RETENTION of children in schools remains a mammoth challenge, despite various actions taken in recent years. Teachers’ salaries were increased substantially as an incentive. They were trained. Their attendance was monitored to put a stop to teacher absenteeism, and missing facilities, like drinking water, latrines, electricity and boundary walls of the schools, were provided. According to the Report on Annual School Census 2017-18, more than 99 percent of the 52,394 schools in the province of Punjab have functional toilets and drinking water facilities, while more than 98pc schools have boundary walls, and more than 96pc have electricity. In the period between 2013 to 2017, 24.7pc new teachers were recruited. In some instances, incentives were also given to children and parents to draw them to schools. But these strategies do not seem to be working. Not only are the schools unable to attract 22.84 million out-of-school children, but they are also unable to retain even those children who are enrolled in school.
Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17 paints a bleak picture. According to the report, in the year 2007-08, 3,360,331 children were enrolled in class one in the public sector schools. In 2016-17, a shocking 70pc had already dropped out, leaving behind 997,112 children. Only the data from the year 2017-18 can reveal how many of these remaining students reached the next level, and how many dropped out during the academic year. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa witnessed the highest dropout rate, despite massive spending on education. The Annual Statistical Report 2017-18 showed that the dropout rate was 44 and 40pc at primary and secondary levels respectively. Low enrollment also caused the closure of 150 schools in the district of Haripur.
The above findings indicate that the diagnosis and the strategies adopted did not address the core of the problem.
Undoubtedly, our children deserve child-friendly buildings and other facilities that create a conducive learning environment. But more than anything else, they need an education that fulfils their learning and educational needs. Unfortunately, our school curriculum does not do that. Our school curriculum is irrelevant, fragmented and disconnected. It does not require a keen eye to establish that.
Our school curriculum is irrelevant and fragmented.
On the issue of relevance, let us explore the answers to the following questions. What is there in the curriculum that prepares and equips students for the job market or for self-employment? Does it offer something that trains them to become useful, thinking and productive citizens? Does it impart even that knowledge and those skills which our unlettered earlier generations knew with regard to food, health, environment and nature? Does it cultivate the habit of living in harmony with fellow human beings, other life and non-life on the planet? The answer is an emphatic no. Lack of relevance of what is taught in the schools makes children bored and disinterested.
Another critical issue is how the system approaches teaching in schools. Let us take a couple of examples from the textbooks. The topic of plants in the subject of science is taken up in a very peculiar way. In class five, children are asked to memorise a superficially treated text on soil and seeds. In grade six, they are asked to parrot the process of photosynthesis. Then they have to wait for another year to cram the subjects of transportation and reproduction. Every new year, they forget what they had memorised for writing in the previous year’s examination paper.
Science is a world of doing and undoing, verifying and falsifying. But while teaching plant biology, no measures are taken to put scientific concepts to practice and to build linkages. The science of growing plants is kept outside the curriculum. Resultantly, students have absolutely no conceptual understanding of plant biology that comes from seeing it in action. Sadly, because of how they have been taught in school, children know nothing about the process whereby plants grow.
Let us now talk about mathematics. Instead of taking up learners’ real-life problems, children are made to memorise formulas. A majority of teachers themselves do not know the logic behind those formulas and how to relate them to practical life. Our education system focuses on getting grades through rote memorised formulas without understanding how to apply them to solve real-life problems. On entering real life, they are compelled to learn new competencies and skills.
We need a paradigm shift in the approach and method of education in schools. Unless we make the content of education and teaching methodologies relevant to practical life and the educational needs of the children, solving the problem of dropping out will remain a distant dream.
The writer is an educationist and environmentalist.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2019