By Zeenat Shah
The Dakar Framework of Action 2000 defined quality of education in terms of recognized and measurable learning outcomes especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. Article 42 of the Expanded Commentary on the Dakar Framework of Action further elaborates that ‘a quality education is one that satisfies basic learning needs, and enriches the lives of learners and their overall experience of living.’ Raising a child by fulfilling basic literacy and numeracy learning needs and equipping with the essential life skills is a complex process and cannot be achieved until all stakeholders take it as a shared purpose and a shared responsibility. Considering the complex and varied nature of each child, nurturing especially in a psychosocially, emotionally and economically challenging world, stakeholders need to learn and grow together. Despite knowing the indispensable importance of quality education in socioeconomic development and wellbeing of a nation and emphasis from the founder of the state Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistani governments have never considered quality education as a priority in more than seven decades. The father of the nation stated, “Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without requisite advancement in education, not only shall we be left behind others but may be wiped out altogether.” If the nation honestly reflects on this statement today, it is absolutely true that Pakistani nation is lagging far behind in human capital and so in the socioeconomic development in comparison with progressive countries. The negligence and ignorance of governments is reflected from their mere investments of 2% of GDP they have made in education every year and even this 2% of the budget is not properly utilized to improve students’ learning achievements. Above all, the current education policy does not have any accountability mechanism that holds stakeholders accountable from ministry to school level for improved performance. Due to negligence, lack of commitment and accountability at policy level, even billions of funding from United Nations and other funding agencies have not yielded the desired results. Governments have so far instead of considering quality education as top priority, focused primarily on personal gains and other less productive aspects of the society. When leaders are selfish, dishonest and ignorant, the nation pays the price and the same attitudes and values are inevitable in the nation. Therefore, quality of education is the least priority at each level of the society and all stakeholders blame one another for poor quality of education in the country. Following paragraphs highlight the prevailing situation in education and responsibilities of state policy makers, teachers, parents and media as key stakeholders:
The government of Pakistan is a signatory state of millennium development goals (MDGs) and sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations that highlight 100% access of school going children with quality education by 2030 but the nation has yet to see any intentions and plans of the government how to bring more than 20 million out of school children to mainstream education system. Moreover, those who manage to attend the school do not have opportunities of acquiring quality education in prevailing education system. ASER Pakistan 2019 reports gender-wise learning achievements from age 5 to 16 that only 46% of boys and 38% of girls could read Urdu sentences, while 48% boys could read English words and 39% of girls could do the same. Similarly, 43% of boys and only 37% of girls could do subtractions. It reveals that more than 50% boys and 60% of girls have issues in very basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) declared primary education as the basic human right of all people. Whereas more than 20 million children are still deprived of this basic right in the 21st century in Pakistan. The existing policy in Pakistan for primary schools is two classrooms and two teachers and the teachers who are posted to primary schools are mostly with low qualifications and less competence in their subjects. Most of the teachers who have adequate content knowledge and academic qualifications are reluctant to teach primary grade students even in middle and secondary schools. In addition, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is not yet mandate of the government education system. When a nation compromises with the early years’ quality education and development, it faces serious issues in human capital and so does the socioeconomic progress of the country. Moreover, the governments have so far compromised with teacher quality while making their recruitments and preferred other occupations such as civil superior services, army, banking etc. When policy makers compromise with the merit of nation builders, how we can expect a progressive, peaceful, united and a prosperous nation. Eventually, the society experiences lawlessness, injustice, poverty, self-preference to the state and corruption as we see very common in our homeland. Therefore, there should be high merit in place while recruiting especially primary and preprimary teachers with the highest salary packages than any other occupation. Quality teachers may be costly but not more than the cost that the nation is experiencing in every segment of the society right now in Pakistan. Therefore, it is well said by Bob Talbert that “Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more”. It is suggested that primary schools should have adequate number of safe and welcoming classrooms by considering the number of grades, learning materials and at least one teacher for one grade. The government should adopt ECCE concept and recruit young qualified and trained teachers to facilitate young learners. This all discussion reveals that there is lack of scientific planning, setting measureable short term and long term targets, monitoring and proper allocation of budget on government’s part.
Teachers being the nation builders and possessing the prophetic profession hold the exalted position in the society and therefore they have the highest responsibility in promoting quality education and shaping a progressive, prosperous and peaceful nation. Dr. Sumbul Ansar Khan (2014) cites the respect and responsibilities of a teacher in Islam. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “O Allah! Do not let me reach a time during which scholars are not followed, and honorable people are not respected” (Ahmed).
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also said, “Seek knowledge and train to be dignified and calm while seeking knowledge, and humble yourselves with those whom you learn from” (Tabaraani).
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported to say about teachers’ responsibilities, “Teachers who have three students- of different social classes- and do not treat them equally, will be in the line of the traitors on the Resurrection Day.” A teacher by nature and by practice should be altruistic who serves her/his students with no intention of personal gains. Students’ learning achievements and success in academic career and life pursuits should be main purpose of teaching. Loyalty to the state, integrity, commitment, passion for learning, humility and competence in the subject should be main qualities of a teacher. A Teacher as heart of the education system can solely ensure quality of education by shouldering more responsibilities and commitment for ongoing professional growth, SLO-focused effective teaching, using effective formative assessment techniques, professional dialogues with other teachers, sacrificing extra time for student support, implementation of research-based theories and continual research on effective and ineffective teaching and learning strategies and parental involvement. Teachers can make a difference in achieving national educational standards through a bottom up approach if there are barriers in top-down approach of school improvement.
