How an extra-school program changed the way a seventh-grader looked at society
Beyond the Classroom Education is a program teaching school students all across Pakistan the ability to think for themselves, rather than being taught what to think. Students are exposed to several problematic societal issues through a number of behavioural activities that give them the ability to decipher between right and wrong. It teaches them how to cope with the issues at hand, and also explains ways they can make society a better and more accepting place for all types of people, using the best of their abilities.
When the program was introduced to students of the Mama Parsi Girls’ Secondary School, the first thing I noticed was how different this was to any other program executed there. The speaker, who introduced himself as Muhammad Murtaza, was the most engaging and distinct personality we had ever had on that stage. His delivery style exuded enthusiasm, and the entire audience was riveted from his first words. The speech lasted for hardly 40 minutes, but by the end he managed to earn himself some of the loudest cheer I have ever heard in my eight years of being here. People were rushing to sign up, and it was the talk of the school for the next week. At the end, a total of 236 students from the sixth and seventh grade had joined.
In the first session, we were divided into different groups and assigned trainers. Our trainer introduced himself as Sennen Desouza. Even though we were here to learn, the environment, however, was so different from our regular classes. There was hardly any of the regular classroom discipline. We were allowed, in fact encouraged, to speak up when we disagreed with anything, because they wanted to stress on the fact that we were all equals there. The main themes around which all activities were based on consisted of perspectives, identities, discrimination and the three main roles in society (victim, offender and bystander). Different activities were conducted that not only made it easier for us to understand the subject, but made the entire lesson much more entertaining and efficient.
The ones that left a lasting impact were definitely the balloon and pins, and the life map. For the first one, the main idea was defining the three types of people in society. The ones who suffer (victims), the ones who cause the suffering (offenders) and the ones who do nothing (bystanders). In the activity, the class was divided into three groups. One group was given balloons, the other was given pins and the third were not given anything. There were no instructions and when the countdown reached an end, the people with pins immediately went after the ones with balloons. After the final balloon was popped, we realised we were never really asked to do that; it was pure instinct. We had a discussion about this being the base of the general population. The bystanders could help out but hardly ever do, the victims can’t attack and just protect their assets, while the offenders want to take those assets away. It put things into perspective for all of us and really was food for thought.
The other memorable activity was the life map. This was under the theme of identity, and the main idea was how the events in our life shape us into the people we are today. We are never the same person; we are constantly changing as life goes on which is what we reflected upon. We were given sheets and asked to draw a life map consisting of the main events in our life that helped shape us. It was a time for reflection and sober consideration; definitely one of the more serious and heavy sessions, as memories that had been repressed were brought to the surface.
A fair few were triggered, but this is where the moment of pride came in. Everyone came together to support each other and make a safe space. That was when we realised that people are often not who they say they are. Behind the mask of a smile, there are shadows of past sorrows and scars of crimes forgotten, but never forgiven. We learn from our experiences and grow from them. We saw how the wisest amongst us had suffered the most, the one who loved strongly had never been loved, the one who smiled the brightest was the one too tired to cry behind closed doors. All of us provide to the world what we have never been given, simply so others may never have to go through the same. That is what Beyond the Classroom taught me.
As I look back, I realise how much I grew as a person at the time. The people who I chose to trust did not betray it, I learnt from those I thought I never would, had enlightening discussions, and most importantly, I smiled and I meant it. Not only was it a place to learn, it was a place where you felt safe. The trainers are wonderful and accepting and do their best to provide a safe space, and the students too, learn from that example and are more accepting. Too often in classrooms, there is hate and negativity and not enough support, but through this program we were all brought closer. We were encouraged to form our own opinions and harmful mindsets were challenged and erased through rational discussions. Everyone was given an opportunity to be who they are; everyone was given an equal chance. In Beyond the Classroom, we were all treated equally, with equal respect, with equal support, with equal love. It’s no wonder all of us miss it terribly.
I recommend this to everyone: join this program, and I can guarantee that you will have the time of your life. Learn from it, enjoy it, and savour each moment because these five weeks will always stay with you. I know mine will.
All photos: Beyond the Classroom Education
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