First impressions of the pure land: cricket, truck art and active learning

I once flew into an airport, provided a training workshop in the airport hotel and flew out again without seeing any of the country I was visiting. It is difficult to form an impression of a country from inside an airport. In Pakistan (which I am told means “pure land”) I did get outside the airports of Karachi and Islamabad – but not very far and for just one week. For me it was a week of conferences and workshops and meetings – a whirl of business cards, smiling welcomes, much delightful confusion about dress codes and many questions about what I thought of Pakistan.

In one interview, I was asked “What message do you have for Pakistan?” Having been confined to my hotel room for two days after eating some salad, a message about food hygiene was on top of my mind. Stuck for suitable words, I asked for an easier question. So I was asked if I had a message for the youth of Pakistan. This variation was a little more answerable even though I had not yet met very many youths. The young people I met from Youth Impact exuded a positive approach to life and showed the energy and commitment to work for the good of all. They will find opportunities to thrive. For the millions of youth I didn’t meet, and especially for those who have never been to school, my message would be: “demand an education”. Having worked for Save the Children for four years my message on such global issues is as genuine as it is predictable. And it does require reciprocal action from adults.

I cannot think of any other country I have visited where I would have been asked, “What message do you have for our country?” Certainly not in the USA, Australia, Japan or in any European country. And not even in Malaysia, Namibia or Ethiopia. In some countries I have visited “a message for the country” might have landed me in prison. On reflection, I think this is a very Pakistanian question –  which I came across in many forms during my visit.

Visiting during T20 there was non-stop cricket playing on TV screens everywhere. Even when there were no live matches there were replays of yesterday’s matches. Any gaps in action were filled by a video collection of the greatest hits of the batsman standing at the crease. And at the roadside in Pakistan many gaps between buildings were filled by people playing cricket. In small spaces, one wicket was enough. And some games seemed to involve only two players. If you love cricket and take pride in your cricket team and you want to play cricket well, then a lack of space, people or resources will not get in your way. Can we say the same for education? – If you love education, take pride in education, and you want to excel at teaching or learning, then a lack of space, people or resources should not get in your way.

My first visit to Pakistan, at the invitation of Training Impact and Youth Impact, was about promoting the benefits of experience-based learning – in both education and training. In its purest form experiential learning involves learning from individual and group experiences, whereas in “pure” traditional teaching students are expected to learn directly from the teacher. I prefer a mixed approach where teachers (or trainers) choose the best strategy or technique for each situation. The expert should ask themselves “Is this a situation where the student will benefit most if I simply tell them, or is this a situation where the student will benefit more by applying a wider range of learning skills and becoming more active in the learning process?” Ultimately the goal must surely be that students have an education that results in a continuing capacity to learn throughout life – both from the wisdom passed down from others and from their own wisdom generated by trying things out and reflecting on their experiences.

In Pakistan I didn’t have time to see “education” but I did see lots of very impressive “truck art” on the buses and trucks. Nowhere else have I seen so many beautified vehicles on the roads. The drivers of these works of art must take great pride in the colorful and creative ways in which they have customised their vehicles. Driving around in a work of art gives others pleasure too. It is a kind of resourcefulness and creativity and human touch that I am sure is evident in many other aspects of life in Pakistan. If only this creativity, resourcefulness, pleasure and customisation were also an integral part of education and training in Pakistan. Perhaps it is?

On reflection, I think I do have a message for Pakistan after all:

“Capture the fine qualities on display in your cricket and truck art and ensure that this kind of pride, passion, commitment, resourcefulness, creativity and customisation is also fully present throughout education and training.”

Achieve this and Pakistan will have a message for the world!

-Roger Greenaway