ASER-2013: Performance of Schools in Diamar and its Challenges to Relevancy of the Contemporary Theories of Improving student learning Achievement
Dr. Karim Panah
The recently published Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2013 has raised very interesting and thought provoking questions regarding performance of schools in different districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. The report collects data on level of ‘students learning’ in early grade Urdu, English and Mathematics from both public and private sector schools. The comparison of the national level data portrays a high discouraging trend on the learning outcomes of the students in class 5 who were given a class 2 level text in Urdu and English to read. Children in Gilgit-Baltistan, though did well in all the three strands compared to the results of the same test in other province of the country after Punjab. However, the comparisons of the results among one district presents somehow a worrisome picture wherein only district Diamar stood high on the score table while the rest produced moderate scores. District Diamar outperformed the other seven districts in terms of the percentage of children in class 5 who could read a class 2 level text in English and Urdu as well as did division and sums or more of class 3 level. Above 70% children in class 5 in the sample of public schools of Diamar district could read a story in Urdu and English from class 2 level text while in Astore below 33% children could perform at the same level. The result, though encouraging and positive for students, teachers, parents and education managers in Diamar however, it apparently challenges the contemporary concepts and philosophies of ‘school improvement’ and ‘improvement in learning outcome of the students’ particularly in languages.
School improvement is a complex and multifaceted process and the level of improvement cannot be determined based on the level of students learning in particular subject area or in a particular skill. However, since the focus of the deliberations is on the level of students’ achievement as presented in the ASER report, let’s take this as one of the many indicators of success and see what is it that enabled the schools in Diamar to outshine in the entire province. One of the much cited and globally referred report in the field of education is ‘Mckinsey Report’ which claims that “… the experiences of top school systems suggest that three things matter the most: 1) getting the right people to become teachers, 2) developing them into effective instructors and, 3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child” (2007). The report further claims that “these systems all ensure that they put in place the necessary fundamental conditions, such rigorous standards and assessment, clear expectations, differentiated support for teachers and students, and sufficient funding and other core resource” (2007). In simple words, the basic ingredients of school improvement and student achievement include qualified and trained teachers who are dedicated and motivated, enabling classroom environment that facilitates children’s learning as individuals.
Any attempt to establish a relationship between students’ achievement in public schools in Diamar and provision of conditions for improvement as mention earlier would not be fair. And, it would be naïve to assume that schools in Diamar are better facilitated than other schools in GB. Schools in all districts face similar conditions in term of the quality of teachers, infrastructure, instructional material, curriculum and other facilities. Rather, it can be claimed that most of the other districts avail better facilities and resources that includes availability of drinking water, provision of electricity, better access to the school campus and others. Table 2 presents a district wise distribution of government school teachers working in primary grades throughout Gilgit-Baltistan and it shows no exceptions because allocation is based on the number schools in each district.
Nevertheless, the recruitment trends for teachers during the last three years shows that schools in Diamar were able to attract more trained teachers (having M.Ed, B.ED and other professional certificates) compared to other districts in the region. This could be one of the reason for primary schools in Diamar to produce such remarkable results on ASER Study of 2013. Having said that, we are also aware of the fact that for last several years’ schools in other districts have been exposed to a number of development projects. More specifically, donor funded and NGO implemented programmes that included teacher education, resource development, curriculum enrichment, leadership and management, students’ learning assessment, so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, due to various reasons, communities as well as official in district Diamer have been reluctant to welcome external interventions in the form of donor funded project managed by national and international NGOs and others. Resultantly, schools in this district remained deprived of ‘continuing professional development’ opportunities as well AS other forms of soft and hardware improvement and enhancement. However, the most striking fact is the impact of such interventions as the ASRE 2013 report shows that district that benefited from external support did not perform BETTER AS compare to THE schools in Diamer.
Assuming that the ASER 2013 report is based on valid data collected through reliable methods and tools than the policy makers and implementers of development projects and programmes in education sector in GB should ponder upon these critical questions: What is it that enables children to learn and perform better in the classroom? What is exact meaning of quality teaching and learning practices in the classroom? What is the relevance and impact of prevailing teacher training and school improvement practices? What are the salient features of school routine, teaching and learning practices in schools in Diamer where student outperformed others in the rest of the GB?
Dr. Karim Panah has a doctorate in Education from the Institute for Educational Development – Aga Khan University, Karachi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.