Pakistan’s education scene is mostly replete with dreadful realities: over 20 million (at least 32 per cent, or one third of) children between the ages of five and 16 years are out of school; most public and private sector schools face the dearth of teachers, and at least 40% of those imparting education have never received any training; a large number of government schools are without proper buildings, boundary walls, toilets, running water and furniture facilities, etc.
That is why the media, most of the time, paints a gloomy picture of the sector, from primary schools to higher education institutions, as a natural consequence. In the circumstances, a positive and good news item, if ever received, must be welcomed as a whiff of fresh air. But, regrettably, those sitting in the media have become so cynic and gloom-mongers that they fail to appreciate even international-level positive news, if ever created by the local education sector. One such story, a distinction, was missed out by the local media recently. The news story was generated by a ceremony, held under the auspices of the British Council Lahore, in collaboration with the Quaid-e-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED) Punjab, at a Lahore hotel from Dec 14-16, 2021.
At the ceremony, the British Council gave away the International School Awards (ISA) to 171 public sector schools of Punjab for achieving various targets and goals, set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations for the education sector across the world. The International School Award, under the Connecting Classrooms initiative, is a prestigious global accreditation programme, offered by the British Council, which recognises the commitment and good practices of schools in incorporating international dimensions into their classrooms.
According to the British Council spokesperson, each school taking part in the ISA is required to complete a minimum of seven collaborative projects with national and international partner schools. After the completion of the approximately 12-month process, which comprises multiple stages, starting from the action plan, implementation of the approved plan, national and international collaboration and sharing, and self-evaluation, the evidence is submitted to the British Council for assessment. According to the spokesperson, each project must be linked with the curriculum and one or more Sustainable Development Goals, previously (before 2015) Global Citizenship themes.
Realising the crucial role that effective, motivated teachers and school leaders can play in harnessing the potential of Pakistan’s next generation, the British Council introduced the School Leadership Programme in Pakistan. The spokesperson says the ISA is a badge of honour for schools that brings an international dimension to teaching and learning. It helps schools benefit from all the opportunities that international education can offer by providing a framework to plan, evaluate and celebrate the international learning activities. The ISA is goal-based and driven by a global network of people and projects that can support local schools’ international activities, the official explains. The British Council ISA approach towards school development is holistically rigorous and evidence-based. The process of acquiring the information, students working on information acquired and the actual activity and wider dissemination of the information has to be well-documented, according to the spokesperson. Putting together the action plan and the portfolio of evidence encourages collaboration and critical thinking. Keeping the staff motivated and enthusiastic through the year puts the head teacher and British Council International School Award coordinator’s leadership skills to test, he believes. There is little doubt that good leadership is second only to good teaching in raising standards in schools, the official adds.
Munir Ahmad Shad, the course coordinator at the QAED Punjab, and the focal person for the British Council’s ISA, says the role of Quaid-e-Azam Academy for Educational Development in helping Punjab schools secure the distinction has been crucial. Throughout the year, various refresher courses for teachers continue, and heads as well as teachers of public sector schools are invited to stay and train at the academy in Lahore, he tells Cutting Edge in a special talk. Mr. Shad says special courses are designed for teachers and they are made to undergo extensive training and interactions at QAED to achieve the MDGs and SDGs. He says due to the rigorous and comprehensive refresher courses for the teachers, the number of schools achieving the task and goals is increasing with each passing year.
The course coordinator says that the award-winning schools are accredited for three years after completing their work within a comprehensive framework and by exhibiting a deep understanding of the SDGs. He says ISA acknowledges school collaboration internationally and provides a robust framework for recognising schools.
The QAED training programme aims to give support to teachers to integrate a range of core skills into the curriculum to benefit students. During the past year, 3,400 teachers from 1,700 schools were trained on selected core skills to benefit more than 175,000 students in classrooms, he explains.
The focal person for the British Council’s ISA says 171 Punjab schools were awarded at the recent ceremony. 120 schools secured the ISA intermediate level and 67 foundation level awards. In 2016, five government schools from Punjab won the International School Award for the first time. In 2017, 450 public school schools from Punjab participated in international school award activities and 300 submitted the portfolio and 159 successfully won the award. In 2018, 400 schools from Punjab attended the workshops, 206 submitted the portfolio and 157 won the International School Award. In 2019, 440 schools attended the ISA workshops, almost 200 submitted folders for assessment and 157 won ISA.
In 2020-2021, 440 schools initiated the ISA project, 378 submitted their portfolios, 171 won full awards, 120 intermediate level awards and 67 schools secured the foundation level award.
Munir Ahmad Shad finds the British Council initiative a great opportunity for schools of countries, like Pakistan. The ISA provides students and schools with excellent opportunities to learn innovatively and enjoyably, using both traditional and modern resources. It builds confidence by enabling them to collaborate with international partners and nurtures their inquisitiveness and curiosity through active learning. The QAED course coordinator believes the initiative helps refine teachers’ social skills through group work, student presentations and develops their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All these interactions prepare them to face everyday issues and problems with confidence, now and in the future, he adds.