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The question of Quality Education

It’s not just the number of out-of-school children that is worrisome, but also the quality of education they are provided

The question of quality

One day, when in a meeting he was required to answer some questions put by the district officer, his vocal chords gave up. “I couldn’t produce a single sound from my throat. Teaching from 6am to 6pm, all alone, was not easy.”

Decades later, nothing much has changed. Today, there are 55 children studying in his school in Charnor, with only one teacher, his son who took over his father’s job after he retired. “My son is not paid; he is a volunteer. We hope that the Sindh government will actually hire more teachers as is being promised,” says Mal.

A government school officially, it’s made up of three small huts, with neither toilets nor electricity. Foreign philanthropists helped fund a solar water pump, so the school has water, a luxury in Tharparkar. The curriculum is provided by the government. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are taught on one day, and grades 4 and 5 are taught the next, all clumped together in small rooms in the unrelenting Thar Desert heat. With one teacher teaching 55 students of five grades all subjects, and a lack of resources, the quality of education is low down on the list of priorities.

Read also: When the going gets tough

While the Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16 proudly states that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in grades 1-12 has reduced by 3 per cent a year from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16, 22 million plus are still OOSC in Pakistan.

What’s worrisome is not just the numbers, but also the quality of education the children going to schools are provided.

“Teachers are not motivated enough to excel in such an environment and perform their duties in a perfunctory manner which is a setback to the learning process of the children,” says Varisha Khalid Nabi, Member, Board of trustees, The Justuju School, Karachi. Schools like Justuju are numbered, but are rays of hope, fighting against the odds.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says.

The Justuju School started five years ago in the underprivileged Azam Basti in an attempt to bridge the gap between government and private school education. It began with 30 students; today it is 270 students-strong. The school runs on donations, yet is known for the standard of education and teaching, and the drop-out rate is close to zero. The parents of these children might be poor and uneducated, but have recognised the importance of quality education, which is why they vie for admission here. The key is the emphasis on the teachers’ training. Their academic department is pro-active in equipping teachers with the required skills sets, and has formed alliances with organisations that facilitate trainings and evaluations.

“We started the school to provide education parallel to any good private school. Quality education shouldn’t just be the privilege of the rich but a right of every citizen,” says Varisha.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says, adding that the infrastructure is just one of the factors to quality education. In his view, Pakistan’s dilemma is that “the smart child is being taught by the inept teacher. The teacher is no longer the fount of knowledge. The student has access to sources of knowledge that the teacher doesn’t,” he says, and continues that it is unfortunate that many senior teachers refuse to keep up with the times, ignoring the use of tools like the internet.

At senior levels, if schools don’t provide education that keeps up with the times, students may drop-out, and join specialised institutes instead.

Teaching methodologies are important if the bar of the quality of education is to be raised in Pakistan. “A student-oriented approach is used in privileged schools which is non-existent in public schools,” says Asma Munir Salman, teacher and founder of APNA Shelter Home and Learning Centre in Islamabad.

Her experience has been both as a teacher in upper tier schools and also as the person behind APNA, a school providing quality education to underprivileged children. She cites teaching techniques like collaborative learning, group discussions, and use of analytical and reflective approaches. “But in public schools, they’re still using the ‘chalk and talk’ method even in this technological world,” she says. “They feel intimidated by their students if asked questions. They make them cram information without making them understand. I have come across teachers who solve math problems on the board themselves and make their students copy them down and learn them.”

Husain feels that upper tier schools don’t even have the alibi of a lack of resources. They charge exorbitant amounts as fee, yet still lag behind technologically. He says that teachers today are focusing on “professionalism, which is the status of the profession in society, but not on professionality, which is having the required knowledge and skill sets.”

When asked about the makings of a good classroom, he says that the answer lies in three things: “respecting the child’s individual voice, providing a safe space for the child to grow, and accepting all kinds of diversity in the class”.

The onus to not just give quality education but also to keep the children in school, then, largely lies on the teachers, and on their training and growth. “Teaching is a prophetic profession. People should be tested and chosen to become teachers only if they can be as sincere to the students as they are to their own children,” says Mal.

As Husain sums it up, education in its best sense should allow children to have role models in every domain of excellence.

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I Study, Therefore I Am

Last summer, multi-tasking breathlessly between free-lance writing, part-time teaching and being on my daughter’s case, I met a friend who, when I asked her the ritual “what’s up”, told me smugly that she was preparing for her Masters exams from Karachi University. My interest peaked instantly, as I badgered her with her questions: Why, how, what, when, and where. She is the same age as me, same profile, married, teenage kids, happily into the home-maker zone, with a stint or two on the side to ward away boredom for the thrill of it.

“Studying? Now?” I confess, was my response too. Books? Notes? Being thick-skinned and wanting to give exams that require coffee to keep you awake at night and have ink-stained fingers during the day? Between playing mommie, wifey, taking care of elderly parents, the socializing, the cooking, the groceries, the rounds to the tailor, maintaining a home … the best I can do is catch a show on TV, read or write for mental stimulus, and use Facebook to catch up with friends. Studying seemed a far cry. But something on her face told me she was enjoying every minute, even though she complained of exhaustion. She had the glow of forbidden excitement all over her face – an excitement that we often write off way too early in our lives. The feverish thrill of challenging yourself, of having a new dream and the anticipation of accomplishing something you as well as others think you can’t do!

On way home, I kept thinking about it. My inner soliloquies were never-ending. Somewhere after my graduation as a position-holding student with Business Studies and Economics as majors, I had figured out that Business Studies had never been my calling. I was “prone” to literature; it made me happy, while writing provided me with Catharsis and purging of emotions. But back then, we did not have career-counselors, a choice to mix up subjects of Sciences and Social Sciences, and movies like “3 Idiots” telling us that the world is your oyster.

