Educational Autobiography: My Educational Background

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The wise and old Banyan tree stood tall and strong in my schools’ courtyard. This tree embodied belief; stored endless memories and nurtured many generations of humans and animals alike. For a small, naïve, and innocent girl at school, this tree was always my inspiration, comfort, and hope. As a little girl, I have spent many warm afternoons sitting under the tree, dreaming of the dreams and viewing this tree as a mother figure and guardian of the entire school. Over these past seasons, a lot has changed: I have turned new leaves; branched out from my base; grown tall with integrity and strength; but despite all, I have not forgotten the tree that taught me the most important lesson of my life: “Stay grounded and keep growing” – Joanne Raptis.

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I was born and raised in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). My parents moved to UAE in the 1970s, but their hearts remained attached to Pakistan. They valued cultural beliefs, customs, and traditions a lot. My entire schooling was completed at a Pakistani school, as my parents wanted me to stay connected to our culture. Education was given great importance in my household and was considered the only way to change the world around us. My personal background, life experiences, and evolution as an individual have really influenced my approach to education and teaching; which is reflected below.

I received my elementary and secondary school education from Pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School Sharjah. This school was established in 1974 to meet the educational needs of the Pakistani community in Sharjah and followed the Pakistani curriculum by the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE), Pakistan. The school had a combined campus for boys and girls until 4th grade, but thereafter, they were segregated into separate wings. The school had a diverse array of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, but there wasn’t much cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity within the school premises. Arabic was a compulsory subject till 9th grade, but other than my Arabic teacher, there was no other Arab in the school. So, I studied in an all-girls school with a lot of uniformity, yet it was one of the unique and fulfilling experiences of my life.

Completing Kindergarten through 12th grade in the same school helped me gain a strong educational foundation. There was a lot of focus on grades, scores, and academic excellence during examinations in my school. Students were expected to study and memorize exact details from the course books. Examinations were also scored based on how well the answers resembled the textbook content. Position holders of the classroom were praised by the teachers and assigned respectable leadership positions within the class i.e. class prefect, blackboard monitor, and class library monitor. Class monitors wore a sash that made them stand out from the rest of the class, while low-scoring students wouldn’t receive much encouragement and recognition for their academic achievement. These experiences made me believe that fact memorization was more important than core understanding and individual success was more important than group performance and teamwork.

In 7th grade, I lost my father to a fatal car accident. I was at school when my uncle came to take me home early that day. I found my mother and siblings crying bitterly after reaching home, and soon I found out that the roof over our head was gone. Our friends kept us grounded and supported us emotionally at that time. I ended up going back to school after few days, but my mother was left all alone with five children and a household to run by herself. She was a homemaker, who couldn’t receive formal education but defied all the odds to keep the house running after my father’s unexpected death. She always wanted me and my siblings to pursue higher education in life because she couldn’t. She would always say, “if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your father, who will be very happy seeing you fulfill his wishes, watching you from somewhere”. This thought changed my perspective profoundly. For the first time in my life, I thought about someone other than myself. Education wasn’t about grades and scores anymore; it was about fulfilling the dreams of my father who had left the world too soon.

My journey of self-discovery and deep-rooted growth started at medical school. Medical school opened up a new world of learning for someone like me, coming from an all-girls to a coeducational school system. Up until now, I had mostly experienced teacher-centered learning, where I was used to ‘following directions from the teacher, but now the pendulum has favored student-centered learning in medical school. Grades were still given importance, but there was more focus on individualized learning and personal development. I realized the importance of teamwork onwards while doing history and physical on new patients and got exposed to the concept of team camaraderie. I developed many human connections and shared life-defining moments with my patients. I learned the importance of being sensitive to the values and cultural backgrounds of the patients. This was my first exposure to humanism in the healthcare profession, which has since taken deep roots and a pivotal role in transforming me as an educator and physician.

More than a decade later, I stand tall and strong. My hair has started going grey and I have started withering after all these seasons of hard work and perseverance. But I strive to nurture my learners and provide comfort and hope for anyone who seeks shade in those warm afternoons!

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