Teaching is one of the noblest professions in the world and teachers are real heroes. But there are some teachers who believe that education is not bound to walls of a school or to six hours of a day, rather it is a constant 24 hours process – Miss Salima Begum from Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan is definitely one of them. She has just been become among top 10 of Global Teacher Prize 2017, becoming first Pakistani to achieve this milestone.

Early Life Story and Education

While sharing her story with The Nation Miss Salima said she was born in a remote village-Oshikhandass of Gilgit-Baltistan and took her primary and lower secondary education from a private school of the area. “After completing that education, there was no institution in my village so I had to go to Agha Khan Academy in Hunza for secondary education and after that I came back to my village,” she recalled.

“After that I faced problems again as I had to either go to Gilgit or some other developed area for higher secondary education and there was severe social and financial pressure on my father as in our area the girls’ education is not a norm and he could not send me to a city for further studies,” she further added.

“So he admitted me in Inter College for Women in Gilgit and during that time I had to travel for almost 2 hours daily in two buses bought by two societies in my village,” Salima said.

Start of Teaching Profession and Community Service

The teacher further told me that after completing her intermediate in science subjects she started teaching in her school where she taught science to 9th and 10th classes. “I was the first girl of my village who had done SSD in science; therefore, expectations from me were very high,” she said.

“I taught for seven to eight months in school and after the first result of my students came out, the Government Department of Education announced that there are some vacancies. I passed the test, interview for the post and was appointed as primary teacher in primary school of my village Oshikhandass in 1992, where we had classes till 6th grade and three rooms,” she said.

“We used to teach two classes in one room.”

Madam Salima further said that before her there were two female teachers who were middle passed so the whole responsibility came on her shoulders. “There was sheer shortage of facilities in that school as there was no furniture for the students, not even chairs for teachers to sit,” she shared.

“After one and half years in school, a delegation of World Bank came to our village and I shared the whole situation with them, the delegation asked me to establish a School Management Committee (SMC) which will help us run the school better,” she further said.

“So I contacted the Numberdar of my village who helped us in establishing an SMC after nominating five to six individuals as committee members,” she said.

While discussing about her own higher studies, Salima Begum said at that point she realized she cannot give better education to her students unless she herself did not pursue further education. “Hence, I approached Government Education Department and requested them to give me permission for further studies and as the department had been observing my performance, I got the permission,” Salima shared.

“I moved to Islamabad for my BSC and B. Ed. After completing my degrees in 3.5 years, I went back to my village and as I was first girl of my village who went to a city for education, hence expectations and my responsibilities further increased,” she said.

“After coming back we started class 9th and 10th in our school and hired volunteers as teachers.”

Work for Girls’ Education

“My main challenge was girls’ education as in my region, the community believed that girls should be taught maximum till 5th grade and after that she should be married – I had to challenge this tradition. Along with teaching science as a head teacher, I had to do this as my personal goal,” Salima Begum told me.

“I started a weekly or monthly small session with mothers and tried to convince them that they should give education to their girls and it was a mountainous challenge mainly because of social and financial norms as mere fees of Rs.7 or Rs. 8 monthly were really hard from them to pay,” she further added.

“The parents argued that they don’t have means to give education to their girls and to counter that I introduced entrepreneur program for mothers,” she shared.

“Under that program, I convinced mothers to do vegetable farming, buy hens and make cushion sets which were sold for about Rs. 1,200/set and this increased their financial situation immensely,” Salima said.

“Other major challenge was that there were no females in local SMC as it was believed that women cannot take decisions and they don’t have will power. To convince them I faced sheer resistance. I conducted several professional sittings with committee members and finally convinced them to include three to four females in the committee,” she stated.

“Another issue we faced, and are still facing in our region, was that mothers were not giving proper time to girls to complete their homework or revision as girls had to work in field, with animals along with their mothers. For that I conducted separate sessions with them and again faced resistance as they were of the view that it is responsibility of teachers to teach them and we had to convince them it is their responsibility and they should give them just two to three hours for homework,” Salima Begum said.

“Along with these there was clear development in our school. My recently started 9th and 10th classes have remained above ninety percent for three years and the strength of our school was increasing every passing year, which built the trust of the community in me, because they knew that positive work is been done,” the teacher further said.

Parent-Teacher Meeting Initiative

While sharing her success story, Salima Begum highlighted that she wanted parents to be involved in the education of their children as there was no concept of parents’ participation in children’s education. “For the very first time in my region, I started parent-teacher meeting, which not only increased the parents’ interest but also brought teachers in the community circle as they had been working in isolation,” she said.

“The teacher never shared the results with parents because of the latter’s lack of interest and with time it became a regular norm enhancing the quality of education in our school and it became my success story,” she explained.

Success Stories of Young Female Students

“After that parents allowed their girls to continue studying after 8th class and many of the female students are working as nurses, six of them are working as teachers in the same school and some even became police officers, which not only increased their social status but also enhanced their economical stability,” she added proudly.

