Since the announcement of lockdowns earlier this year, Bait-ul Ilm centres quickly transitioned to an online learning model. This has significantly impacted the routines of students and teachers as they experiment with new ways of working and communicating. To mark World Teachers’ Day, 5 October, we spoke to IIS-trained secondary Religious Education teachers around the world to find out how they have adapted.

On changes to life and work over the past six months

“Over the past several months, our global community has had to alter our entire way of being. This has had a tremendous impact on my life, such as how I interact with family and friends, and even how I view the world. I have come to truly appreciate the ‘smaller things’ in life, such as going for a walk in the park, and even stopping to smell the roses, literally! I have been able to connect with nature in a way that I have not before, and perhaps never would have otherwise. Conversely, we no longer teach within the physical walls of our classrooms, rather we now teach online. Everything now takes place through a screen.” - Safeena Keshavjee, Toronto, Canada

“Like many other professions, teachers did not have time to prepare for the changes that the pandemic would bring — essentially having to build our airplane as we flew. We had to quickly adapt and reimagine distance learning in the context of Pakistan, where there are frequent power outages and limited Internet connectivity. It was also important to slowly build the digital literacy of students as well, so they gain more comfort and competence in using these new methods of learning.” - Aly Jafferani, Karachi, Pakistan

“These past few months have given educators a space to reflect on the purpose, value, goals, and means of education. I have learned the importance of flexibility, organisation, efficiency, creativity, and intentionality when planning. It was initially difficult realising my home space is now my work space, but I have been trying to create boundaries by setting a designated area and time for work. While I don't always follow it, being able to take breaks in between calls or make a meal has been nice.” - Tanisha Hassam, New York, USA

“In Tanzania, I never imagined that a working-from-home culture would ever be established. However, it happened, and has given us time to learn and explore how technology can be used to facilitate normal working tasks. These included conducting professional development sessions for our peers over various video-conferencing applications. I miss seeing my students, working with them in the physical setting, and holding discussions with them. I do mention this to them during my virtual classes as well as in my emails, which has helped us maintain our teacher-student bond.” - Alykhan Dhanani, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

On the transition to distance-learning

“Distance learning is great for those who struggle with scheduling a drive to and from an RE centre, who are not physically close by, and for those whose family members are working and cannot find transportation. This allows students to log on, engage, and return to their lives without feeling like they are inconveniencing others in order to participate. However, for my students who are diversely-abled, I cannot cater to their needs or assess how well they are learning, engaging, or making sense of the world right now.” - Saba Ebrahim, Houston, USA

“While remote learning has increased the access of students who may not have been able to attend physical classes, it has also made it much more difficult to support learners who do not always have the luxury of a stable Internet connection at home. Furthermore, the lack of nonverbal feedback and cues that teachers often rely on have been challenging as not all students have their cameras turned on during class.” - Aly

“What might be a challenge for one seems to be a strength for someone else, allowing for increased opportunities to collaborate with peers across different geographies. Distance learning has increased my student attendance, creativity in lessons, and collaboration with peers. I have also found that virtually there are fewer challenges with student behaviour, and student work is of higher quality with the increased opportunities for personalisation. However, it can be challenging to create individual relationships with students, and find tools to build engagement.” - Tanisha

“While there are some great benefits to distance learning in the Canadian context, it has brought about some challenges. I think the largest impediment would be the increased amount of screen time. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of this are not yet known. Despite the challenges, we continue to persevere to provide purposeful, engaging and inclusive Religious Education for our students.” - Safeena

On supporting the wellbeing of students during this time

“Our youth have never experienced something like this ever before and it is a stressful time for many of them. To safeguard the mental and emotional wellbeing of our youth, we launched ‘Lockdown Adventures’ all over India. It contained themes such as hope, memories, music night with family, and many more for four weeks before we launched classes virtually. Although many parts of our country have poor Internet connection and the majority of our students join from their mobile phones, it was heartwarming to see the response and enthusiasm of our students.” - Nisha Dewani, Hyderabad, India

