Imperative for economic development
By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
Nov 18 - 24, 2002
The Governor of the Punjab, in an inter-provincial meeting on education held at Lahore on 2nd. July 2002, reportedly said that the government wanted to improve opportunities for higher education in the country in such a way that could restore the respect of degrees by Pakistani universities abroad. In order to transform Pakistan into a modern, prosperous and enlightened country it was required to bring the standard of education of its universities on a par with the Cambridge and Oxford universities. The governor also urged the need for encouraging scientists benefiting the country and the nation through research and invention in the modern science subjects, and for devising a formal mechanism for the provision of better facilities to them. In order to improve quality of education at higher levels it is but imperative to first improve quality of education at schools level.
Better quality of education will get more respect abroad to Pakistani degrees. This may result in better opportunities for higher education or employment abroad. However, we should not forget the immense good that the quality education can do to improve our economic performance within the country. Presently poor governance in most areas is reflective of the education of people at the helm of affairs. Waste of financial resources is high and economic development is lagging. People with high quality education and relevant experience can achieve better results in administration, business, trade, agriculture and services. People selected on merit, with sincerity of purpose, can accomplish a lot more even with limited financial resources. The objectives of quality education cannot be achieved if merit is ignored at any stage during academic life or afterwards. This paper attempts to outline essential areas for reforms of education at the schools level.
IDENTIFYING AREAS FOR REFORMS
The existing system of education cannot be replaced easily with a better education system, as the vested interest will not let it happen. The switch has to be smooth and in a planned way. Efforts in the following areas may help realize the goals:
SELECTION OF SCHOOLS (STUDENT GROUPS): The government and the religious schools deserve reforms in the first instance. The government or municipal schools for the common people are inadequate as compared to the needs, are poorly staffed or equipped, syllabus is outdated and the books are of poor quality. Dropout rate is high. Except a few, these schools poorly cater needs of the most of the people. The religious schools known as Madaaris are often set up along with the mosques. The students are given religious education though some schools offer modern subjects as well. Such schools are mostly financed through donations. The education imparted in these schools varies but is not of top quality.
MOTIVATION, TRAINING AND TRANSFER OF TEACHERS:Teachers are the backbone of the education system of any country. Motivated teachers are positively inclined to put in extra efforts for the betterment of the students. Service conditions particularly promotion and transfers are close to their hearts. Promotion and transfer policies must be made transparent and fair. Service conditions and salary package need to be improved substantially to attract top graduates to teaching profession. Quality of instruction in the Teachers Training Institutes also needs to be up-graded. Each school must have sufficient number of specialist teachers. New graduates may be selected on merit and trained as teachers in large numbers. This will also help reduce unemployment in the educated youth. The charm of making some extra money by giving private tuitions in some cases may make the teachers less efficient while performing regular duties in the schools. The teachers may be paid well in regular jobs so that they are not tempted to look for private tuitions.
CLASS SIZE: Number of students in each class is important for improving the standard of education. Classroom should not be over-crowded and the student strength may be such that the teacher can give attention to individual students. Normally 20 to 25 students in a class are considered ideal for good and effective teaching. The government may arrange adequate number of good teachers as well as more classrooms.
SCHOOL BUILDINGS, LABORATORIES AND LIBRARIES: Schools are the basic unit for imparting education. School buildings are specially designed. Classrooms may be airy and well lighted. Number of classrooms should be enough for all students. Laboratory, library, staff rooms should be in addition. The buildings should suit the teaching needs as well as the extra-curricular activities. School designs may be standardized and replicated for construction in different locations. Science, technical and computer laboratories may be properly equipped. Computers and other hardware, materials required for experiments or technical training and the needed software may be provided in sufficient quantity. Libraries may be stocked with books, newspapers, and periodicals that supplement the modern syllabus.
SYLLABUS AND TEXT BOOKS:Good and modern syllabus is the pre-requisite for moving towards quality education. Certain school systems in Pakistan follow more or less international syllabus but then they charge high fees that only a few lucky ones can afford. For overall improvement in the quality of education modern syllabus need to be adapted and introduced in all the schools. Textbooks for the purpose may have to be printed in Pakistan through the National Book Foundation, under arrangements with the foreign publishers. Text Book Boards may be re-organised and strengthened. Experienced Pakistani educationists may also be hired to develop new textbooks. Modern education system must also cater to the religious and spiritual uplift of the students. Trained teachers may be arranged for the purpose. The schools may be organized to satisfy all needs of modern and religious teachings and there may be no further need of any private tuition after school hours.
MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION AND LANGUAGES:Good schools in Pakistan use English as medium of instruction for a large number of subjects. English is also introduced in the elementary level. As against this, most of the government and some of the private schools use Urdu as medium of instruction though English as a language is introduced from 5th / 6th standard. Sindhi, Pashto and possibly some other regional languages are also used as medium of instruction. Mother tongue is a preferred medium of instruction especially in the initial years. English as a language has importance in our region and may continue so in the years to come. A common ground shall have to be reached through consultation process as to the medium of instruction in the schools. For better integration among people from different regions, language of one province may be taught as an optional language in other provinces. Modern languages are also important and might be included as optional subjects.
SCHOOL TIMINGS SHIFT/DAY AND VACATIONS: Pakistan presently faces shortages of proper school buildings. This shortage may continue even during the initial years of implementation of Quality Education Initiative. In many schools double shifts have been introduced. Some schools have girl classes in the morning shift and boy classes in the afternoon shift. Existing arrangements might be reviewed and improved. Long summer vacations, winter vacations, religious and local holidays, holidays preparatory to the examinations and the weekly holiday put together reduce the teaching days in a year to about 150 day. Teaching days in a year need to be increased as part of the effort for improvement in overall quality of education.
FEE STRUCTURE AND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS: Fees collected by private modern schools are exorbitant and beyond capacity of common people. Against this, fees charged in the government and municipal schools are too low to be sustainable. There is need for rationalization of the fee structure. According to one expert, the fees in government schools must fully cover the salary of the school staff and the current expenses for running the school and the laboratories. The number of merit scholarships need to be enhanced so that larger number of needy and meritorious students might be able to continue studies.
EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND GAMES: These activities and games are essential to develop and improve competitive and team spirit in the students. In the character building, these activities play major role and must be given due attention in all schools. Healthy exercises and competition prepare the students for future responsibilities and therefore must be encouraged. Merit may be the dominant criteria for admission, promotion to next grade, award of scholarship or fee concession, selection for debating society or selection to play for the school teams in different event.
EXAMINATION SYSTEM AND RESULTS: Properly organised and conducted examinations are crucial for raising quality of education. Existing examination system largely checks the memory of the students. This shall have to be changed to objectively judge the understanding of the subjects by the students. These days' examinations take too long and results are announced after many weeks or months. Until then, the students while away their time often in useless pursuits. The examination and results' time can be easily reduced to half. The days so saved must be put to better use for the long-term betterment of the students.
ACTION PLAN FOR EXECUTING THE REFORMS
Raising of the education quality in the country requires planning, organizing, financing, monitoring and innovating at different levels of the hierarchy. Good things in the existing education systems may be retained and added to the better things under the new education system. The following areas need careful attention:
ORGANISATION STRUCTURE AND COORDINATION: Career teachers should fill in most of the positions in the Education Ministry and the Education Departments. They understand the importance of reforms in areas identified above. These officers to be imparted training in the supervision of school academic as well as administrative activities such as construction of classrooms, purchase of laboratory equipment and computers, development of libraries, appointment of consultants for the preparation of text books, conduct of examinations, etc. The heads of schools may also be trained in such areas before his / her elevation to this post. All regions and sectors should participate in the finalization of the Initiative for Good Quality Education in Pakistan. Human and financial resource needs will be very high. The plan might be implemented in true brotherly spirit to ultimately benefit the country as a whole. Underdeveloped regions must be allocated larger resources. Local experts know better the local conditions, problems and challenges. Maximum input in different aspects of the reforms should come from them. The Parent-Teachers associations can help plan and execute the reforms in a smooth way. They may be associated in different reform activities. Reforms succeed in cordial atmosphere and with mutual respect. A fair and judicious mechanism for dispute resolution between different stakeholders may be put in place.
FINANCING THE EDUCATION REFORMS: The federal and the provincial governments have to make larger financial allocation for reforming education system. It must be remembered that lower allocation for education will adversely affect the quality of economic development and thus the country might lose many times more than the savings realized by lower allocation. The government is currently swapping foreign loans with social sector grants. Major portion of such funds might be earmarked for financing quality education. International agencies and friendly countries generally offer help in different segments of modern education. We should make best use of their generosity and demonstrate proper use of cash and material help received from them. The managements and owners of existing good schools may be asked to come forward to assist in this Initiative by offering to establish more good schools but with affordable fee structure.