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[Saturday Reads] Think Equal: Empowering Change through Education

Think Equal Empowering Change Through Education

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

Think Equal: Empowering Change Through Education

A few weeks ago, I shared about a newspaper article that has arisen from a research project that I headed for two years (2015-2017) in our institution. One of the concrete outputs of our research is the creation of a multicultural picturebook database that taps into the five key competencies of social and emotional learning, i.e. text-sets across (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness, (4) relationship management, and (5) responsible decision making.

One of the ways that enabled our research team to create this multicultural picturebook database was to seek the help of wonderful librarians here in Singapore for their recommended titles. This also brought our research team to the International Youth Library in Munich, reputed to have the largest collection of international children’s books in the world.

From Left – Right: Katie Day (former UWCSEA Librarian), myself, Barbara Reid (UWCSEA Librarian), Asst/Prof Ruanni Tupas (my co-PI for our research project), Agnes Paculdar (our Research Associate).

This photo shows the amazing librarians of United World College Southeast Asia (UWCSEA) who have been immensely helpful in suggesting titles for inclusion in our multicultural picturebook database. It was also Katie Day (farthest left in the photo), former UWCSEA Librarian who facilitated the introduction to Brían Ó Maoileoin, UWCSEA Principal, who also happens to be one of the Global Advisory Committee members for Think Equal, a global initiative that aims to introduce social and emotional learning to preschool children around the world through picture books, among other tools.

Think Equal is founded and headed by the amazingly brilliant and indefatigable visionary and filmmaker Leslee Udwin, who is renowned for her documentary India’s Daughter, which happens to be the birth mother of this global initiative. See below for Leslee’s United Nations address, calling for a change in education.

At the moment, Think Equal is being piloted across seven countries (Kenya, Botswana, Argentina, Canada, Sri Lanka, India, and now Singapore), and will be rolling out nationally across over 19,000 early childhood learning centres in Sri Lanka by 2018. The most amazing thing about Think Equal is that the curriculum is absolutely for free across participating countries who have committed to adopt Think Equal in their early childhood curriculum.

It was Brían Ó Maoileoin, UWCSEA Principal, who introduced me to Leslee Udwin, who then invited me to be part of the Global Advisory Committee and has asked me to serve as Think Equal’s Director of Reading Resources last March 2017.

This was truly an honour and a wonderful validation of everything that I have also been doing in our university. For the past four years now, I have been teaching a course elective for our higher degree students across different specializations who are taking their Masters of Education on Using Multicultural Picturebooks to promote Socio-emotional Learning. It became so popular that I created another course elective called Using Multicultural Middle Grade/ Young Adult Literature and Graphic Novels to Promote Socio-Emotional Learning. A research component has likewise been built into my teaching of the courses, which has been published with my colleague in a tier-one journal, early last year:

To ensure that the course would also be made available to other in-service teachers (who are not taking their Masters or PhD), I have developed this professional development course, along with my research team, as concrete output from our project, that is open across all teachers and schools here in Singapore:

It was truly love at first sight between Leslee and myself that I immediately found a way to invite her to speak at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) this year, which she gladly accepted. I have been serving as Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Conference (ACWIC) since 2011, so I am glad that Festival Director and Executive Director of Singapore Book Council, Kenneth Quek, has agreed to provide Leslee the platform that she needs to make this global initiative reach many people here in Singapore. She spoke once during the Teachers Congress and delivered another speech for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference of the AFCC.

It is truly wonderful that Think Equal will now be piloted in Singapore in 2018 across 20 early childhood learning centres, with deep gratitude to the highly-committed, extremely capable, and very established Think Equal Singapore Committee (TESC) chaired by Dr. Khoo Kim Choo, one of the pillars of early childhood education here in Singapore.

Together with Brian and Leslee, I did a bit of sharing regarding the theoretical underpinnings/ foundational framework of the significance of diverse books for social and emotional learning, and the transformative power of multiple narratives in developing compassion and empathy. This foundational framework should never be dismissed, undervalued, nor ignored completely as this provides the compass which empowers teachers to know that they are on the right track, and why it is important for us to do what we do. Lorena Ferreira, a Curriculum Director and Teacher at UWCSEA, and who also contributed to writing a few of the teachers’ guides for some of the titles included in the book list of Think Equal, took care of the actual hands-on interactive workshop in the afternoon for teachers.

I also invited Leslee to meet up with some of my colleagues from the Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Academic group at the National Institute of Education (Nanyang Technological University) here in Singapore, headed by Associate Professor Levan Lim.

I am also immensely heartened and moved by this acknowledgment by the Asian Festival of Children’s Content:

One of the reasons why I have been so deeply drawn to Think Equal is because it calls for an end to a discriminatory mind-set that is sometimes so pervasive and insidious that people may not even be aware they have this kind of practice or mentality. My commitment as an educator is to ensure that inclusion is practiced and lived, not just in our classrooms, but in our community. As a foreigner living in a city-state different from my country of birth, raising a child for the past nine years in a city I consider home (home is truly where the books are), this is something that is not just professionally but personally meaningful to me.

Lunch with Leslee Udwin and my 15 year old daughter at Bollywood Veggies.

As a teacher educator, I have also been tireless in advocating for a more culturally-responsive pedagogy that enables us to truly value each individual as a person of worth, regardless of which country they come from, the colour of their skin, their religious, political or even institutional affiliation. It behooves us as educators to provide our young children a feeling of belongingness, safety, and the feeling of not being invisible while under our care and supervision.

I am hoping that Think Equal is one of the ways through which people are able to rise above petty differences so that more children can benefit from a social and emotional learning pedagogy that uses beautiful narratives and other established tools to truly learn compassion, kindness, and allow us to celebrate our shared humanity, not just in words but in actual deed. As educators, I believe that it is time for us to lift each other up, affirm each other’s contributions, acknowledge each person’s value so that we feel empowered to do the work that needs to be done to make a little bit of difference in this world.

If you wish to know more about this initiative, here is Sir Ken Robinson talking about Think Equal:

And here is Meryll Streep advocating for Think Equal:

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Think Equal: Empowering Change through Education

  1. “Home is where the books are” — Love it! I’m so glad you’re involved in this work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I, too, love “home is where the books are” and that there are so many talented, knowledgeable people working to make the world a better place! I know you’re talking about important things here, Myra, but can I say how much I love the dress you’re wearing at Bollywood Veggies?

    Liked by 1 person

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