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Nurturing Minds

For almost 35 years, Nadeen School has remained a cosy place for young children to start school. Pauline Puri and daughter Shanee Puri tell us why they intend to keep it that way.

As a child-centred educator for over 40 years, it is hard to rival Pauline Puri’s passion for children and their learning. Seldom in course of her nearly three decade career at Nadeen School has she lost sight of her priorities.

“For me, it’s always been about the children,” she says with trademark candour. “The children come first and we look at them as individuals, focusing on all aspects of their development, rather than just the academic.”

It’s easy to see how young children warm up to Pauline instinctively. Her sunny demeanour coupled with a boundless enthusiasm for life and learning is infectious.

A qualified teacher from Tasmania, Pauline had taught in Australia and Singapore before she arrived in Bahrain with her family in 1982. Nadeen School was an establishment for infants with around 120 children when she took over as principal in early 1984.  A natural progression since then has seen the institution develop into a primary school with four buildings. Despite the constant pressure to expand, Pauline’s dedication has ensured that the school remains small and intimate, without losing its warm, caring and nurturing atmosphere.

Pauline’s daughter Shanee shares her mother’s passion for education and has been assisting her as the school administrator.

Learning differently
A strong advocate of a learning-based approach, Pauline believes there exists a disconnect between ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ and that it’s not acceptable for educators any longer to just ‘teach’ children.

“The question we should be asking ourselves is: ‘have the children really learned something new’ and ‘are we really moving them on’?” she says. “Learning is a lifelong process. We need to develop their skills to solve problems, think critically and creatively, and be independent thinkers. We’d like them to take control of their own learning, reflect on what they’ve learned and how to apply it.”

At the core of Pauline’s ethos lies the belief that every child has the right to education, even as every learner learns differently. The school’s Learning Support department is equipped with two full-time teachers in addition to support staff. Small classes are run to assist children with learning gaps, who require additional support in English, maths and reading. Pauline notes with satisfaction that almost all children are placed at their correct age group within a year of attending their Learning Support classes.
 
“A Japanese student joined us in Year 6 with very limited English. Within a year of attending the English as a Second Language (ESL) programme, she was fluent in English and gained instant entry into Year 7 the next year,” she recalls.
Another South African boy who was rejected from other Year 6 classes in Bahrain, due to moderate learning difficulties in addition to dyslexia, joined Nadeem School for a year at Year 2 level and gained entry into Year 7 at another school at the end of the year.

“Our goal as educators is to enable all children to reach their full potential, no matter what their previous schooling or abilities. We focus on individual needs and making learning as interesting, fun and exciting as possible, to build confidence and love for learning in our students,” she says.

Connecting locally
Catering to over 300 children hailing from over 50 nationalities, the school has made consistent efforts towards promoting an understanding of Bahrain’s heritage and culture among young pupils. All classes cover most aspects of Bahrain at some point including the history, culture, environmental, social studies and geography.

Perhaps the most significant move in local engagement was the introduction of conversational Arabic as the second language for all expatriate children last year. The classes have proved hugely popular among the students as well as the parents.

“Learning Arabic is much more relevant for the children since it’s something they can use and practise every day in Bahrain. The children are building their vocabulary, conversation skills and most importantly, their confidence and ability to communicate in Arabic,” says Shanee.

Additionally, field trips to places of interest such as the National Museum, the Tree of Life, the camel farm and the weaver’s village are organised during the cooler months of the year. A cultural coordinator is at the helm of activities, such as organising local visits, arranging Bahrain National Day celebrations as well as liaison with the community.

Technology wise
As keen watchers of international trends in primary education, Pauline and Shanee are constantly on the lookout for new teaching resources and training that might be relevant to Bahrain, as well as their ethos as educators.

“I believe that if children are literate and numerate enough and have a love of reading, exploration and investigation, then their journey through school will be rewarding,” says Pauline.

Technology is incorporated into the curriculum during IT lessons and children are encouraged to do their research online as well as through books. Pauline is, however, wary of over-reliance on technology as a learning tool and she has her reasons.

“What troubles me is that children’s listening skills and communication skills these days are not what they should be. They seem to lack concentration and appear to have very little imagination and self sufficiency. We’d like them to work collaboratively with each other, develop interpersonal skills and be team players,” she says.

Finding the right balance between technology and face-to-face interaction in the classroom is something most schools need to work out for themselves, Shanee opines. However, it’s crucial that children use technology and especially the internet, in a safe and responsible manner under adult supervision, she adds.

Nadeen School has use of the British Club premises nearby for physical education activities. Curiously enough, the latest trends in extra-curricular pastimes veer towards the good old days before the technology boom, when boys played board games and girls dabbled in knitting.
 
“It’s interesting to see children who have iPhones and play stations asking for board games, because they want to learn the games which their parents played. We’ve seen great enthusiasm among seven- to 11 year-olds in joining the school’s newly formed knitting club,” notes Shanee. Regardless of what the future brings, Pauline hopes Nadeen School will retain its unique atmosphere.

“As people come and go, as technologies change, as the world moves on, we must remember that children will always be children. They’ll always need a safe, caring and nurturing school for the start of their school journey. I hope we’re always able to provide that for them,” Pauline surmises.

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November 2012: Write Here Write Now