KARACHI: Caught between a declared education emergency and a change in the medium of instruction from Urdu to English, it seems the students of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are losing ground and direction. This year’s Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) shows school-going children who are actually attending school are doing poorly in all aspects of learning.
The survey, conducted in rural areas of 25 districts in K-P, targeted 14,705 households in 741 villages and assessed 45,290 children, aged between three and 16. Out of these, 39,923 children between the ages of five to 16 were evaluated on their ability to read Urdu/Pashto, English and solve basic math problems.
The report describes the assessment tools for language and arithmetic as “designed to cover up to class two and class three level competencies, respectively, as per the national curriculum.”
The private and state divide
According to the Aser report, 51% of grade five students enrolled in private schools were able to read at least one story in Urdu/Pashto, whereas only 35% of their class fellows at public schools were able to do the same.
Similarly, 56% of private school students in class five were able to read English sentences, while the figure stood at a mere 34% for public school fifth graders. When tested on arithmetic competencies, 34% and 48% of government school and private school fifth graders, respectively, could work out two-digit division.
The ups and downs since 2012
Overall, learning levels of K-P’s students remained as unimpressive in 2013 with just minimal improvement across classes. Around 61% of class five children surveyed could not read a class 2 story in Urdu/Pashto in comparison to the 57% who could not do so in 2012.
However, 37% of third graders could not read Urdu/Pashto sentences, which is a significant drop from last year’s 55%, showing some improvement.
For 26% of first graders, Urdu/Pashto alphabets remained unreadable.
English language learning did not fare any better; only 39% of children in class five could read class-two-level sentences in the language. In the previous year, this figure was as high as 47%. Similarly, only 13% of third graders were able to read class-two-level English sentences as compared to 22% in 2012.
The number of children in grade five who could do two-digit division dropped from 44% in 2012 to 38% in 2013. Even at the level of grade seven, 34% of students were unable to solve two-digit division, highlighting inadequate learning levels.
Incidentally, Aser 2013 indicates boys outperformed girls in both literacy and numeracy skills. The survey comprising 62% boys and 38% girls noted 51% of boys could read sentences in Urdu/Pashto while only 40% of the girls could do the same. As far as the English language is concerned, at least 59% boys could read as compared to 40% girls.
In terms of mathematical abilities, 53% boys were able to do subtraction sums whereas only 41% girls could do the same.
Enrolment rates showed a slight improvement where 86% of students between the ages of six-16 were in schools.
The rate of children out of school has also marginally improved. According to Aser, in 2012 around 16% of surveyed students were out of school, while in 2013 the number stood at 14%.
Apart from learning levels of students, Aser also looked at attendance, school facilities and the qualifications of teachers.
In 2013, student attendance in government and private schools did not differ much at 86% and 90%, respectively. These were calculated based on a headcount on the day of the Aser team’s visit.
In government schools, 14% of the teachers were absent on the day of the visit while only 6% were absent in private schools.
In terms of teacher qualification, both government and private schools were roughly on par. Around 35% of government school teachers had Bachelor of Education degrees, as compared to 33% at private schools.
A roof on my head
Complete boundary walls, an essential for safety, were missing in 44% of government and 12% of private schools. Furthermore, 43% of the surveyed government primary schools did not have toilets while the facility was missing in at least 12% of private schools surveyed.
Drinking water was another basic necessity which was missing – 26% of government schools and 8% of private schools did not have potable water for students or staff.
Academic facilities remained largely deficient in both government and private high schools. Only 24% and 34% of the surveyed government and private institutes had computer labs, respectively. However, books were largely available in the libraries of both types of educational institutes.
The survey teams do not just limit themselves to rural districts. In urban Peshawar, the Aser team assessed 1,379 children (including 37 % girls and 63% boys) on the same tools used on children from the rest of the districts.
The result did not vary much — private school students there outperformed government school students. According to the report, only 11% of fifth graders could read a story in Urdu/Pashto, while at least 31% of private school students could do the same.
In the city, the gender gap was less prominent – 41% girls and 44% boys could read Pashto/Urdu.
English learning remained a major problem for government school students as only 12% of fifth graders could read the language as compared to 37% at private schools.
When tested on basic math skills, only 9% of government school fifth graders could perform two-digit division while 22% of private school counterparts could do the same.
For the academic session which began this year, the government rolled out a changed medium of instruction for government schools; science and mathematics are now being taught in English to first graders. However, given the dismal results reflected in the Aser report, which has been surveying learning levels for the past four years, a significant improvement should not be expected immediately.
Aser K-P Manager Afzal Shah told The Express Tribune the government’s effort is laudable, however, improvement in academic performance will not come overnight. According to Shah, for children starting first grade, studying and learning in a new language can be a difficult task as they have only been exposed to their native language at home.
“It further compounds the problem if the teacher is also new to the change,” explained Shah, adding there was a need for smart, long-term and sustained planning on the behalf of the government for the step to be successful in the long run.
Shah, who has been working in the education sector for nearly 10 years, said one-time trainings for teachers are not sufficient to familiarise them with a new syllabus. “In order to bridge the gap been formed after years of teaching in Urdu, the government needs to ensure that it regularly conducts capacity building exercises for teachers and trains them to become proficient in the new course,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2014.