Amid global concerns about Pakistan ranking second in countries with the most children out of school, Sindh has yet to find a good way to educate the six million ‘fortunate’ enough to attend its public schools.
Attesting to this particular aspect of the education crisis, the results of the second official province-wide tests, known as the Standardised Achievement Test (SAT) 2013-2014, were made public on Friday at a convention of education department officials of the teaching and administrative cadres from across the province at the Pearl Continental hotel. A visibly exasperated Sindh education and literacy minister, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, presided over the event that revealed further deterioration in the quality of education being delivered at all levels.
“The average achievement of a class five student was a pitiful 21.4 per cent when tested on what they should know according to the national curriculum,” said Saba Mahmood, who heads the Sindh government’s Reform Support Unit. “The students enrolled in class eight did not do much better either, with an average learning outcome on 22.6 per cent.”
To conduct these tests in Sindh’s 23 districts, Mahmood’s unit, which was formed in 2005 with the mandate of building the institutional capability of the education department, partnered with the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Sukkur. Based on the national curriculum, the SAT initiative aims to gauge the students’ learning levels in languages, maths and science prior to classes six and nine every year.
For Dhani Bux Jillani, the SAT project coordinator, the cumulative results show that the students did not even manage to attain the passing marks of 33 per cent, if one goes by the standards set for the public education system.
“This is an alarming situation. This year’s results establish that the quality of education delivery has declined even further compared to last year’s abysmal results, when the average class five student’s achievement was 22 per cent,” said Mahmood. “We ought to enact a result-based accountability system for the teachers, whose salaries amount to Rs110 billion – 81 per cent of the total education budget.”
Many of the education department’s teaching and administrative officials, in an apparent show of insensibility, applauded when Mahmood shared the names of the districts that topped the grim charts to become, in Khuhro’s words, ‘andhon mein kaana raja‘.
“What is there to clap and cheer about?” asked the infuriated education minister. “You have been brought here from across the province so that you understand what your actual performance is.”
In the sudden silence that ensued, all eyes were fixed on Khuhro. “Look at yourselves. What have you done for Sindh and its children, despite the incentives of promotions and better salary packages?” he wanted to know. “I cannot accept these results as the failure of our students; it is the teachers and the administrative officials who have failed, and this SAT result is a white paper on their performance.”
The SAT report also included recommendations, shared by Dr Fida Hussain, IBA Sukkur education department’s assistant professor. He said that the poor delivery of education results from the weak knowledge about the content among the teachers, adding that the teachers’ training should therefore be content-based and focused on developing conceptual understanding and application of the content, especially for science and maths.
“Instead of using the prevailing one-shot training model, these trainings should be carried out through the effective model of continuous professional development,” he asserted. “Additionally, the fresh teachers should be inducted strictly on merit and only sent to the schools after receiving mandatory pre-induction training with special focus on their role in assessing students.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2014.