Riffat Ahmed, the chairperson of Siddiqui’s International School, has been in the teaching profession for the last 35 years and running her school for 20 of those years. Her constant and fruitful efforts in teaching her students using different theories of educational psychology has come to our notice.
She has begun a new endeavour to make the history of Bangladesh more well-known nationally and internationally through an informational platform, where influential senior individuals are working with young writers to make this project come to life. In this interview, we are asking Mrs. Riffat about her reasons behind launching this platform and what it really entails.
Q: What is Stay Curious SIS? What is the motivation behind its creation?
A: As a graduate of psychology, I have learned extensively about its different branches, including educational psychology. With that experience under my belt, I commenced my career in the education sector as a teacher in Dhanmondi Tutorial School. I’d have never thought I would enjoy teaching as much as I do. I am able to apply various aspects of what I have learned in educational psychology in this field of work. All these led me to believing in myself enough to run my own institution which is Siddiqui's International School. At Siddiqui's, we aim to make learning a fun and interactive experience. I have implemented several methods that make learning more effective, like teaching students basic and practical life skills, exposing them to environments outside of the classroom, like they do for students in countries with the best education systems.
As much as these techniques work for subjects like physics, chemistry and mathematics, they remain unsuccessful in regards to certain subjects, like history and geography. It saddens me to see students display little to no interest in learning these subjects, especially when it comes to their own country. To clearly comprehend one’s own national identity, they have to know their history. Bangladesh Studies is an O’Level subject that rarely any English Medium school student has been willing to take. These students excel and succeed in various aspects of education internationally, however, they are unable to retain one of the most vital forms of education: knowledge about their own country.
This is what motivated me to come up with a project that would get students excited to learn again. Firstly, we carried out a few in depth sessions on topics like the history of Egypt, informing the students on how mummies were made, teaching them about Egyptian culture and so on. Surprisingly enough, they were genuinely invested in learning about it! We began to ponder on how to take this curiosity to the next stage. Since writing is a crucial part of a student’s education, we decided why not have students write on history and compile them into a website? This is how Stay Curious SIS came to be.
When students see their writings being posted to a versatile platform where many people of all ages are reading and commending them, they get greatly encouraged to continue. The topics that students were reluctant to learn about, they are now researching and writing on them, while also making the information accessible to fellow peers. As we kept recruiting young writers, we eventually built up an all-around website that carries knowledge on various subject matters.
Q: How has Stay Curious SIS progressed in terms of achieving its set aspirations?
A: Stay Curious SIS has been on a long yet fruitful journey of three years. Along the way, we have met several like-minded people and created an amazing team consisting of Founder Riffat Ahmed, Chairperson Dr. Khaled Khan, Biswendu Nanda, Dr. Tareq Aziz, Syed Naquib Mahmood, Khalid Mahbub Islam, Semira Mahmood, and Sazia Sharmin. Working alongside us is a vibrant research team of young writers and creators namely Tonni Ahmed, Rabab Ahmed, Sameeha Haque, Tanzeem Hossain, Rafia Sharmin Lekha, Ehita Akter Mou, and Marifa Khan. With the help of these incredible minds, we have been putting out content in both English and Bangla on many interesting topics in the form of write-ups, videos, and more.
Our collection has exceeded over 150 articles till now. We started this project to make students aware of their own roots, of the origin of their own country. The amount of success we have achieved is not one that can be numerically determined as knowledge can be infinite, but we have been immensely motivated and adequately capable of spreading this knowledge to the younger generation. At the moment, we have students from different schools and universities turning in their writings, making an effort to get their country internationally known and acknowledged.
Q: How do you think Stay Curious SIS has set an impression on its audience?
A: Compared to three years prior, when Stay Curious SIS had just been initiated, history has become significantly more popular now. Our platform has managed to gain a lot exposure through social media platforms, newspapers and even tv interviews . Us, along with the Asian Age, Dhaka Tribune, Daily Manab Zamin, and many more, have played a certain part in instilling back the interest of history in people’s minds. Little by little, we have been moving ahead towards our intended purpose.
This is evident in the drastic way our website has developed over the years. We have readers from all around the globe now, starting from youngsters to senior citizens. In just two years, we have amassed a follower count of over 61,000 people on our Facebook page. Furthermore, I receive messages from several readers, asking me to cover certain topics which portrays the impact our website has on them. Readers always look forward to what we post and thoroughly enjoy them.
We are also seeing our students be more responsive and involved in knowing and representing their own country. They are preparing speeches on the monumental events of Bangladesh, which is enabling them to learn while also gaining vital social skills. Even though we have a long way to go, this eagerness and motivation to learn is what we had hoped for when we started our website.
Q: What does the future have in store for Stay Curious SIS?
A: One of our main goals is to eventually release short documentaries. We are looking forward to organising the writings on our website and providing appropriate videography along with it. Once we are successful, we want to release these short documentaries, similar to the ones on BBC and the Discovery Channel.
Our future plans also include arranging writing competitions which can then become inter-school and inter-university contests. Hence, along with making students aware of their origins, we will be able to help them gain new experiences and connect with peers from other schools. Soon, they will be representing their country internationally.
As artificial intelligence slowly takes over the world, machines have taken over several tasks. Professions like medicine have also become heavily dominated by AI, hence, jobs are given to those who can perform the best. However, not every kid wants to be a doctor, many want to be novelists or dramatists. We aim to prepare these creative-minded kids so they can adjust with this AI-dominated market and still be successful.
We also aim to increase our collection of writings and compile them into a guide to knowing Bangladesh. This book will be targeted towards both youngsters, who want to learn more, and senior citizens, who may enjoy reading about their country as a hobby. This will also motivate our contributors as they will have a tangible form of their achievements in the book.
Stay Curious SIS has always been self-funded. Hence, our ability to carry out projects has been relatively limited. If we manage to receive external funding in the future, we will be able to expand our reach to more people nationally and internationally, making a greater impact.