A PROFESSIONAL licence, whether for driving, medicine, engineering or law, creates conditions which compel a person to adhere to certain standards before being allowed to practise the profession. Medicine perhaps has the oldest history of issuing licences. With the establishment of the Royal College of Physicians in England in the 16th century, it became mandatory for doctors to have a licence for practising. Driving licences emerged in the early 20th century. The prime concerns of both licences were to establish standards of professional practice and to ensure that professionals possessed the required knowledge and skills and that citizens availing their services were protected against harm.

The teaching licence was introduced in the late 19th century with the rise of mass education and recognition of teaching as a profession. The establishment of the Teachers College (Columbia University) in 1888 played a pivotal role in developing teaching as a profession. Today, most developed countries put strong conditions for teaching, either in the form of a licence or certification. The argument is simple: since teachers have the most direct effect on students’ learning and their future success, they should meet the standards of knowledge and practice that can help them nurture the children’s talent.

Our secondary analysis shows that countries which require teacher licensure and have put in place stricter conditions for teachers’ preparation, recruitment and retention are ranked on top in global assessment scores such as the Programme for International Student Assessment. Singapore and Finland consistently top PISA and also have strict conditions for teacher selection.

The challenges in Pakistan’s education system are many but having quality teachers should be policymakers’ highest priority. The teaching licence is a catalyst to shake the system and bring in quality teachers. Leading the way, Sindh approved the teaching licence policy on May 25, 2023. Future teachers in Sindh will need teaching licences and be offered higher pay scales.

How can teaching licences benefit Pakistan?

How can teaching licences change the system? The three major pillars for an effective teacher management system are preparation, recruitment and retention. The teaching licence policy requires prospective teachers to appear for the test. Since teacher education institutions need to ensure that their graduates secure licences, they would improve their teacher preparation programmes.

The higher pay scales by the Sindh government will help in attracting bright candidates. Rising merit will enhance the recruitment process with higher-quality new recruits. Prof Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford and Prof Lo Ee Ling of NIE Singapore, explained in a seminar held at the AKU-IED that in the US and Singapore, licences ensure that only high-quality teachers enter the system.

The teaching licence policy will require teachers to engage in continuous professional development, and produce CPD certificates for licence renewal. The CPD requirement will create incentives for teachers to continuously upgrade. This way the teaching licence can improve Sindh’s educational ecosystem.

However, for this policy to work, a thorough implementation framework is needed, which is in the making. It will also require support from multiple stakeholders — teachers’ unions, teacher education institutions, researchers, the private sector and civil society.

Imagine, if we are able to achieve the main objective of this policy, ie, having quality teachers. How remarkably it can af­­fect students, teachers, the education system and society at large. Students taught by qua­lity teachers will have a brighter future. Tea­ch­ers will be able to claim a higher status and fi­nancial incentives. When teachers perform well, the system will require fewer resources for monitoring and capacity building of ineffective teachers. These resources can be diverted to other areas of improvement.

Eventually, the entire society will reap the social and economic benefits of having an educated citizenry. Prof Eric Hanushek of Stanford showed that a great teacher will help children learn and earn more. In his talk at AKU-IED, he said: “The future of economic and social development of Pakistan depends on only one thing: that’s improving the schools. The economic gains of better teachers are very large.”

In an online survey, most (86 per cent) educationists favoured having teaching licences just like the medical profession. Prof Hanushek gave his Pakistani audience radical advice: “More of the same or small changes are not going to work … you should be doing the changes that are necessary to lead your schools and economy forward”. Teaching licences have the potential to effect such a change.

The writers are faculty members at the Aga Khan University-Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED).

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2023

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