EducationVolume 14 Issue # 14

Reforming our education system?

Whenever a new government is installed in Pakistan, there is always a plenty of talk about reforming the system, especially education and health sectors. But, mostly these voices start fading out when the ruling party establishes itself in the corridors of power, and the governance becomes smooth.

The practice is going on for decades. During this period, the country experienced rule by military dictators as well as old, experienced political the parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League. This time around, relatively a new party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by Kaptan Imran Khan, is in the saddle. During the election campaign and then soon after the formation of the government at the Centre as well as in two provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, people heard a lot about reformation of the education system with one syllabus across the country, from parliamentarians to the prim minister.

Prime Minister Imran Khan identified education reforms as the central theme of his government. His first 100-day agenda sought to “revolutionise social services”, including transforming health and education. How much change is brought about in this most important sector in the coming months and years is yet to be seen, it is time that the opinions of some educationists and experts in the field are shared with those at the helm of the educational affairs in the country.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a development practitioner who has been leading an education campaign in the country for over a decade, regrets that Pakistan’s entire education system is based on rote learning. Instead of providing space to young minds to think critically — an approach that would lead to creativity and innovation in the process, they are only encouraged to memorise the whole content and score good grades, he tells the Cutting Edge at a function in Islamabad. This is one reason why Pakistani students, especially those from government schools, struggle to adjust to education systems, if they get a chance to go abroad for further studies. Outside Pakistan, there is little demand for what the Pakistani education system is producing, believes the educationist.

The educationist believes that with the addition of creative exercises in the syllabus from primary to university levels, and encouragement of talented students through various incentives in terms of scholarships can partly bring about a change in the education system for better.

Prof. Dr. Irshad Ahmad Farrukh, secretary, National Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (NACTE), sees a bigger role for teachers to play in the reformation of the education system. Talking to the Cutting Edge in his office at Punjab University Lahore, he says that fair evaluation and selection of teachers at all levels could be basis for establishing a modern education system in Pakistan. Our educational policymakers should take note of inappropriate and often illegal recruitment of teachers. Newly-hired teachers should be trained according to the new rules and instead of dismissing senior unskilled teachers, training programmes should be organised in educational institutions in order to get senior staff on board with latest advancements in science and technology.

“They (teachers) should be equipped with modern teaching methodologies through special educational training programmes under the guidance and supervision of academic experts and educationists,” he suggests.

Dr. Farrukh regrets that a majority of the teachers hired to teach students, especially science subjects, are unskilled, unfamiliar with new ways of teaching, and unaware of course goals. They choose to stick to traditional ideas such as the idea that there is nothing more to maths than numbers, equations or algorithms.

These teachers, says the NACTE secretary, also rely far too much on solution manuals and also encourage their students to depend solely on these manuals, which kills the ability of applying their minds he regrets.

A report, titled ‘Powering Pakistan for the 21st century’, published by Alif Ailaan in 2017, emphasised the pitiful state of education in mathematics and science subjects across the country. According to the published statistics, the average maths score for grade four students in the National Education Assessment System examination was 433 out of 1,000. The report deduced that a majority of the students scored very poorly in computations and geometry.

At the primary level, 2.3% of students could not perform well in numeric operations, while this percentage fell to 1.1% for students during matriculation. Thies situation is quite alarming and unequivocally highlights the lack of emphasis our educational policy experts and teachers place on learning outcomes, says Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, a senior teacher at the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of the Punjab. The major contributing factor behind students falling behind in maths and other science subjects is low-quality curriculum content and poor solution manuals, the educationist tells the Cutting Edge.

Mosharraf Zaidi believes lack of appropriate and consistent educational policies and reforms are one of the main reasons for the current state of affairs in the education sector. Our new government certainly needs to pay special attention to it, as promised by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood in their various speeches so far.

The educationist suggests that initially, the Parliament should pass laws pertaining to the goals and operations of our education system. The next step would be to redesign and reform the curriculum and rewrite the textbooks. A team of teachers, education specialists, and subject specialists should be hired under special supervision of the education ministry, while the math book content should be decided on the basis of the number of hours allocated to teaching and also the number of students in every class. This is important because in a class where student numbers are low, teachers can give more individual attention to each student.

Mr. Zaidi says the central challenge of education reform in Pakistan is to improve education quality — measured by ‘student learning outcomes’, or what students are expected to know or be able to do — rapidly, affordably, and at large scale. A World Bank study, conducted few years back, showed compelling evidence that education quality, rather than simply years of schooling, is a driver of economic growth and increased equity. Despite this, education reform efforts in Pakistan pay scant attention to improving what happens inside the classroom. They focus instead on improving school facilities and school management, in part because these are easier and more visible than raising standards of teaching and learning inside classrooms.

The educationist believes low allocation of funds for education is one of the main reasons behind the poor literacy rate and low quality of education in schools. These allocations range only between 1.5 and 2.0% of the total GDP, whereas it should be around 7%. The federal and provincial governments need to cut down their expenditures in other sectors and spend a bigger proportion of budgets on education, demands the education campaigner.

Despite all hurdles to the reformation of education in the country, educationists are optimistic, as there is no other way out left for the rulers now. Dr. Irshad Ahmad Farrukh believes with explosion of social media in Pakistan also, the ruling parties would have to pay attention to the sector sooner or later. And Mosharraf Zaidi says if a country, like South Korea, can change and restructure its education system in no time, why cannot Pakistan? Only a political will and some 4% increase in budgetary allocations for the sector is required, and the country can evolve a new system of education for its upcoming generations.