Ghost schools, bogus enrolment, absent teachers, out-of-school children — Pakistan’s public-sector school education system is trapped in complicated challenges. Punjab alone has over 52,000 schools, more than 12 million students and close to 400,000 teachers. Around four years ago, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) started rolling out a series of IT systems for monitoring schools, computerising school enrolment and ensuring teacher presence. Our system works on computer tablets, enabling close to 1,300 monitoring officers to randomly visit schools each month and report data about school facilities, teacher presence and student attendance. The data is geo-tagged (using the tablet’s GPS system), and must be submitted from the vicinity of the school to be accepted by our system. The report must also include geo-tagged pictures of the attendance register and the head teacher, as well as a selfie of the monitoring officer, as evidence of the visit. In the last four years, over 1.9 million inspection reports have been uploaded in the system. In a recent study, Alif Ailaan found our monitoring data to be highly correlated (over 93% correlation) with their independent assessments.
We make all the monitoring data public in real-time to make the entire exercise fully transparent and enable all stakeholders to hold the government accountable. This data can be viewed by visiting, http://open.punjab.gov.pk/schools/. On our website, besides real-time inspection data of schools, there are comparisons with previous years to track progress and link to the official school census data for a baseline comparison.
Moreover, the same system is used to also measure Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). As part of each school visit, the monitoring officer is mandated to conduct a pop quiz of 7-10 students using another testing application on their tablets. The quiz is generated by automatic test generation software, populated with millions of multiple-choice questions devised to measure 17 students learning outcomes from the government’s official curriculum. Currently focused on grade 3 students to measure their learning and numeracy, over 35 million tablet-based spot tests have been conducted by our monitoring officers, and the data is uploaded in real-time to our system. This learning outcome data is also made public on the same website. Our website enables visitors to compare districts across 17 SLOs and analyse the performance of grade 3 students across Punjab in terms of their basic learning and numeracy.
In the past four years, using this extensive system of monitoring and analysis, we have completely eliminated ghost schools in Punjab and significantly improved the performance and transparency of government schools across Punjab.
However, while this system gives us insight into school facilities, teacher presence and student attendance, the key challenge is how to ensure good teaching quality in such a vast network of schools. How do we ensure uniform teaching quality by 400,000 teachers in over 52,000 schools across Punjab?
To address this challenge, we drew inspiration from the Khan Academy, with the goal to develop our own repository of learning content which teachers can use to achieve uniform teaching quality. To achieve this, we worked with the Punjab Textbook Board for the past three years to digitise the textbooks used in our schools. A small team at the PITB and the Information Technology University (ITU) has now digitised all Science and Mathematics books from grades 6 to 12. Importantly, each book has been augmented with thousands of video lectures, illustrations, animations, simulations, games and assessments. The goal is to make the digital book a self-contained learning resource, equipping the teacher with a complete teaching guide and minimising the need for tuitions. To date, 13,047 videos, 592 simulations, 2,100 minutes of audio lectures and 1,830 animations have been added to 21 Science and Mathematics books.
In the past two years, we have focused on taking this digital content to classrooms across Punjab. To accomplish this, each Mathematics and Science teacher is given a computer tablet with pre-loaded e-learning content, and an LCD screen is installed in a classroom. The teacher can connect the tablet with the screen, teach from our pre-canned content, play the recorded video lectures, and ask the corresponding assessment questions and record student responses. Our e-learn application on the teacher’s tablet is based on a standardised lesson plan to encourage uniformity in teaching quality.
In order to evaluate the intervention, we ran a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) in 60 schools in Punjab. The one-year study, soon to be published in a research paper, produced exceptional results: Math scores of students improved by 120%; Science scores improved by 52%. Overall, the schools in which e-learn was used showed 74% improvement in test scores. The monthly project cost was less than Rs75 per student.
Currently, the project is being scaled up to over 800 high schools in Punjab. This equivalent of Pakistan’s own Khan Academy, and its application in classrooms, could become a blueprint to improve teaching standards and learning outcomes throughout the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2018.