But today, I had a choice to make a more informed decision. And so Masters in English Literature was my new goal in life. Little did I know that this would be a great learning experience, teaching me more than what the Greats have written. My husband was all for it, saying he believes that the role of a parent, a spouse or a friend is to let each other grow, and support them to fulfill their dreams.

The general reaction I got was “Why?”, and “What are you going to do after that?” But then those friends who believed in following dreams encouraged me in ways that I had never imagined – dropping by cooked food, picking up my daughter, leaving a pack of groceries and offering to lend me their driver so I wouldn’t have to drive to the University. In many of my girlfriends, I saw a feeling of living their dream through me.

Standing in queues for the admission process wasn’t easy. I had forgotten how to rough it out in a government institution. No concessions were made for me by the multitudes of students, even though I was older than most of them by a decade. The ride in the rickshaw the day of my first exam when my car broke down wasn’t a joyride. Neither were the long walks to the centre when I missed the university shuttle. The lecherous innuendos of a particular bored male invigilator were disturbing, specially the fact that whenever any student asked him for a B copy, he would say, “fikar mut karo gurya, mein hoon na!” Yet most of the invigilators were cooperative and respectful.

The Masters syllabus was tougher than I had anticipated, and acquiring the prescribed books was not easy. One particular day, after endless trips to Urdu bazaar and still not finding the books I needed, I landed up at Karachi University’s English Faculty’s Photostat shop. Standing in lines in the sweltering May heat, I sent an sms to my daughter saying I think I want to give up, to which she replied, “Come on mom, it’s all worth it in the end.”

From the day I filled out the form, a plethora of happenings has impacted the way I think. I have seen the brightest students coming from the humblest backgrounds. I have sensed how invigorating being competitive is, something that a comfortable and complacent life takes away. I have felt charged by the viable energy that seems to flood an educational institute. I have pushed myself to the limit of physical and mental endurance by studying till late night and waking up at five in the morning and writing till my fingers ached, in a bout of flu. Above all, I am a richer person in terms of knowledge, as a profound study of literature teaches you much about yourself and humanity in general. I fell in love everyday with a new writer. One day it was Keats with his Odes, the other day it was Marlowe dancing his way into my heart with “Dr Faustus”, and yet another day Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” would make me understand life much better.

It is fascinating to learn that a growing trend world-over is people going back to school at any stage. Mental idleness leads to aimlessness and eventually despondency. To be a contented and creatively-active person, one has to keep doing something that keeps your zest for life alive and inspires you. For me it was a study program. For another, it might be learning a new language, baking or venturing into something entrepreneurial. Who knows whether I clear all the papers this year or not, but I hope to persevere till I do. After that? Well, maybe learning product photography professionally. Whatever makes me feel alive.

farah80

Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

http://www.dawn.com/news/813345/i-study-therefore-i-am

Educate the Girl Child & You Educate Generations

The school’s building is solid. Spacious. The rooms are sun-lit and airy. I am loving the trees in the lawn where the school band is practicing. As the side-drums roll and the bass drum thunders and the flutes lilt away to the tune of “Pak sarzameen shaad baad”, the trees sway in the breeze – date palm trees and Lignum amongst others.

As you enter, you hear a soothing twittering of chirpy voices typical of any girls’ school. The girls are all ages. Neat and tidy in grey and white uniforms. Tightly oiled plaits and braids. Sounds of “Good morning miss” resound in the corridors. Everybody seems busy. It’s a good school and the kids seems happy and busy.

So neat, well-planned and spacious is the school that it is hard to believe that it is run mostly on charity. The girls, with heads held high, are daughters of under-privileged parents mostly. Chowkidaars, thailay waalaas (vendors), maalish walaas, maasis (maids), dhobis, labourers……and many girls are orphans. I met one who had lost her father in Karachi riots last year. The whole family makes rubber chappals at home and the brother sells them in the Makki Masjid area. Yet once in school, the girls forget their problems, and sit alongside other better off students. Some of those from very poor backgrounds are doing very well in school, which is heartening.

Taaleemgah Dukhtaraan e Awaam Trust Girls’ School, DHA, is sandwiched between the affluent Phase 1 of Defence and Azam Basti/ Sau foot road. The building and land was the kind donation of one of the Sheikhs of UAE. It has more than a thousand students and very sincere, dedicated and trust-worthy staff members.

Most of these girls see their coming to this school as their one chance of better tomorrows – a chance at education, at economic empowerment, at awareness and a better life. A girl’s education can be sponsored with as less as Rs 6000 an year. Lesser or greater funds can be donated into funds for uniforms, books and in some cases even the food for these children.

Educating the girl child is the answer to many of Pakistan’s key problems. If each one of us who can afford to take up at least the task of educating even 1 girl child, how much change could we bring? Good, positive change! But it’s not enough to drop off an envelope of money. See the child you are sponsoring. Give her incentives when she studies well. Follow up on her attendance, even through one phone call every few weeks. The school drop out rate is very high for girls from under-privileged backgrounds. Parents often pull them out of school so that they can help with house chores, or be employed as child labour. Monitoring their progress ensures that they stay in school.

Let’s make a difference. Because these little girls need our help. And Pakistan needs them to be educated.

Contact Dukhtaran e Awaam school at 02135384886

Column at Pak Tea House – Educational Disparity in Pakistan…what does it point to?

http://pakteahouse.net/2011/09/20/the-gentler-perspective-2/