Teach for Pakistan: Sharing the wealth of knowledge
The program helps university graduates teach at lower-income schools in the country, and is a much needed initiative.
Those of us who are brimming with patriotic fervour now have an outlet to use this energy constructively. This past week I saw a video for the Teach for Pakistan campaign that seeks to recruit professionals who have the potential to be educators. The idea is to train people accepted into the program to be inspirational teachers and to partner with government schools which are facing problems such as an absence of teachers or poor teachers. What I like about this is that the Teach for Pakistan program focuses on a specific problem and tries to fix it.
Roots of the model
Teach for Pakistan is under the banner of Teach for All, a movement inspired by Teach for America started by Wendy Kopp who observed that her peers in college coming from public high schools had more difficulty getting through college, because their math and reading skills were weaker when compared to students coming out of private schools. In America, public school education is free of cost from the primary level all the way to high school. Kopp later went on to write her college senior thesis on providing public schools with better quality teachers to narrow the disparities in education. She took off the idea from the thesis and developed the Teach for America program which has been running for almost two decades now (note to all college students who are thinking of writing a thesis: amazing, tangible things can come out of it). At present, Teach for America has 20,000 alumni, many of whom have gone on to teach professionally.
Poor teachers, poor teaching in Pakistan
Education reform in Pakistan is hard. People who want to improve education face numerous problems. There are bad schools, bad teachers, poor curriculums, terrible infrastructure and structural problems like poverty and disinterested parents among others. Most civil society organisations and NGOs have resorted to solving this problem by building schools run by donations (The Citizen’s Foundation is an example). While I applaud such initiatives, I do not agree with the way they go about doing things. Providing education in a nation of 170 million cannot be done by NGO’s because I have yet to see anyone being able to scale a model of mass schooling. I would rather they spend their resources for forceful advocacy, a far better approach.
Improving what’s already there
It is here that I think the Teach for Pakistan program can serve a very important function. It is not setting up a parallel system of education but is instead focusing on increasing the quality of infrastructure already at work. When I spoke to program coordinator Amber Zuberi last summer, she said that the aim of Teach for Pakistan was not to fix run-down schools but to provide aid to schools which had infrastructure and teachers but were facing problems of teacher absenteeism and quality which is a realistic aim to set. As I understand it, they will not be building schools or running administrative operations but instead providing a steady flow of qualified teachers. Now if they can get a steady stream of teachers, this idea is totally scalable.
Bridging the divide
The Pakistani context presents different opportunities. This program will help people from urban areas get to know the more rural areas of the country and it will give them a more acute realisation of the class divide in Pakistan. If the program does succeed in building an alumni base it has the potential to elevate our debate on education in this country, as more people will have exposure to the problems of our educational system. If the program can build a good reputation it can attract the large Pakistani diaspora in England and in the United States. Tapping this diaspora can be a big game changer because they consist of university educated professionals (for the most part) who can pass along their skills back to their home country.
Once Pakistan’s security situation improves (hopefully in the next few years) the program can even attract American graduates from American universities that have no blood ties to Pakistan because there is a surge of enthusiasm among college graduates to travel and work in different countries. This is the reason why other programs that offer this like the Peace Corps are so popular among American graduates.
It is important that Teach for Pakistan has a strong evaluation system. How do we know that its teachers are actually doing a good job? How are we measuring success? These questions need to be addressed. Finally the program would do well to learn from Teach for America’s mistakes, in particular the fact that it has been criticised for marginalising experienced teachers already working in education system.
Teach for Pakistan is a step in the right direction; let us now hope it can live up to its potential.
For more information on the program please visit www.teachforpakistan.edu.pk