Upton Sinclair was an American novelist whose writings often exposed the injustices suffered by society’s most vulnerable. So it seems fitting that an award named after him was presented to a University of Windsor Faculty of Education graduate who has devoted her life’s work to teaching those who often have the most difficulty in learning.~
Since graduating in 2005 Arshiya Ahmed — known to her friends and family as Nageen — has travelled to various corners of the world as an independent education researcher, devoting much of her time to an initiative called START World Organization. The SWO’s mandate is twofold: to help children with autism, Downs’ Syndrome, attention deficit disorder and dyslexia by using art as a vehicle of communication, and to support children who have become victims of natural or man-made disasters.
“It’s all about putting ideas into action rather than just talking about them,” said Ahmed, who won the 2010 Upton Sinclair Award from Education News.
Currently living in Dubai, where she’s been for about two years, Ahmed was born in Pakistan, raised in Qatar and then moved home to Mississauga to continue her education. She later went to the U.S. to complete her undergraduate degree in computer information systems, and then eventually made her way to the University of Windsor.
Since then, she’s worked as a program specialist on a UNESCO/Qatar Foundation project to help reconstruct the higher education system in Iraq; as an evaluator and English as a Foreign Language instructor, improving student learning through drawings and storytelling at New Horizons, the world's largest independent information technology training company; and as a university success instructor and student advisor at Qatar Foundation, preparing students in the Middle East to study abroad. She recently participated in the Dubai Marathon, a fundraising effort for SWO and flood victims in Pakistan.
It was during her stay in Windsor, however, that many of her ideas about education began to crystallize. As an international student in Qatar, she was able to connect here with students from around the world and see some of the common issues that affected them all. And it was under the direction of music and education professor Jonathan Bayley, who she said had a vast understanding of international students, that she began to see how art could reach those who had difficulty in communicating.
“I have observed that all my students are creative in their own ways when they are encouraged to use their imagination,” she wrote in an article about teaching tips published on the Web site of Qatar TESOL, a network of teachers, supervisors and researchers committed to improving teaching in English as a second language in Qatar and the Gulf region. “I believe that creativity plays a huge role in whatever work we do.”