I was lucky enough to be selected for the Charles Wallace Fellowship Award in Education and received a generous scholarship to serve an attachment at the Centre for the study of Education in an international context at Bath University, UK. The following is a short account of the time I spent in the UK.
The Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship Programme is designed to provide assistance to individuals who wish to broaden their experience or improve their skills through an attachment at a UK university or training institution.
I came upon the Charles Wallace Trust Visiting Fellowship Programme advertisement as I was browsing through the newspaper one cold winter morning. As I read it, I realized what it could mean in terms of professional development.I sent in my application with zero expectations and no one was more surprised than me when I was invited for an interview with Dr William Crawley, Secretary of the Charles Wallace Trust and later received news that I had been successful in my application for the award. After some deliberations Dr Mary Hayden, Director CEIC, at Bath University extended an offer for an attachment at the Education Department of Bath University.
Being selected for the Award was a matter of great pride for me, especially since it was the only award given to Pakistan in the education sector that year. All formalities were taken care of very efficiently and with great help from the British Council, Pakistan. I was happily granted leave from my responsibilities and after saying goodbye to my family one hot and humid rainy morning in June, I found myself landing at Heathrow, London on a cool sunny evening.
When I emerged from the Airport it was after 9 pm but the sun was shining quite brightly. It felt rather strange to someone like me who was used to sunsets at 7 pm. Anyway it was good to see the sun that day as it decided to stay out of sight for most of the next month!
Heathrow can be rather intimidating and it was a great comfort to be met by my one-time colleague and Headmaster, Mr Andrew Maclehose, who now lives a semi retired life in Wales. We spent the night at his daughter’s place in London.
The next morning he took me on a whirlwind tour of London which included Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus. He was also kind enough to drive me to Bath University the next day.
Although it was a Saturday, Dr Mary Hayden, Director CEIC, was there to meet us. Dr Hayden with her warmth and friendliness immediately made me feel very welcome and any apprehensions or doubts I had about my stay in UK vanished after spending some time with her.
All my graduate and post graduate studies had been as a private student and so the month of July was like a return to youth. I attended two post graduate M Ed units with Mr Paul Toolan and I immensely enjoyed both. The first one was called ‘Managing and Leading Educational Organizations’ and the second ‘Managing Educational Innovation’. I had with me heads and aspiring heads from as diverse locations as Switzerland, Vietnam, Morocco, Spain and Japan: talk about international education!
There were discussions and case studies and loads of texts to study. At times I felt quite overwhelmed but I really learned a lot; not only from the teaching but also from the experiences of my unit fellows. The second unit proved to be equally rewarding. The group was relatively large with 12 participants, again from quite diverse locations. I found that teachers, wherever they may be, felt the same way on educational issues and it was an enriching experience to interact with so many heads and teachers from different places and different backgrounds.
During this time I also met many officials of the Education Department and also made good use of the library and learning centre during this time. It is an amazing place and quite overwhelming in its scope. I tried to increase my awareness about the ever changing role of head teachers and the ways in which Education at school level in the UK has changed and evolved over the years.
It was a fortuitous coincidence that both O and A level results were announced while I was here and the ensuing controversies and debates in the media were very insightful. One can clearly see that criticism, debate and controversies in Education at school level in the UK have continually changed policies and raised expectations. It is also clear that Great Britain has derived its strength from academic pursuit and scholastic excellence and this is an essential aspect of what has made it ‘great’.
The city of Bath is an amazing place. Situated in South West England it was founded in the 1st century AD by the Romans who used the natural hot springs as a thermal spa.
It became an important centre for the wool industry in the Middle Ages but in the 18th century under the reigns of George l, ll and III it developed into an elegant spa city, famed in literature and art and is now a World Heritage Site.
During this time I was also able to attend a number of receptions hosted by the CEIC, where I met some very distinguished people from the field of Education from all over. I also attended some seminars and talks by renowned educationists, thus raising my awareness of current issues in education.
Oxford, The City of Dreaming Spires, is famous the world over for its University and place in history. For over 800 years, it has been a home to royalty and scholars, and since the 9th century an established town.
I left for Oxford to participate in a two week course on ‘Business and Leadership’ organized by Richard Van De Lagmaat and In-Thinking group at St Edwards School.
This also proved to be a great experience as I was able to meet and interact with some accomplished teachers and students from all over the world. I also was able to explore Oxford, a truly beautiful city, and its many attractions.
During this time I also travelled to London to meet Dr William Crawley at the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Later I travelled to Wales and visited Atlantic College. The character, setting and location of this International College give it a particular and unique ethos.
I was able to meet the Vice Principal, Mr Gareth Reece, many teachers and some senior students, holding talks on issues of mutual interest.
I also met the head of English, Mrs Rees, and attended an English Literature class. My worthy host in Wales, Mr Maclehose, ensured that I also saw as much of Wales as possible.
This included, among other activities, climbing Brecon Beacon Hills, the highest in the area and canoeing down River Wye!
Though not strictly of an academic value, he also taught me two totally new skills; namely playing croquet and boules, which I greatly enjoyed!
Last but not the least my stay in England enabled me to see and explore sights and places I had only read about! I was able to visit Stonehenge, Bath and its surrounding areas, Rochester – its Charles Dickens links, London and some of its many attractions, Oxford, South Wales and countless museums, art galleries and various historical sites.
So what did this trip to UK do for me? It afforded me a closer look at a completely different culture, only to discover that people are the same wherever you go and they can be equally warm, compassionate and caring. It has broadened my horizons and outlook. It has also made me realize once again that education is the key that will remove petty prejudices and make the world a better place and has thus helped me reaffirm my commitment to education.
We have to rise above inconsequential and petty differences to make our world a better and more peaceful place and education is the prime source of doing that. As teachers and educationists we must work toward promoting peace and understanding and removing intolerance from our societies so that we can harness our energies and efforts toward greater causes of social uplift.