After the recent poor results in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations, yet another round of unsatisfactory results in the intermediate exams highlighted the poor performance of public-sector education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). According to a news report, more than 72 per cent of students of government schools failed the intermediate exams conducted by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Mardan. Those who passed the exams secured low marks. As per a report published in this newspaper, a lack of teachers was cited as one of the reasons behind the poor results. I will highlight the crucial reasons that need urgent attention — neglect of primary education, lack of accountability and weak governance structures.
Neglecting our most powerful weapon
The primary education system in K-P is in dire straits. During my visits to middle and high schools, I was informed by the principals that the major issue they face is of the quality of students who get promoted from primary school (grade five) to middle school (grade six). These students can barely read and write and the middle school faculty has to work very hard to prepare them for SSC exams. The principals had a very important question to ask: how can these students compete in the final board exams with those who are studying in private schools? The assessment of these principals can be confirmed from the Annual Status of Education Report 2014 that states that in K-P just 42% grade five children were able to read a sentence in English, only 40% could do two-digit division and 38% could read a story in Urdu/Pashto.
Another reason for poor performance of students is the lack of accountability in the education system. In recent weeks, three issues came to limelight in the press and instead of devising concrete policies to resolve them permanently, these were hushed up as usual. The first incident was that of a school teacher punishing students in Chitral. This was caught on video. Then a female official from the education department, Azra Afridi, was forcibly posted from her position when she attempted to unmask corruption of officers and ghost employees, who were drawing salaries while sitting at home. The third news item relates to allowing ineligible candidates to appear for exams conducted by the Regional Institute of Teachers Education.
Teachers of Pakistan
The third issue that needs attention is the state of governance structures. While various units have been constituted to bring reforms in the education system, they have lost their drive due to bureaucratic snags or lack of interest of staff. For example, the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) was constituted to monitor school performance, to increase social accountability and to improve governance and service delivery outcomes, however, this unit is no more ‘independent’ as it submits monitoring reports to District Education Officers and head of department and it’s their discretion whether to take action on the reports or shelve them. Also, the main focus of the IMU is data collection on school indicators, but this data is not used for decision-making or policy planning purposes. This data set, as well as other data sets collected by the department known as Education Management Information System, is not of much use to the general public due to limited access. Similarly, the Education Sector Reforms Unit, which was established to formulate effective policies and implement them, conduct research, and monitor and evaluate programmes, also hasn’t achieved much. The claims of the provincial government to build a Naya K-P cannot materialise without concrete practical steps and across-the-board accountability. Translating the slogan of ‘Education First’ into reality requires a lot of work.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2016.
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