Schools are mushroomed in every nook and corner of our country, yet our literacy rate did not jump over 58% during past ten years. Still we have 2.5 million children out of school. This is the exact status of the youth bulge that we boast of; most of it is poor, mal-nourished, unskilled or semi-skilled. The mightiest challenge is to transform this young population into skilled human capital and the only eligible mechanism to do is education, be it of any type or any kind.
There are countless school systems existing in the country, such as elite school systems like Beacon House, Grammar and City School systems; English medium schools like Educators, Allied Schools and Knowledge Schools; Englo-Madraasa School Systems, which offer traditional knowledge of Islam with modern scientific education, like SCIL, IQRA and Dar-e-Arqam schools, typical traditional maddrassas operated by Wifaq-ul- Madaras; Divisional and Army Public School Systems, Public school system governed by school education department of each province, and last but not the least, the ‘Gali Mohalla’ schools, and many forms of informal education spaces run by various NGOs and welfare organizations.
Many people attribute the inefficacy of education system in Pakistan to these parallel education systems that are operating in our country. Many people think including our Prime Minister, that this plight is the outcome of absence of a uniform curriculum. However, being an educationist, I deem it essential that we must study this wicked problem by a systemic analysis, instead of commenting on an overview on the subject. On close analysis of the school categories described above, one gets immediate idea that this classification is more of a socio-economic status. Instantly appears on mind’s screen the attire, the characteristics, the attitude of students and school environment as we look into any category. If any of the parents could have afforded a better category, they would have definitely attempted to switch their children to a better one, as a material division of classes is understood and pronounced in a post-modern neoliberal society.
Last National curriculum document was given in 2006, and its true implementation started after 2009 policy. We cannot say that there has been no policy, but policies and their implementation plans have emerged at a much slower rate. National Curriculum defines the objective and learning outcomes for each level and each school, whether public or private or madrassa, elite or poor has to follow syllabus derived from this curriculum. So it is not the curriculum but the syllabi which are different, and, which are contaminated by the individual policy and philosophy of the school system. That’s why in many cases national objectives and aspirations are forfeited. Though, more attention is paid apparently on the content, which curriculum authorities decide to publish in the texts, but this is exactly the point where maximum corruption occurs, i.e., in the selection and printing of textbooks and then choosing these books for teaching.
The 2nd most important issue related to the outcome of curriculum and cause of the inefficacy of the education system is the outcomes of education - inability to meet minimum standards and much variance in knowledge and skills of those who have passed a certain level. This variance in results is interpreted as poor quality, because quality means ‘zero defect’ and minimizing variance in outputs. Punjab adopted School Reform Roadmap to ensure quality, and the objective was to provide uniform inputs to reach uniform outputs. Many developments have been made in infrastructure, hiring of educators, creating a successful school monitoring and evaluation system, yet quality is a destination miles away; to some it looks like a mirage. Why? It is because school environment has not changed to quality culture.
The whole responsibility of delivering the desired outcomes has been shouldered to one part of the system which is teacher, while other parts of the system which are cause of the variance are partially ignored, such as, uneducated parents and the poor performers (drop outs or out of school children) who have been forcefully brought back to school. We expect a magic raise in educational attainment of these rebels of the school system, just as a criminal is put in jail and we expect that a complete reform in his/her personality would occur during short or long term imprisonment. School for many wild children, never accustomed to a disciplined environment, is just another prison. Can we change these perceptions? Do our schools offer happy, colorful and open environment many of young children want? After all a child should happily come to school!
Teaching and learning resources available in urban and rural areas also vary to huge extent. But the other source of cause of variance is the teacher. Shortage of teachers, especially subject specialists is a huge problem. Why there is teacher shortage in rural and unprivileged areas?
One reason might be the orthodox regressive culture with no respect for teachers. The people render the MPhil pass ustani the same as Matric or FA pass ustani. There is no status change; there is no authority or autonomy vested in their job designs, which is of critical importance in teaching profession leading to high self esteem and self-actualization, the ultimate gains of this noble profession. These are the needs which remain unmet. The system is failing to transform lower needs of teachers into higher needs.
Public schools have employed MPhil teachers in the system, but no change has resulted; because the maximum grade they can get as beginners is 14, whereas, in a university the lecturer of same qualification gets grade 18 and numerous chances of professional growth. In civil service the graduate would get 17. Neither teachers’ compensations nor their status is by any means comparable to any of their peers working in other organizations, in police, in health, in civil service. Therefore, quality professional hesitate to join public education department, and those who have newly joined are under depression. Some BA pass teacher might be at higher rank because of seniority of experience than newly appointed MPhil teachers and he/she would blatantly refuse to implement new methodology or different pedagogy.
Moreover, a well crafted job design and career patterned on continuous professional development is missing for school teachers. An Mphil who will be hired in grade 14 will need a life time of service to reach grade 17 or 18. How many school teachers government selects and sends them for professional development in Finland or Turkey or Sri Lanka? How many head teachers and principals are even sent to better schools in Pakistan for observation and mentoring?
How many teachers are being rewarded each year for any best practice he/she has been following? How many principals are being rewarded for giving best results? This is something which is present in Beacon House, LGS, City School system and alike. They focus on developing their teachers. That is why their system has both grown and developed. PM Khan has promised on human development; therefore, he must take practical action to give high ranks to teachers and focus on giving them a career of continuous professional development.
Stop coercing and manipulating public school teachers, depriving them of their basic rights like leave in emergency and sickness. Stop harassing female teachers by illiterate army nikes, in the name of monitoring and supervision. Teachers who are guardian of the fate of nation are being humiliated as slaves of the system. Who will take concrete steps to emancipate the poor souls?