“Since all of us have gone through unprecedented changes in our lives, it was essential to provide support for the emotional and mental wellbeing of students. We developed a curriculum which responded to the needs of the current times and allowed students to share their thoughts and feelings in the classroom environment, contributing to a safe and supportive community for them to turn to. I also made myself available outside of the classroom timings to listen to individual fears, struggles, and concerns if they ever needed.” - Aly

“Although the ways in which we are teaching has drastically changed, in some respects our approach in the classroom has not necessarily been altered. We are still creating a space that is welcoming and safe, where students can share their thoughts, opinions, and feelings, and ask questions about their faith. This has always been at the centre of our work and will continue to be so whether we are in a pandemic or not.” -Safeena

“While secular schools now require students to take more ownership in their learning, I hope for RE to be a space where students can come together as a community to learn and reflect with their peers. I include weekly check-in questions providing students an opportunity to share the highlights or struggles from their week or answer random questions to get to know each other better. I also end each class with a prayer written by a teacher or student, which has brought lots of smiles and hope for the upcoming week.” - Tanisha


On experimenting with new strategies and routines

“Strategies I have used to enhance student engagement include using icebreakers and energisers at different intervals to keep students focused and motivated, and employing sensory engagement and imagination to connect with the content. Especially in a virtual setting, students need to be able to interact with material at a level deeper than just seeing it on a screen, and I strive to involve as many of their senses as I can to increase their material retention.” -Aly

“I have tried to continue to utilise games within my classroom. Games are a great way to engage students with the content and gauge what they have learned in the lesson, and it's fun! This is still an important aspect in my planning. I have implemented several online games for students to play as they learn. The great thing about teaching online is that there are plenty of resources to use on the web. The Canadian faculty has been great with sharing the resources they have found to work in their classrooms.” - Safeena

“As soon as students join in, I greet each one personally and then have an activity they can complete while waiting for others to join, ensuring students feel heard and welcomed in the virtual space. Throughout the class, we have activities allowing students to work with partners or small groups in breakout rooms, and some brain breaks as an opportunity for intentionally planned laughter. Lastly, reciting a prayer of the day, discussing the next steps, and ending with a reflection has helped students summarise their thoughts and recap the session.” - Tanisha

“I usually have a set routine for my students like taking a class selfie together before and after class, playing music as and when students enter or leave class which is very helpful in channeling their positive energy. Although the past months have been a big change for us all, one thing that has helped is to be hopeful, open-minded, flexible, adaptive and to believe in yourself. There is still a lot we have to do, the journey has just begun and we are making history!” - Nisha

On the future of teaching 

“The future of teaching seems to be moving towards increased distance learning. More technologies and platforms will emerge in the market, and teaching training schools may provide courses with elements of educational technology. Teachers and students will need to adapt to this style of facilitation keeping in mind their health and well-being. Screen fatigue and physical health issues, eye-related and posture-related, are important to consider.” - Alykhan

“I envisage the future of teaching being a blended model. We can see the value of reaching and teaching students virtually, although it is mentally exhausting for students and teachers to look at a screen for multiple hours a day. There is also value in students learning to engage with each other in-person to build socio-emotional and collaborative skills. I hope the future of teaching will include a 50-50 model of face-to-face and virtual classes.”  - Saba

“In areas where there is sufficient infrastructure and Internet connectivity, the future of teaching may involve a blended approach of teaching to access more students. This period has also equipped teachers with many technological tools which they were previously unaware of and in future, I believe there will be more involvement of technology in physical classrooms as well.”  - Aly

“I think that teaching and learning will continue to take place in an online setting. We will soon see an influx of e-learning technologies and apps that will enhance the learning experience online for students and for teachers. As of right now, these do exist, however I think improvements can be made for the ease of the user, which will allow for teachers to feel more confident in the applications and platforms that they utilise.” - Safeena


Apply to The Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) to teach, mentor, shape, and inspire future generations within a global context. Students are trained to teach humanities and religious studies, with a particular emphasis on the IIS’ Secondary Curriculum. The fully-funded programme extends over two academic years and culminates in two postgraduate awards: An MA in Muslim Societies and Civilisations, from SOAS University of London, and a PGDip in Teaching and Reflective Practice, from UCL. The deadline for applications is Monday 21 October. For further information, visit the IIS website or email [email protected].