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The principles of OFARIN's teaching

OFARIN's lessons should be successful. That is, of course, our goal. The first things that come to mind are technical requirements: The teacher and all their pupils must be able to see and hear each other well. However, all pupils must also be able to see the board and everything on it clearly from where they are sitting. The teacher must ensure that their pupils are seated appropriately and move them if necessary.

In Afghanistan, you often meet pairs of people in which one person dominates and the other person admires the first person - friends, siblings, ... . In thinking, the second person is dependent on the first. However, we want our pupils to think and act independently. The teacher is required to separate such pairs.

One problem that is often not recognized in time, even in Germany, is pupils' visual impairments. Pupils and their parents often do not know that the pupil cannot see well. They have no comparison because they have never seen "properly". But in the textbook and on the blackboard, they can't tell whether an m or an n is written there. This is why OFARIN used to carry out screening tests in all school classes and ensured that pupils with poor eyesight were given glasses or even operated on. This year, we will be starting all over again.

In the classroom, every pupil must be sure that he or she will not experience anything that is embarrassing, unpleasant or even terrible. The corporal punishment that is common in Afghan schools does not exist at OFARIN. Those who are afraid of being humiliated in front of their classmates cannot bring out the best in themselves. Those who are afraid cannot learn routines, cannot recognize new contexts and cannot concentrate to look for solutions to problems.

Talk to an Afghan father about his children! He will tell you that most, if not all, of them are at the top of their class. That's nonsense, of course. But for the father, the children's success at school is part of the family's honor. This honor is the most important attribute of the family. And now imagine that a child in the family is told that he or she is anything but the best in the class and is not promoted! This is a catastrophe for the family and, of course, for the child! It gets beaten up again and again. But a good father must do more for the family's honor. The obvious thing to do is to put pressure on the teacher. He wants him to move the child, even if it costs him something. A teacher who does not cooperate is living dangerously. Fatal traffic accidents and the like can then no longer be ruled out.

When I was faced with the question of how we at OFARIN should deal with transfers and failures at school, I had already heard a lot about what had happened to teachers and professors in Pakistan and Afghanistan who had failed pupils or students. We could not abolish the honor of the family. But we could not allow students who had not learned the material in one section to take the next section.

In Germany, you can be a bit more generous. Teachers there teach weaker pupils in a slightly different way to good ones. But OFARIN's semi-skilled teachers can only teach students who have roughly the same level of knowledge. So, what to do?

We have introduced class-wise promotions. When a class has completed a section, it is visited by a commission of trainers. If the committee sees that all pupils have mastered the material, the class is promoted. They are allowed to start the next section of the course. However, if some students are still quite weak, this is discussed with the teacher. The teacher then has to repeat the material and repeatedly question weak pupils. After about three weeks, the trainer commission visits the class again to determine whether or not the class should be promoted.

This class-wise transfer still requires some improvements. What does the teacher teach if their class has not been promoted? Here we need to provide suitable additional tasks. Sometimes we dream of particularly good pupils teaching weaker pupils additionally.

Class-wise transfers show that OFARIN cannot sustain a system of year groups. If one class is transferred but the "parallel class" is not, the classes are no longer parallel classes. Normal lessons already create such differences. We want all pupils to understand as much as possible. As explained above, our teachers need classes that are as homogeneous as possible. We have to live with the fact that classes need different amounts of time for the same subject matter.

But how can a teacher get students to work faster or to perform better? He shouldn't try. The teacher needs to be clear. He needs to make sure that the students have understood everything. Otherwise, the teacher should rely on the textbook and the students' abilities.

The lesson itself gives each student opportunities to have enjoyable experiences. In mother tongue lessons, a sentence is covered that includes the new letter and some longer words – quite tricky. Everyone is brooding. But, now one has understood the sentence, then two, three, four others and after three minutes almost the whole class. There is something uplifting about that. Two weeks ago, nobody would have managed this sentence. 

OFARIN's staff have been moaning about mother tongue lessons for a long time. Every letter is taught in the same way. Our trainers always ask prospective teachers the same questions in the seminar. But for the candidates in the seminar and for the students in the classroom, everything is new. The students can read more and more every week. They watch their skills grow. This fills them with quiet joy.

Pupils can have more intense experiences in math lessons. Anyone who suddenly finds the solution to a mathematical problem after much effort is struck by lightning and ignites an incomparable fire of joy. Even those who do not find the solution themselves, but understand the solution when it is explained, experience a glimmer of this joy. Many findings of long-dead mathematicians can still trigger this joy of understanding in us today.

At the very beginning of [OFARIN's lesson], it is reported that we were able to set crisp text problems after the changeover to "alphabetization before mathematics". We started this in our project area in the province of Logar. Our pupils there were very enthusiastic. Mira Khan, our unforgotten director in Logar, came to Kabul full of euphoria and told us that young girls who had been through our lessons were urging their little brothers, who were still learning with us, to get them our new textbooks. They also wanted to solve the new crunchy problems. As a student assistant and teaching assistant in Germany, I put together and taught math exercises for years. I have often observed and experienced for myself the happiness boost that comes from solving difficult problems. The lightning bolt of mathematical insight has also struck OFARIN students. 

Of course, not every math problem is suitable for triggering enthusiasm in those who work on it. There are many mathematical routines that need to be practiced by repeating the same thing over and over again. The pupil can gain a certain satisfaction from the fact that he has mastered a procedure. The teacher can make them aware of this insight and reinforce it: "Look what you are able to do! A month ago, you would have thought that you never will learn this." However, in math lessons, crunchy tasks should also be set as often as possible. They are not only the salt of the soup. They are part of the essence of the subject.

The lessons were popular with the pupils. The teachers also enjoyed their work. We experienced how attached they were to us in times when our income was poor. Many of our teachers worked and gave up their income. In general, money plays a very minor role between OFARIN and its teaching staff. Other organizations pay quite high salaries and thus release their employees from the social structures in which they have lived up to now. We don't think we are doing people any favors by doing this, apart from the fact that we can't pay for it. On the other hand, OFARIN has always been economically committed to helping the families of our students, teachers and trainers in real need, and not just during the coronavirus crisis. We have developed a feeling that we can rely on each other.

The question of whether control or trust is better for OFARIN can only be answered with economic arguments. Control presupposes that it is necessary. But where control is used, it is outwitted and forces ever more detailed and costly snooping. It becomes more and more expensive. The work that is carried out thanks to control and coercion is never of top quality. If, on the other hand, a person works with pleasure because he achieves something for his fellow human beings through his work and because he enjoys their respect, we would take away the dignity of his work if we controlled him. If we have problems with a teacher or a trainer, we talk to the person about it. We then assume that he – just like us – wants to achieve the best possible results. Most of the time, it soon comes down to a few more technical issues that we quickly agree on.

Thanks to the network of students, parents, teachers and coaches, we know quite well what is happening everywhere in our name. This is not a systematic control. However, it has enabled us to identify and resolutely rectify major misdevelopments.

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