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KARACHI, Sept 29: “Critical thinking for teachers is good. At a time when space for schools is being taken over by madrassahs and extremism is posing a threat on mindsets, it’s the teachers who will become the advocates for moving towards a tolerant Pakistan,” said MNA Dr Nafisa Shah.

She was speaking as the chief guest at the graduation ceremony of the Teachers’ Resource Centre – Institute of Early Childhood Education (TRC-IECE) on Saturday evening.

“Natural disasters, too, are a contributing factor to the failure of education in Pakistan. When the 2005 earthquake hit, most of the 75,000 lives lost were of teachers and children who were at school at that time which were levelled to the ground. Then later when the floods came, more schools were destroyed. And now we have another earthquake in Balochistan,” the MNA pointed out.

“Failure of education in Pakistan is failure of the state. Karachi is still alright but venture outside and there are stories of schools without teachers, schools without toilets, etc., factors which eventually lead to falling enrolments,” she said, adding that even though the provincial budget had increased in the past few years, little had been achieved in terms of strengthening the school system.

Talking about public-private partnerships, MNA Shah said that it was something worth thinking about. “There is the example of the Sindh Education Foundation doing such fine work and 90 per cent of the work is funded by the government,” she said.

Speaking about the TRC, she said that it was a pioneering institution so maybe it could extend to Sindh’s rural areas by partnering up with the government. “With an overall weak system of education it is no surprise that Early Childhood Education [ECE] remains a marginalised sector of education,” she said, going on reiterate that the ECE was the basis for a child’s emotional, social and cognitive development and high enrolments in ‘kutha’ and public schools was indicative of its high demand in this sector. However, the ECE continued to suffer due to lack of skilled teachers, she added.

Talking to the audience about TRC’s history, its director Ms Seema Malik said that according to its programme, the ECE-CP was a 10-month-long course. She talked about the long and painstaking process of designing the course that was developed in collaboration with TRC’s institutional partners, Sheridan College Institute of Technology, Advanced Learning, and the Ryerson University in Canada. “The programme was the first of its kind being offered in Pakistan. TRC was the only NGO that had worked closely with the government to introduce the National Early Childhood Education Curriculum,” she pointed out.

Ms Malik also talked about an educational kit, the Pehla Taleemi Basta (PTB) which had been created at the TRC after painstaking research and was being used successfully in many classrooms. She said that while the TRC had the capacity to produce a Sindhi version of the PTB, it lacked the required financial resources to produce it.

Programme Director of the TRC- IECE, Ms Mahnaz Mahmud, stressed that even though the ECE-CP was developed in collaboration with foreign institutions, it was culturally relevant and that the course was designed to challenge the students during the 10 months.

Two of the 18 graduating students, Maha Lakha and Nazia Kashif, spoke about how the TRC-IECE experience had changed them. They said that the programme had changed their lives and their understanding of young children and their development. They also presented a set of photographs from their months studying for the course.

TRC is a non-profit, non-government organisation that was established in 1986 by a group of educationists in response to the declining standards of education in both government and private sector schools.

The TRC has been spearheading the promotion of Early Childhood Education in Pakistan since its inception and one of its biggest achievements was the development of the National ECE Curriculum in 2002. The curriculum was the result of a public-private partnership between the Ministry of Education (curriculum wing) and the Teachers’ Resource Centre, under the umbrella of the Education Sector Reforms Action Plan 2001-2005. The curriculum focuses on the holistic development of children in the 3-5 year age group, with special emphasis on active learning and is culturally relevant.