Unfortunately, due to low merit of teacher recruitment in Pakistan most of the teachers do not understand and realize the zenith position of their profession, so they are ignorant of their nation building responsibilities. Moreover, due to lack of proper monitoring of performance and accountability, most of the teachers are teaching for their personal gains e.g. salaries, increments, promotions and pension. Therefore, Dr. Wahab said that the day is observed to know the role of teachers in nation building but it seems today our teachers are not committed towards their duties; that is why problems are increasing instead of being resolved. (Dawn Newspaper on World Teachers Day, 2013).
Parents’ role is pivotal in shaping a child’s personality through inculcating moral values, developing basic literacy and numeracy skills and life skills especially at early stages of life. The attitudes and values that are developed in early years of a child make a difference in the entire life. It is family’s responsibility especially in the time this lockdown situation to provide a conducive learning and nurturing environment at home where all family members are learners and contribute to child’s learning and development. Eric Hoffer supports “… the truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents and children are students together.” Parents and other care givers can play an important role in their children’s education and development by enhancing communication e.g. by encouraging children to share their daily experiences at school or at home, asking about their choices in routine matters, involving them in decision making, sharing jokes and creating a moment of laughter, listening poems and small stories from children and reading stories together with children. Literature suggests that using more than one language with children is more beneficial for both language and cognitive development so parents can interact with children in more than one languages where possible. Parents can help children in preparing a daily study plan and monitor their studies regularly. Parents can also ask young children to give names and colours of different objects at home and their use in daily life.
They can be more helpful to their children in developing numeracy skills by allowing young kids to count, categorize and making patterns of different objects. Parents should establish a small library corner at home and demonstrate reading and engage with children in reading. Parents can empower children to draw sketches of their interest and they can also involve children in puzzle games to complete words, shapes, pictures, maps and models. They can use Ludo game, catch-catch, skipping for counting numbers, doing four operations and finding averages. Running a race, jumping, local games, walking are also important for children’s physical development. They can also play guessing games with children using measurement units of weight, length and time such as gram, kilogram, centimeter, metre, kilometer, seconds, minutes and hours. Parents can also engage kids in domestic chores to help them develop their life skills. Parents should frequently contact with different subject teachers to know children’s performance and build relationships and partnership with teachers. Parents can also arrange spelling competitions among siblings both in Urdu and English.
Above all parents can teach values like hard work, sense of responsibility, unity, empathy, humility, generosity and cooperation, integrity, respect and care for other human beings and the environment through demonstration and storytelling and discussions on its moral lessons. Parents should play their role as helping hands of teachers. More importantly, parents can provide an environment for children that is filled with love, care, kindness, compassion, affection, happiness, hope and respect.
However, in prevailing scenario parents segment looks disconnected from the educational triangle. Parents seem helpless and blame teachers and children for being irresponsible and indifferent. Most of the parents believe that educating children is teachers’ job and parents are responsible for buying uniform and other basic learning resources and paying school fee.
Media especially the electronic media has an indispensable role in promoting quality education. They can on air television programmes with scholars, scientists, researchers, educationists, teachers and share success stories of schools both in public and private sectors. They can arrange competitions among different institutions. They can urge and hold government accountable to improve students’ performance. However, in the current scenario, media has also no least concerns about education. They always invite politicians on daily talk shows that has nothing to do with any positive change but a cats and dog game. Instead, they should present educational issues directly to the prime minster and make him accountable for educational reforms. The media can also influence Supreme Court of Pakistan for considering education as a priority and take self-responsibility for meaningful utilization of educational budgets and improving quality of education.
Quality education is a precious asset of a nation and it is the only source of survival in extreme crisis. Therefore it is dire need of the time that the present government of Pakistan should at least wake up and take both revolutionary and evolutionary measures to ensure quality education at all levels especially primary education in the country. At least 15% of GDP is required to be allocated to increase and transform educational institutions. The government should study successful models of education in the world like the ones in Finland, Singapore and Korea and introduce a strong viable implementation and accountability mechanism from ministry to school and community level to achieve SDG goals in education. Adequate number of schools need to be constructed especially where out of school ratio is very high and similarly competent teachers with preservice training need to be in place to attract out of school children and facilitate all students with quality learning experiences. Competent and performing teachers should be treated as the most honorable and dignified community of the nation. Moreover, considering the lessons learned from this COVID-19 pandemic situation, the government should more seriously focus on medical education and establish one state of the art medical research centre in each province. Universities should also establish market driven pure science research centres to cater the emerging needs of the society. Bureaucrats and ministers having education portfolios need to understand the intricacies of education so that they are able to provide support to the schools and teachers as humble, learned and effective public servants.
The contributor is a Senior Instructor at AKU-PDCN, Gilgit-Baltistan.