Biggar-Hedges Award recipient shares the power of tech-infused teaching and her dream to educate girls in Pakistan

June 15, 2019
OISE alum Khulood Agha Khan.
Khulood Khan (far left) pictured with donor Brian Hedges (left) at the 2018 Biggar Hedges Foundation Special Award in Teaching and Technology luncheon for student award recipients at OISE.

In 2018, Khulood Khan was in her final year of the Master of Teaching program at OISE when she was awarded the Biggar Hedges Foundation Special Award in Teaching and Technology. The award honours students who engage in meaningful technology-infused teaching in Kindergarten through Grade 12 education.

We spoke with Khulood—an immigrant from Pakistan who broke barriers to achieve her degree—about her experiences as a student in Canada and her plans to use education to empower girls in Pakistan.

As a young woman who grew up in Pakistan, talk about some of the barriers to education that you and other girls in your community faced

Young girls were encouraged to go to a private school as it was co-ed and they taught English. It was very costly for the middle class to send their children to school. Since sons were to be the future providers of a household, they received the best of education the family could support. Girls were usually raised to be the homemakers and the undergraduate level was usually the highest goal set for their education.

What does your degree from OISE mean to you? (How did you learn about OISE? Why did you choose to study here?)

Obtaining my masters in teaching completes the second last step towards my big goal in life. It has been my ultimate dream to write "Dr." before my name.

Experiencing discrimination against my gender and nationality motivated me to want to make a difference through teaching. I started my studies in Canada at Centennial College before looking up programs at the University of Toronto, as many friends had told me about the prestigious university. I was happy to have found OISE through my search. I decided to do my best to be a part of this Institution and prove myself to my family.

Talk about what inspired you to focus your research on math anxiety specifically. Why is it an important area to improve?

I was always anxious when I was taught math back home in Pakistan. My research interest sprang from my own childhood experiences and on observations of the same anxiety in associate teachers and their students. It is a significant area for research because it can determine what careers and opportunities children gravitate towards in the future. I believe more girls in particular need opportunities to engage with and use math and technology.

Explain the technology you incorporated into your work which led to you winning the Biggar-Hedges Award for Teaching and Technology

Technology fascinates me because I am a digital immigrant. The ease with which my two boys can work using technology amazes me. During our technology integration in teaching class at OISE, Lesley Wilton introduced a workshop on makerspaces, spaces that bridge high-tech to no-tech collaborations in schools. In that workshop, we were introduced to different robotic toys, tools and computer programs to augment learning. At the same time, I was working on robotic learning exercises with Sphero bots for my OISE practicum, which included students who had a math learning disability being teamed up with the students who were excelling in the subject. That collaboration was so successful that I decided to explore technology as an answer to math anxiety.

Talk about what the award means to you. How has it made a difference in your life?

Being on the award stage at U of T and meeting with Beverley Biggar and Brian Hedges is a huge success in itself. The Biggar-Hedges Award paid for my upcoming professional development courses. I never want to stop learning and soaking up all there is to know around me, and this award has helped me to live out my potential. The pride I feel as one of the award recipients cannot be expressed in words.

I understand that when you received this award, girls in your community in Pakistan were watching. Please take us to that moment. What did it mean to you, and what do you think it meant to the girls watching?

My older sisters are also teachers back home in Pakistan. When I was receiving the award, I asked one of my friends to record a video for me so I could share it with my family. My sister showed that video to her class on a laptop. The students were clapping with enthusiasm and pride that one of the women from their school, their city in Pakistan, was being given an international award. The pride I feel for being a role model to those girls, showing them what it means to never give up on your dreams, is so wonderful!

What's next for you? What do you hope to do with your degrees?

I am on my way to achieving my big dream of receiving a doctorate through the Doctor of Education program at OISE.

I have heard many times the false cliche that those who cannot do, teach. I want to change this thinking. I want to bridge the education system of Pakistan and Canada by opening a teaching training program in Pakistan. The centre will help girls unlearn the stereotypes about their gender and to use education and technology to their advantage.

Ultimately, I want to help girls in Pakistan become more resilient, to persevere through any difficulty in life, and be unafraid to dream big.

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