Universal Children’s Day

It was the 30th of July 2017 when I woke up to the beautiful sun streaming through the huge corner window – 6 a.m. in Lahore Pakistan. I gazed through the window. On the other side of the adjacent 7-foot brick wall, topped with barbed wire, were children playing in an empty lot. There was a boy and a girl who looked like they were 8 years old. They walked out onto the rough land, hand in hand laughing, when another little girl showed up – maybe their sister? She looked about 3 years old. No shoes. They all wanted to play – they found some garbage – some plastic – then together started playing with it. They put it onto the ground, crouched over it – oops! It flew away! They then found another piece of material. As I sat mesmerized with this scene I thought about the children who are “blessed” with being born into a wealthy family, who are constantly being stimulated with TV, the computer, or some other technology – would they be able to keep themselves occupied like these children? Would they be able to find happiness in such seemingly poor conditions?

Children want to play with one another, to appreciate a friendship and to share their experiences. Children living in similar conditions described above reside throughout the world; not just in the emerging or underdeveloped worlds. In Canada, children of all economic levels sit side-by-side in their classes. They quickly learn that all peers help to improve their own understanding of the world, and that they need each other for growth and enjoyment. Often the greater the disparity, the more the children learn from each other. Children who have very little material objects in their lives, can be stimulated in a different way, which could develop a uniquely different ingenuity.  When children are given a chance to work as a diverse team to solve a question that initially looks like it is impossible to solve, humility is learned, and so is the acceptance of others.

In December 1954, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared that all countries observe Universal Children’s Day on November 20th to remember the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This declaration sets out children’s rights to life, health, education, to play, to family life, and to be protected from violence, not to be discriminated and to have their views heard. The UN asked all countries to observe this as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children.

We often work in “bubbles” of similar people and expose our children to the same “bubbles”. During the month of November, I encourage everyone to take one day to observe as Universal Children’s day, and to share it with their children by venturing outside the “bubbles”

Let’s work together to increase the understanding between children globally.

Reaching Out

The last time I went to Pakistan I brought a special flask that could keep cold liquids cold and hot liquids hot for many hours. I thought this would be the perfect gift for our driver, Afzal, who would, at times, sit for several hours waiting for us to finish our work. Afzal accepted the gift with a great big smile and grateful bow – he couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Urdu, so this communication style worked for both of us. A couple of days after the gift was given to him, Afzal told Zorain, our translator, that the flask was empty. Zorain told him, “yes” that is right. “But why would someone want to give me something that is empty?” replied our driver. Zorain explained to him that it wasn’t what was in the flask that was the gift: it was the flask itself. This discussion ensued for a while, with Zorain trying to link the ideas and values of one group of people with another. This is an example of the extreme dichotomy of our world. What one person may believe is the right way to think, and therefore how to understand this world, is often dramatically different than another. The reality is that all of us grew up differently and therefore understand the world differently. To understand from another perspective is very complex and critically important.

The focus of our most recent conference for all those who work with Spirit of Math was “Reaching Out”, with special attention to how one understands people from different cultures. In Spirit of Math, our cultural diversity exists within employees and students. Understanding others, and learning to understand how those from very different worlds understand “how to understand this world”, is extremely important: not only to work well with one another, but also to teach others.

As a parent who is looking to ensure that their child is educated as well as possible for the future, I believe that learning how to work with others is one of the most important skills for a child to learn. For our children to be able to be excellent problem solvers of tomorrow, and our future leaders, they will have to understand this world in multiple ways. They will need to see this world from a variety of perspectives. Providing opportunities to learn in an environment that allows students to share their ideas, and to listen to the ideas of others, will teach them to think and reason from different viewpoints. Providing them with problems that require the input and discussion from many team members will help them understand the value of others, and the value of different perspectives regarding how to think of a problem – not just how to think through the problem. This is what we are doing in Spirit of Math with our cooperative group work, and this is why we don’t just do individualized tutoring.

Reaching out isn’t only a one-way transaction: it requires a multiplicity of understanding that can be profoundly different than the way we initially thought. Working with our students, to be open to a new understanding, is opening the world to new thinking, which will generate original solutions to the biggest problems of our world.

When life presents opportunity

At certain times in your life there are people you meet, or events that happen that change your life forever. Our visit to Pakistan in November 2015 was one where my two adult children, Nathan and Kirsti, and I attended a spectacular wedding. Not only was it breathtaking with the dresses, the food, the music, the dancing, but also the focus on people and excellence. We quickly realized that we were in a land with many very bright people with immense global experience and a perspective of the world that embraces an outstanding understanding of the West and the East. It became clear very quickly that as foreigners we stood out; because of the one-sided reporting of the country, it is a country that is understood very little by the west, and therefore, almost ignored by international tourists and business. Yet, despite this, the passion and drive of the Pakistanis is creating a massive change. It was this passion for progression and excellence that intrigued me, and has resulted in Spirit of Math launching classes in three locations in Lahore, Pakistan this past August.

During our visits over the past year and a half, we have met significant changemakers, participated in a national debate, spoke at several conferences, provided workshops for parents, and trained teachers in mathematics education. One of the highlights of one of my trips was a visit to Ala-u-Din Academy, a girls school in a very poor area of the city. The building was a family home, transformed to classrooms and administrative offices. The family donated the building, and several generations later, the females of the family still run the school. The picture on the front of this NewsMagazine shows the girls and boys in the courtyard of the school. It costs approximately $60 US dollars a year to attend this school, and yet a scholarship fund had to be created because some of these students’ parents are not able to pay for this. The boys who attend are brothers or cousins in the same home, and can only do so up to Grade 5. I spoke to a room packed with girls in Grade 10 about being a female CEO, and how believing in their inner-genius and working hard to strengthen their skills and knowledge, can change their world. It was clear that they were ready to take on the world; they have already overcome extreme hurdles just to go to school, imagine what they will be able to do in their future. This is just one example of the many incredible well executed initiatives that one family has taken.

We are excited to announce that Spirit of Math is now in Pakistan! Classes are running with the same program as in Canada and in the USA. With after-school classes in three different schools in Lahore: City School Alpha Phase VI, SICAS Kids Kampus Gulberg and Kids Kampus Johar Town. My daughter, Kirsti Langen, has taken the role of Academic Director, and Zorain Masood from Lahore, is the Operations Manager. This is just the beginning of our adventure there. The requests for Spirit of Math’s classes and teacher training is immense, the support is incredible, and the opportunities to make significant changes at all levels is exciting and enormous.