Education emergency

By Hadia Shaukat
Published in DAWN on June 19, 2022

SAADIA has been teaching science to Grade 8 students at a government school in Lahore’s outskirts for 15 years. Every day, she enters the classroom, starts lecturing and the students take notes. No questions are asked, no misconceptions addressed. When her lecture ends, she writes a few questions on the board, expecting students to answer them in their notebooks. The bell rings, the copies are collected, and she leaves.

In a discussion with her colleagues, she talks about her struggles as a teacher: work overload, large classes, insufficient resources and poor training. In the last few years, she has attended only one training session, which she found to be too generic in content to have any relevance to her subject or the classroom context. She wants to improve her teaching, but how?

Saadia is just one of the 800,000 teachers employed in government schools across Pakistan who struggle to deliver student-centred lessons. A major reason for this is the lack of good quality teacher training. According to a survey by Alif Ailaan some years ago, 43 per cent of public-sector teachers had not received a single training session for several years. Given frequent school closures due to Covid-19, and increasing learning losses at the school level, teacher training must receive immediate attention by the provincial education departments. Moreover, the content-heavy Single National Curriculum poses the risk of further deterioration to student learning outcomes unless measures for the professional development of teachers are taken.

Training programmes for teachers can lack relevance.

The link between student learning, teacher quality and training have been widely reported by researchers who study education. Yet, a quick review of developments in teachers’ education in Pakistan suggests that, despite some increase in the number of teacher training institutions in the country, there has been little improvement in learning outcomes. Moreover, the Annual Status of Education Report initiative has linked poor learning outcomes in public-sector education to poor teaching practices.

One of the main reasons is the adoption of traditional approaches in teacher education programmes that fail to cater to teachers’ needs according to varied school contexts, diverse student bodies and the availability of resources. They lack relevance to the teachers’ local context and are generic in nature. The study material of these programmes focuses on theoretical, rather than practical, knowledge, and fails to impart the importance of collaborative learning.

Given these issues with current teacher training programmes, funding constraints faced by education departments and reliance on donor-funded projects, there is a need for more innovative and cost-effective solutions. Technology can be a game changer in this regard. Online resources for training teachers appear to be promising avenues but the issue of access to technology needs to be dealt with so that more teachers can take advantage of web-based platforms. Provincial governments are already investing money in tablets and computers for schools in the public sector, thus opening up the opportunity for directly accessing high-quality material for teachers through the internet.

Because of long months of Covid-19, some organisations in the development sector have already created online portals for teacher training and are providing access to high-quality learning materials for both students and teachers at a minimum monthly cost. Education departments can collaborate with these organisations in their bid to increase teachers’ access to technology for training purposes, and developing online professional development programmes.

Organisations in both the government and private sector can collaborate to create online content for teachers, which can be accessed from anywhere. The focus thus needs to shift from training teachers at specialised institutions to bringing professional development closer to schools and classrooms. Consequently, policymakers need to urgently tap into education technology tools to train teachers so that learning losses resulting from the pandemic are not exacerbated further.

There are no quick fixes to improving teacher quality and training in Pakistan. What is required is collaboration at the government, provincial, institutional and individual level to develop systems that ensure that teachers are provided the right support in terms of training and resources. Use of technology and further research in understanding the sociocultural factors that affect teachers can be fruitful and can inform future training initiatives, including online training. With the changing nature of learning and assessments on account of Covid and the SNC, there seems to be a heavy demand on teachers to adapt to new curricula and modes of learning. So, will we support our teachers or leave them to struggle alone like before?

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