‘Learn Big From Small’ — A Kashmiri teacher turns waste into learning tools
Urfana Amin Moharken uses waste materials, such as cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, and old newspapers, as teaching aids for mathematics and science. She has also developed a joyful learning curriculum for Early Childhood Care and Education, which was implemented by the State Institute of Education.
Fahim Mattoo 19 April 2023 12:25 PM GMT
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
A government school teacher in Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir, is breaking down barriers to education. Urfana Amin Moharken has set out to prove that learning can be both affordable and sustainable.
The 50-year-old teacher of the Government Higher Secondary School, who teaches classes 11 and 12, has introduced an initiative called “Learn Big From Small”, where she uses waste as a teaching aid for mathematics and science.
“When I started teaching here in April 2022, I realised that education was often inaccessible for many students, especially those from marginalised communities. It didn't sit well with me. I wanted to create a teaching method that was accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or resources,” Moharken told Gaon Connection.
That's when she began to experiment using waste materials as tools to teach different concepts.
Moharken uses discarded cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, and old newspapers to create models and diagrams that help students visualise and understand complex scientific and mathematical concepts. She encourages her students to make models of everything from the solar system to the human organs with waste material that is readily available to them.
For example, she makes her students read the print on the discarded food packets and cartons to find out what ingredients were used to make that particular food product and what the nutrition values are.
She then teaches them what should ideally be the intake of several nutrients. This also serves the purpose of drawing the attention of the students to how harmful to health packaged junk foods can be.
Similarly, she uses the same packet to teach mathematics, asking the students to read out the weight written on the packet, and evaluate the market value of the ingredients.
About life beyond the classroom
Moharken’s way of teaching in class is greatly appreciated by her students.
“She doesn't just deliver lectures and call it a day. Ma’am takes the time to understand each of her students and she does this through a variety of activities like assignments, programmes, and online exams and quizzes,” Aasil Bakshi, a 11th grade student told Gaon Connection. He added that this personalised approach allowed them to learn at their own pace.
“Ma’am's ultimate goal is to also prepare us for life beyond the classroom. She believes that education is not just about learning facts and figures, but also about developing essential life skills like confidence, communication, and social awareness,” Bakshi said.
For 12th grader Kasim Hussain Bhat, the “Learn Big from Small” has been a lifesaver. “It has completely transformed my learning experience. Using waste as a tool to understand complex concepts in Mathematics and Science has made it so much easier for me to grasp difficult topics. I never realised that waste could be such an effective tool for understanding complex concepts,” Bhatt told Gaon Connection.
“Learn Big From Small” not just minimises the cost of learning but also makes it fun for her students. It is a big hit with them. They love getting hands-on with the waste material and creating their own models, all the while making sense of complex concepts.
“Learning should not be a burden on families. It should be accessible and enjoyable for all,” said Moharken. “I want to inspire my students to be creative and innovative, to think outside the box, and to understand that knowledge is power,” she added.
“Her teaching approach not only allows students to present their ideas but also recognizes the learner as the primary reason for curriculum planning and teaching. This student-centric approach to education encourages interactive learning and fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter,” Rubeena Fazili, the Head of Department of District Institute of Educational Training (DIET), told Gaon Connection.
Moharken’s ideas and training methods can easily be implemented by other teachers as well, and these are bound to have a positive impact on the education in the state, Fazili added.
A teacher’s journey of discovery
Moharken became a teacher in 2002. She first taught at the Boys Higher Secondary school at Tulmulla and then the Boys Higher Secondary School at Kalamullah.
She was a resource person in 2006 and then was the Programme Officer for the state in the directorate of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2012. She trained teachers in pedagogy, teaching special needs children and early childhood care and education. She also worked as a resource person at DIET. She was coordinator, Cultural Education wing of the Directorate of School Education Kashmir till April 2022, after which she came to the present school.
In her years of working in government schools, Moharkan noticed that the schools she had worked in usually lacked adequate resources to teach complex concepts, and that textbooks too were expensive for students to afford. She knew that she had to come up with a solution to this problem, and that's when she hit upon the idea of using waste material to create teaching aids.
Moharken's initiative has not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized by the government and several NGOs for her innovative teaching approach, and has been invited to share her experience with other teachers and educators across the country.
In 2007-2008, Moharken developed a joyful learning curriculum for Early Childhood Care and Education, which was implemented by the State Institute of Education (SIE). The curriculum emphasises the importance of creating a positive and engaging learning environment to promote learning among young children.
The State Institute of Education (SIE) recognised the value of this approach and adopted it as a standard for early childhood education. The Joyful Learning Curriculum has provided a framework for teachers to create engaging and effective learning experiences for their students.
Moharken's work continues to be recognised as a valuable contribution to the field, and her approach serves as an inspiration for educators elsewhere.
Her contributions to education have been acknowledged with numerous awards, including a gold medal for teaching science at the primary level by the National Council of Teacher Scientist in 2020. In 2023, she was awarded the Savitribai Phule award for her outstanding contribution to education.