“India and Pakistan face the same education problems,” said Dr Rukmini Banerji speaking on the first day of a regional seminar organised by the South Asian Forum for Education Development (SAFED) and Idarae Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in collaboration with the Education Testing Service (ETS) at a local hotel in the city.
Presenting her paper, Every Child in School and Learning Well, Dr Banerji who is the Director of Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Centre, India, quoted examples from her study in India and said despite schools having an enrollment rate as high as 96 per cent, attendance mostly ranged between 60 to 90 percent. She said, “Even if a child is enrolled, it does not mean they are being educated if they are absent from school.” Dr Banerji said her study had revealed that children were actually entering school much earlier than the ‘mandatory age,’ which she said was six years.
She advocated that education standards be set keeping needs of a specific system in mind. She said questions were being raised as to how annual academic progress in children’s learning could be ensured. “Children are being forced to carry a burden of expectations which perhaps they are not capable of meeting.” Dr Banerji recommended that children be grouped based on their learning level instead of ‘school grades.’
ITA Programme Director Baela Raza Jamil said, “Once the right to education is enshrined in the Constitution, laws monitoring its execution need to be developed and reviewed periodically.” She added that the seminar was a regional continuation of the Salzburg Global Seminar which was held in December last year to ‘close mobility gaps in education worldwide’. Jamil said dialogue between regions could help resolve issues pertinent to the education of children.
ETS Senior Vice President Dr Michael Nettles said the organisation was working in the US to ‘close education gaps’ in the system. Speaking via video conference, Dr Nettles said it was essential for regions to indulge in a dialogue to resolve educational problems.
Claiming that one-third of Punjab’s budget was spent on education, Planning and Development Secretary Tahir Ali said much of that money was spent on teachers’ salaries. Ali said provision of ‘education for all’ and ensuring equity in education were key challenges to work towards.
MNA Bushra Gohar said political influences needed to be removed from the education system as this had hindered the process of teaching and learning. “Our education system is teaching hatred,” said Gohar while demanding that there be greater transparency and accountability regarding the budget spent on education. “If we continue to be a ‘security state,’ we will fail to prioritise our children.”
Beaconhouse National University School of Education Dean Dr Tariq Rahman recommended that the mother language education (MLE) structure be included in the system. He said a study had revealed that a child grasps concepts better when tutored in his mother tongue. In his paper, Language Policy, Weakening of Languages and MLE in Pakistan, Dr Rahman said English and Urdu were being ‘favoured’ by the state and this had translated into linguistic elitism.
Dr Rahman identified more than 50 minor languages and 6 major languages in the country and said a child established a strong sense of identity when taught in his mother tongue. Dr Rahman said an ‘across the board’ policy of incorporating an MLE structure into the educational system was the only way to remove the stigma associated with the use of indigenous languages.
Sindh Education Foundation Director Aziz Kabani faced criticism from the audience for his take on ‘test scores’ being used to gauge learning. Kabani said education had become a commodity. “Education has become quantifiable and market trends dictate how a child must be prepared for it.” Kabani said the state needed to decide whether it wanted to pursue a ‘child-friendly’ or ‘test score’ pedagogy.
Ravish Amjad asked whether an increased private sector role would help bridge the quality-inequality gap. Amjad, a research and policy analyst at ASER, said the 2011 ASER report had indicated that learning outcomes were better in private than in government schools, adding that it was a ‘relative performance’ report. She suggested greater attention towards the quality of teacher, curricula development and missing facilities in schools.
IG Research and Evaluation Director Dr Gordon MacLeod in his paper, Teacher Education Models That Work, said ‘teacher quality’ was a fashionable trend. He said there was a lack of formal information to understand the issues related to teacher education in Pakistan.
The Citizen’s Foundation Academics and Training senior manager Rahila Fatima said they encouraged teachers in ‘self reflection’ practices and teachers were recruited from the same area as the school.
St Joseph’s College for Women, Karachi, Principal Bernadette Dean said they prepared students to take up informed and participatory roles in moving towards creating a ‘just’ society (citizen education). She requested the government to raise the status of citizen education which she said was currently at the bottom of the ‘subject hierarchy’.
The seminar will continue on Thursday. Dr AH Nayyar, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zubeida Mustafa are scheduled to speak.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.
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