“And these girls are from those families who had very confined traditions and never before allowed their girls to get higher education.”

While sharing another achievement of hers, the teacher told me that after consulting the people of the village, she established a group which used to give small portions of their monthly pay for poor girls’ uniforms, books and annual fee. “Through that group, I helped 1,500 girls and I never gave them uniform or books in front of other students rather those were given to their parents so the girls would not feel embarrassment in front of their class fellows,” she shared.

“One of the major issues for science girls students was that there was no science laboratory for girls in our village so I requested SMC and boys school principal to give me one week in a month for the practical for girls and along with that my own two girl students were appointed as science teachers in our school so I trained them also so they can handle the science subjects in my presence,” Salima explained.

Personal Higher Education

About her further education, Madam Salima Begum said that in 2002, she got the scholarship for Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKUIED), Karachi from where she completed her MS in Teacher’s Education . “During that degree I was taught to break the traditional methods of teaching and use methods which involve students and community in education circle,” she explained.

 “On completion of my degree in 2004, AKUIED management requested the Education Department that the university wants to hire me in AKU Professional Development Centre, North in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“I led the program of Whole School Development in six districts of Gilgit-Baltisan under which we took two schools per year especially the government schools as Agha Khan University works on government schools.

“In his program we worked on quality education, community involvement, social and moral education of children and staff development.

“I completed five cycles under that program while working in Gilgit, Hunza, Astore and other districts and trained over 7000 teachers in G-B.”

Development of Domestic Fertilizer: Biggest Success Story

While talking about her major success story during that program, Madam Salima told The Nation that she started the initiative of using garbage as organic fertilizer in 2004.  “I convinced local people and farmers to develop and use this fertilizer as regular ones like Urea and others causes different diseases,” she explained.

“And locals started adopting the technique and it became my biggest success story as over 300 women are using this fertilizer in my area and earning millions from their vegetable crops.” She added.

After completing her tenure, Madam Salima taught as Assistant Professor in Karakorum International University for two years where she was among top teachers.

“In 2010, Agha Khan Professional Development again approached me to work on education development and improvement project funded by Australians in districts of G-B,” she added.

Return to Oshikhandass, Her Native Village

“Under that project I came back to my village Oshikhandass, from where I started my career and led four schools in the area till 2013. I worked on quality education, community involvement, girls’ education and women empowerment, mentoring process, teacher development in the region,” Salima Begum further shared.

“Under the monitoring process, a junior and inexperienced teacher would be allocated along with a senior experienced teacher who will share his years of teaching experience with new teacher and this became another success story of mine.

“Furthermore, in community involvement it included mothers and established ‘Mothers Committee’ in my project and slowly they started to participate wholeheartedly and we worked to resolve the financial, social and educational problems of girls,” she shared.

“And this committee is still functional.”

Work With US-AID and GIZ-GFA

While sharing her further professional experiences, Madam Salima told me that she then worked with US-AID and taught Advance Diploma in Education , prepared a handbook for the diploma and worked with teachers to enhance their work and to increase the students’ capabilities through teaching and her performance was once again at the top during that project.

“After observing my performance I was selected for a training program in 2014 of German organization, GIZ-GFA which wanted to launch their program in Gilgit-Baltistan,” she shared.

“As my performance in this project was also at the top, GIZ-GFA approached the Secretary Education to release me, because they wanted me to be appointed as the National Coordinator of their program. After encouragement by Secretary Education and thinking hard, I shifted to Islamabad,” she said.  

“I worked for one and half years with GIZ-GFA and I trained over 8,500 teachers across Pakistan,” she added.

“Meanwhile I started my PhD and after leaving the Education Ministry, I am pursuing my PhD in Islamabad right now,” Madam Salima said.

Global Teacher Prize 2017 Nomination

While talking about her nomination in Global Teacher Prize 2017, Salima Begum told The Nation that it is a lengthy, tiresome process of about one year. “I wrote my application, mentioned my all achievements, and articulated my working experiences and success story. Then they cross checked it, asked people in my region, double crossed my references and asked me to write and perform my all mentioned activities and expertise,” she shared.

“It took them a whole year to make sure that I can do all which I mentioned in my application, then they made a documentary on my work and life,” she further added.

“I got nominated in top 50 earlier and now I am among top 10 global teachers,” she said.

About final result of the prize, Madam Salima told that she will go to Dubai on March 16. “Final result will be announced on March 19” she shared.

 Inspirations of ‘The Teacher’

While concluding her life story, Madam Salima Begum especially mentioned her father and husband. “Without support of my father who fought with old traditions and society of my area, I could never have reached where I am today,” she said.

“After my marriage, my husband gave me his full support because of which I achieved all this today so these two men in my life are real inspiration for me,” she concluded.

The story of Madam Salima Begum is undoubtedly phenomenal and inspiring and she will make Pakistan more proud with Global Teacher Award 2017.