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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Telling Tales: Pakistani Students Share Their Culture's Lore Online

Students create a collaborative, international network of fables and folktales that celebrates and shares cultural heritage.
By Saleem Ibrahim

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Credit: Saleem Ibrahim

Ayesah, a seven-year-old student in Karachi, Pakistan, clicks a link with her computer mouse and enters her username and password to open a page. She clicks Projects, then Language Arts, then Folk Tale, and finally the discussion window: Folk Tales from Pakistan. On the screen appear short folktales posted by Ayesah and her fellow students, who look on. Their faces brighten as they read responses to the folktale they posted the day before. From the other side of the globe, a student has sent a note of appreciation for their writing and shared her views on the story. In many schools in many countries, similar scenes play out.

These Pakistani students and their teachers are participating in the online collaborative project called Folk Tales, organized by iEARN (the International Education and Resource Network), a nonprofit organization of 25,000 schools and youth organizations and 1 million students in more than 120 countries. The group helps teachers and young people work together online using the Internet and other communication technologies.

One-hundred-fifty iEARN projects, designed and facilitated by teachers and students to fit their curriculum and classroom needs, create an extraordinary international network. To join, participants select an online project and look at how they can integrate it into their schools. Teachers and students enter online forum spaces to meet one another and get involved in ongoing projects with classrooms around the world.

The Folk Tales project is an exchange of the lore and fables that are a part of every culture, a sharing of the storytelling that is a centuries-old tradition in many societies. In a sense, the idea is a digital re-creation of the way stories were passed along by caravans and travelers taking goods to and from India and Central Asia along the old Silk Road. (In the real, analog world, in Peshawar, Pakistan, a city on the Afghan border, there still exists a place called Qisa Khawani Bazaar, a name that means "market of storytelling.")

Reviving Riches

In a modern childhood world, populated by Barbie and Harry Potter (not together, of course), schoolkids often know very little about the folktales of their own country and almost nothing about those from other parts of the world. And yet these old stories remain a rich source of learning about life's problems, customs, traditions, and beliefs. The iEARN Folk Tales project creates a new market of storytelling to revive not only the stories but also the shared experiences and learning they offer.

Osama, a student in Ayesah's class, talks about a crucial by-product of the project. "I like listening to the tales and then rewriting them," Osama says. "I also share them with my mother. Before this, I'd never written these kinds of stories."

Credit: Saleem Ibrahim

Active involvement in the project offers a chance for real communication with a real audience that results in better understanding of other cultures, respect for others' ideas, tolerance, awareness of global issues, and improvement in language proficiency. Resources for teachers, including lesson plans, are provided on the project's online forum. Teachers can use these resources, share their experiences with other teachers, and discuss related issues.

The iEARN Folk Tales project enables students to go global using the Internet, sharing their ideas with students from around the world. Just as important, it gives opportunities for reflection on the lessons and morals of local and national folktales, stories told down through the generations as a way to pass along lessons that still have much to teach students today.

Saleem Ibrahim is senior program officer for iEARN-Pakistan, in Karachi.

As the World Learns > Room to Read

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