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Islamabad’s high enrolment rate a smokescreen for deplorable quality

January 09, 2015


The top districts in terms of enrolment and quality of education. – graphic courtesy Aser
The top districts in terms of enrolment and quality of education. – graphic courtesy Aser

ISLAMABAD: Despite having the highest rate of enrolment in the country, the quality of education imparted in the schools of the federal capital is among the lowest in the country. More than half of the students in Islamabad’s schools cannot read a complete sentence in English, while nearly one-third have trouble with simple arithmetic and about half cannot read or comprehend stories in their own mother tongues.

These alarming revelations are part of the Annual Status of Education Report (Aser), which was formally launched in Islamabad on Thursday in the presence of Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal and State Minister for Education and Professional Training Balighur Rehman.

These findings are based on survey of 480 households in 24 blocks in Islamabad (Urban). The capital’s quality of education numbers, which are dismal even in comparison to neighbouring Rawalpindi, are even worse than less-developed districts such as Swat, Quetta, Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur.

“It is an alarming situation for us,” said Tariq Khattak, who has been teaching in government-run schools for nearly 31 years. He put this dismal performance down to two major factors.

Aser report reveals capital’s children can’t even read English sentences, do basic Arithmetic

“Nearly all governments appoint teachers against merit... there are no checks and balances... and ultimately teachers lose interest in their classwork,” he said.

“The situation at private schools is not up to the mark either. [Government] schools face a dearth of facilities as the government does not provide us anything. But despite this, I can say with conviction that our students are better taught than those who are studying in schools run by the Federal Directorate of Education,” said Dr Afzal Babur, a private school teacher, who is also president of the Private School Network.

The Aser report also highlights how poor the standard of education is in nearly all districts of the country. Despite a recent renewal of focus on enrolment drives as part of government rhetoric around Article 25-A (The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law), 21 per cent of such children are still out of school, while the remaining 79 per cent are not learning much either.

Speaking at the launch, State Minister Balighur Rehman said: “I agree that current education standards are not very much encouraging… but we are trying to improve the education system.” He said that stakeholders recognising the problems within the system was a positive sign. The report said that student competence in learning English, Arithmetic and languages were deplorable. “Half of all students surveyed (54 per cent) from Class V, cannot read Class II-level texts in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto. In English, only 42 per cent of the surveyed students could read sentences, which should ideally be read by students from the second grade. A similar trend has been observed in their English language and Arithmetic skills, and only 42 per cent of Class V students were able to read sentences while a mere 40 per cent could do a two-digit division sum, respectively.”

The report, which was prepared by the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi in collaboration with the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and other donors, claimed that its findings were based on information on 279,427 children between the ages of 6 and 16 years.

Deteriorating standards

The report goes on to state that learning levels have deteriorated across the country as well. Around 54 per cent of the Class V children surveyed could not read a Class II-level story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto, compared to 50 per cent in 2013. Similarly, 30 per cent of Class I children could not read letters in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto, as compared to 31 per cent in 2013. A similar percentage of Class I students could not recognise numbers from 1 to 9.

“In shaping education for the future, efforts to expand enrolment at all levels must be accompanied by policies emphasising on improvements in learning, inclusive approaches and overcoming inequality. Pakistan does not have a choice: if we are to provide our children with meaningful education, we need to overhaul our system,” Aser Programme Manager Sehar Saeed told Dawn.

Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal recounted the government’s pledge to improve the education system, saying, “We have taken various initiatives to reform the education system. In Punjab, we have appointed 26,000 science teachers purely on merit and we are looking to improve the examination system across the country,” he said.

Mosharraf Zaidi, who leads the education campaign Alif Ailaan, told Dawn that Aser data is the only tool that gives policymakers a complete picture of the quality of education over time. “It allows us to make judgments about the direction of the quality of education in Pakistan and we can see that quality is not getting better. In fact, it is getting worse in some areas,” he said.

“People’s confidence in private schools, even low-cost ones, is well-founded because they appear to deliver a better standard of education - across the board - than most government schools,” Mr Zaidi concluded.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2015

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