While the research has led to recognition of education interventions in District Faisalabad and capacity building of the Department of Education, challenges remain in the form of making the department proactive and using research findings to improve the quality of education in the schools
The need for planning based on authentic verifiable information and facts is clearly recognised. National and provincial databases are now available supported by periodic surveys, evaluations and studies. That an attempt at planning based on this mix of information has been initiated is evident from several reports of government and projects supported by international development partners.
Efforts to measure the health of the education sector however are more recent. The National Evaluation and Assessment System with its provincial counterpart the Provincial Evaluation and Assessment System set up in 2003 produced their first reports in 2006.
The same year the Directorate of Staff Development Punjab, with the support of German Technical Assistance conducted a learning achievement survey in the Punjab. All these surveys present a bleak picture of student learning at the primary level across the province.
Very little of this information trickles down to the district level whose only source of data is that which it provides to the provincial departments at their request. The Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) set up in 2006 did for the first time present district based student results. However, districts lack a centralised system where information relating to all education interventions can be collated thus forming a basis for planning.
A recent attempt to measure the quality of education by establishing Learning Achievements Database with follow-ups to identify progress and/or change was undertaken in District Faisalabad over a period of three years.
The exercise conducted in a selected number of schools across three towns/tehsils of the district included some additional quantitative information on the schools. Surveys conducted of Classes Katchi, I and II, Class IV and Class VIII in District Faisalabad in 74 schools with 1040 students between 2005 and 2007 to assess the quality of student performance in primary and elementary schools have identified a number of policy gaps and other issues.
The findings show a shift towards private schooling. The number of private schools is increasing rapidly in the district. The Union Council (UC) educational profile shows many more government and private schools in Jaranwala Town compared to Summundri Town where the majority of the schools are in the public sector. In the six UCs that include the sample schools, private schools are just over half the total number of schools. Private middle schools have also come up where there are more government stand-alone primary schools.
The condition of government schools continues to be poor affecting student learning outcomes. The majority require major or minor repairs and/or expansion. Schools lack boundary walls, and there are insufficient classrooms. Toilets are in a poor condition and the only facility available in almost all schools is drinking water. However, more schools have electricity and playgrounds compared to those that do not. Also, where there is adequate classroom space charts are displayed on walls and most classrooms now have blackboards.
There is a disconnect between student outcomes and improvement in teacher number and qualifications. The three surveys vary with regard to number of teachers available, but under-qualification of teachers is not a major finding at any level. The Class IV survey reveals that teachers recruited in the last 5 years or so have higher qualifications – BA/BEd and even MA/MSc – compared to their older colleagues. About one third teachers have up to 10 years, while the majority has between 10 to 20 years of teaching experience.
A substantial increase in the number of teachers at this level shows an average of four teachers in a primary school and in the elementary sections of elementary schools; however averages hide the fact that there may be one school with two teachers and another with seven. Younger teachers appointed within the last 10 years have higher qualifications and teach the upper primary classes while the oldest teachers teach Katchi class in many of the schools. Often no specific teacher is allocated for the Katchi class.
Also a smaller number of teachers who know their subject and are committed to their job are seen to be more effective than there being poorly qualified disinterested teachers for every class in a school. The survey of Class VIII students revealed that teachers are not necessarily teaching the subject in which they are qualified. Teaching is not always subject-based and one teacher can be teaching a number of subjects to the same class, and/or teaching the same subject to all three classes.
Thus teaching competency is an issue at all levels, indicated by students’ low scores.
Student performance at all levels is seen to be low, especially with regard to higher skills and conceptual understanding. A critical finding is that student scores decline progressively in Math and Urdu from Katchi to Class II. Another important finding is the low Urdu scores for all grades. Students have performed well in multiple choice questions and those that require memorisation in the languages. Their scores are satisfactory in comprehension questions and poor when it comes to using vocabulary and writing skills.
In Social Studies students are good at remembering facts and weak in analysing information.
In Math students are weak in algebra, geometry and their understanding of mathematical concepts is poor, while in Science they find the understanding and application of concepts difficult.
The study conducted to examine the changes occurring between 2005 and 2007 identified gaps in policies, strategies and implementation more clearly. It noted the extremely slow pace and inconsistencies in school improvement, absence of a coherent teacher policy, absence of strategies for addressing the additional needs of poor children accessing government schools, the staggered nature of project inputs and need for research for measuring the efficiency of the education system.
In addition to quantitative surveys, qualitative research showcased what was possible under the existing policy and strategic framework and the whole school development program that had been implemented as part of the project. The successes related to improved student and teacher attendance, additions to school infrastructure, better teacher performance, children enjoying learning, improved parent-teacher-child relationship and increased community response. Journals kept by teachers showed a positive change in the perceptions teachers have of education, how to teach, needs of children, and their own role as well as that of the community.
While the research has led to recognition of education interventions in District Faisalabad and capacity building of the Department of Education, challenges remain in the form of making the department proactive and using research findings to improve the quality of education in the schools.
The outcomes indicate among other factors the impact of national and provincial policies on the educational health of the district. The absence of a coherent teacher policy and growth of private schools cannot be ignored. Linking learning achievement surveys to continuous professional development, on-going provision of teaching learning materials, providing basic needs of schools and schoolchildren, supportive policies for the poorest children and need for a coherent and coordinated District Education Plan remain to be addressed.
Dr Fareeha Zafar is Director, Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE), Lahore
Courtesy: Daily times, 30/4/2008