Sumera Akbar failed to get admission to a college after passing her matriculation examination due to financial constraints of her family. His father was a grocery shop owner and his earnings ranged between Rs20,000 and Rs25,000 a month.
Sumera’s six other siblings were also studying in different grades in two government schools at Chowk Yateem Khana of Lahore, where the family lived in a two-room rented house. Her mother suggested that she continue her education privately or through Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), as her father could not afford the college education for her. She had to pay a Rs4,200 registration fee and charges for books for a semester to start her education as an AIOU student.
Meanwhile, one of her neighbours told her to visit a private school in the locality as they needed teachers. She was afraid that she would not be selected as a teacher, being only a matriculate and without any teaching experience. She was interviewed by the owner-cum-principal of the school, and to her great surprise she was selected after a brief class teaching demonstration. However, she was told she would be paid only Rs7,500 monthly “salary” initially, and a Rs2,500 raise after one year.
In the first week of her joining the school, she came to know that a majority of the 11 teachers in the school were like her, matriculates and intermediates. They didn’t have any special certificate or diploma in teaching and no prior experience of teaching. She had done her matriculation from a government school in Urdu medium, but in the private school, she was assigned the task of teaching ‘Prep’ and class 1 students of ‘English’ medium. However, she was able to manage it with the help of the principal, who was ‘kind’ enough to help her ‘learn’ the textbooks before going to the classroom.
Faisal Bari, an educationist, says that a large majority of private schools, which have a vital share at each stage of schooling in Pakistan, are without trained and qualified teachers. He says that a qualified or certified teacher is the one who has earned credentials in a specific subject from an authoritative source, such as the government or an accredited higher education institution.
Mr. Bari believes that pre-primary and primary education is the crucial stage when parents decide the medium of schooling for their children. In urban centres especially, parents mostly decide in favour of private “English medium” schools. He says that the total enrolment at pre-primary stage is 8.554 million, out of which 47% is in the private sector in the country. And these are the educational institutions where more than 80% untrained or semi-trained teachers impart education to students.
The educationist says that a large majority of teachers in private schools are uncertified and untrained, but the situation in public sector schools is not much different. According to official data, the ratio of trained government primary teachers in Pakistan stands at 84.2%, and only 76.4% female teachers in primary education are trained.
Dr. Muhammad Ilyas Wali, a representative of private schools association in Punjab, admits that hiring trained and qualified teachers has never been a priority in Pakistan so far, even in the public sector. That’s why, he tells Cutting Edge, students’ learning levels have been alarmingly low. He says that there are a number of reasons for low quality of teaching of the existing teachers, and some of them are the politicisation of the recruitment and deployment system, irrational teacher educators’ deployment in teacher education institutions, insufficient resources, lack of professional development opportunities, and the absence of a robust quality assurance mechanism in the country. However, he believes the situation has started improving during the past few years. The provincial governments have paid a little more attention to raising the quality of education by appointing certified and better qualified teachers to educational institutions, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he adds.
Mr. Wali says that it was the crux of the student-centred National Education Policy (NEP) 2009 that pupils’ academic achievement is closely associated with quality teaching and governance. The policy also stressed the need for capacity-building of teachers and quality assurance in education. He says the two key strategies have been identified by the NEP 2009 and endorsed by the provincial governments to achieve the purpose of teachers’ licensing and the introduction of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) 2009.
The educationist says there are tens of hundreds of teachers in both public and private sectors who want to improve their teaching skills. He hoped that the official policy announcement, made by the federal education ministry last year, would help improve the situation. The process would be initiated with new teachers for acquisition of Quality Teacher Status (QTS) and encourage the existing teacher workforce to upgrade their qualifications, he believes. However, he says that introducing teacher licensing at the provincial level as an integral part of systematic implementation of the NEP 2009 would not be without challenges. Motivating serving teachers to upgrade their qualification would definitely require incentives such as linking licensing with a developmental and motivational career path as well as continuous professional development opportunities. Also, extensive capacity-building of teaching staff and governance of teacher training institutes would be essential to meet the requirements of the licensing framework.
Muhammad Azam Khan, former president of the Punjab Teachers Union, appreciates the licensing policy for the serving teachers. However, he believes that to make the initiative a success, the first priority should be bringing the serving teachers and their unions on board and their apprehensions should be addressed through open consultation and policy dialogue.