ISLAMABAD: Schools in Pakistan, especially those run by the government, are producing students with alarmingly low levels of learning in key subjects such as mathematics and science, representing a significant and deep-rooted challenge to the country’s economic growth.
Students in Islamabad, while having mean scores in maths closer to the national average, were lagging behind in science. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Sindh though were further behind other provinces and regions.
This was stated in a report by Alif Ailaan in collaboration with the Pakistan Alliance for Maths and Science. The second volume of the report ‘Powering Pakistan for the 21st century: The State of Maths & Science in Schools” was launched recently.
Using data from previous reports, the report estimates that Pakistan does not provide children of least privileged parents a decent education in maths or science
Average scores in maths obtained by Class VIII students in the National Education Assessment System (NEAS) exams - conducted in 2014 - was 461 out of 1,000 Moreover, the report states that the average maths score for Class IV students in the NEAS exams conducted in the same year was 433 out of 1,000.
According to the average mean scores in maths under the NEAS 2014 exams for different provinces of Pakistan, Punjab had the highest with 532. It was followed at some distance by Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) with 466, AJK with 445, Gilgit-Baltistan with 438, Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa with 423, Balochistan with 422, Sindh with 416, and Fata with 398.
The average mean scores for science in NEAS 2014 exams showed that Punjab again led with scores of 487. It was followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa with 441, Sindh with 420, Gilgit-Baltistan with 419, AJK with 418, ICT with 409, Fata with 405 and Balochistan with 402.
However, the Punjab Examinations Commission (PEC) results for 2016 show that average maths scores for Class V stood at 53 per cent, while average science scores for the same class stood at 48 per cent.
In Sindh, the province’s Standardised Achievement Test (SAT) results for 2016 showed that average maths scores for Class V were 24 per cent, while the average science scores for the class was also 24 per cent.
Other than the NEAS data, no data was available for middle school in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, or Fata.
The National Achievement Test (NAT), conducted by NEAS in 2014 to assess learning achievement for maths among students enrolled in Class VIII, noted some variance in the average scores between rural and urban and between boys and girls as well.
The average score for urban students was 471 out of 1,000 marks. In comparison, rural students had an average score of 451. Similarly, the average score for boys was 470, compared to 456 for girls.
Despite the variance, the report observed that the national average scores for maths had slightly improved from 451 in 2007 to 461 in 2014.
According to the report, there are five basic reasons behind the poor standard of maths and science education in the country.
First, the political economy of maths and science education is aligned to serve the narrow interests of small groups, instead of the interests of children, it says.
Second, government structures responsible for providing education and the systems in place to deliver them, are out-dated and inefficient. They cannot deliver modern education.
Third, government schools are not equipped to provide satisfactory learning environment for maths and science (or any other subject areas).
Fourth, the report points out that teachers in these schools do not have the incentives, nor the skills to deliver quality maths and science education.
Finally, the content being delivered to children, and the means of testing whether they are learning anything are of poor quality and ineffective.
However, the report commends that in recent years, starting with the Punjab, teacher recruitment has been de-politicised, with merit-based recruitment slowly becoming the standard methodology for hiring teachers.
“Since 2013, over 125,000 teachers have been hired under such strict merit-based recruitment policy, constituting almost 20 per cent of the total teachers in the country,” the report said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.