KARACHI: In nature, when species face a changing environment, they must adapt or face extinction. Education systems, however, may remain static even when they are no longer relevant – a fact not lost on the participants of the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development’s (AKU-IED) international conference.
The three-day event, which has been organised with the support of the Higher Education Commission and United Nations Children’s Fund, aims to foster debate among experts about the state of Pakistan’s education system and how it can be changed.
“Education needs to move with the times, to be responsive to the emerging needs of present day societies,” said AKU-IED’s director, Dr Muhammad Memon, at the inaugural session on Thursday. In his welcome address, he also called for policy that would formally recognise teachers’ professional status and integrity.
Renowned physicist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, the chief guest, said, “The 18th Amendment has empowered provinces to lead the change in Pakistan’s education system, but they have failed to take any substantial initiatives so far.” He called for “dramatic and sustainable changes” in the education system. “Pakistan presents a particularly challenging environment, but there are some grounds for optimism,” he added. “A clearer understanding of how the education environment can be better managed – both inside and outside the classroom – will certainly be important.”
The conference chair, Dr Kulsoom Jaffer, told The Express Tribune that researchers, academics and practitioners will present around a 100 papers during the conference. They will cover themes such as innovations in methods of teaching, conventional and alternative assessment methods, the relevance of curriculum in changing times and educational policies.
Two foreign experts had also been invited to speak at the inaugural session. Prof. Andy Hargreaves, who is associated with Boston College’s Lynch School of Education in the United States, said the importance of good teachers for sustainable change cannot be ignored. “If you teach the same thing for over ten years, you would ultimately lose the sense of challenge,” he told the audience via video link. “We need to challenge and stretch our pupils so that we could know if we are doing the job all right,” he said, urging greater collaboration among teachers to develop a mentoring system.
He also emphasised the need to support teachers, regardless of the stage in their careers. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children and their teachers,” he said, quoting Nelson Mandela.
Prof. Chandra Gunawardena, UNESCO-COL Chair in Distance Education at Open University of Sri Lanka presented a brief history of educational reforms in her country which have raised the adult literacy rate up to 90.6 per cent. “The right of all children to education was recognised in Sri Lanka in the 1940s, years before international conventions were even introduced and universal goals were set.” The society, however, still finds a gap between education and economy. “More than academic qualifications, the private sector demands for the employees to be well-equipped with general transferrable skills and communication skills in English.”
Dr Memon hopes that the conference will reinforce the discourse on educational changes through sustainable reforms. AKU-IED also intends to compile a book on the conference proceedings.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2012.