not just my students, it includes children who are studying in other schools be it private or government-owned,” she said.
Roohi’s achievement a proud moment for the entire Union Territory
Mohammad Younis Malik, Director, School Education Department, Kashmir termed Roohi’s achievement as path-breaking for the teaching community of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Roohiji has made good use of the ‘Early Childhood and Care Education’ concept and has worked hard over the years. Teaching kindergarten students writing and learning on scrap requires creativity. Roohiji got what she deserved,” Malik said.
(Written by Firdous Hassan, Edited by Vinayak Hegde)