Engaging parents

Published July 2, 2024

PAKISTAN’S education system faces significant challenges on two fronts. Firstly, there is a staggering number of out-of-school children, estimated at 26.2 million. This means that a sizeable portion of the children is not accessing any formal education. Economic factors, cultural barriers, and inadequate infrastructure are the primary reasons.

For instance, in some areas, cultural norms may prioritise work or domestic responsibilities over schooling, especially for girls. Additionally, many remote areas lack adequate school facilities, making access to education physically challenging. These children are denied the opportunity to develop essential skills and knowledge, that perpetuates cycles of poverty and limits their prospects. This lack of education not only affects their personal growth and future opportunities but also hinders national development.

Secondly, the quality of education for the 43m children in school in Pakistan is another major concern, as most experience poor learning outcomes due to factors like overcrowded classrooms, lack of qualified teachers, outdated teaching methods, poor governance, insufficient resources, etc.

Overcrowded classrooms make it difficult for teachers to give individual attention to students, hindering effective learning. Many teachers lack proper training and qualifications, which impacts their ability to deliver quality education. Traditional teaching methods, often focused on rote learning, do not foster critical thinking or problem-solving skills. Additionally, schools frequently lack basic resources such as textbooks, teaching materials, and adequate facilities, further compromising the learning environment. Despite school attendance, children are not acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Parents have a crucial part in their child’s learning journey.

Shockingly, only 23pc of students at age 10 can read and understand age-appropriate text. This indicates a significant gap in foundational literacy, which is crucial for future learning and academic success.

Despite the significant educational challenges facing Pakistan, parents overwhelmingly express satisfaction with the schooling system. Data from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement surveys of 2014-15 and 2019-20 reveal that over 94pc of parents reported satisfaction with schooling in the country.

Similarly, in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment, 76pc of parents expressed satisfaction, and in the more recent National Achievement Test in 2023, 75pc of parents indicated complete satisfaction with schooling. This apparent paradox between parental satisfaction and the reality of poor educational outcomes suggests a disconnect between parents’ perceptions and the actual quality of education their children receive.

Bridging this gap between parental perception and educational reality is crucial for improving learning outcomes. Parental engagement plays a vital role in a child’s learning journey. Research shows that when parents are actively involved in their children’s education, children are more likely to perform better academically, have higher attendance rates, and demonstrate improved behaviour. Active engagement includes activities like helping with homework, attending parent-teacher meetings, and encouraging a positive attitude towards learning.

The 2022 Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel report recommended several low-cost parental involvement approaches that included direct communication from schools to parents, engaging children in educational activities, reading books to a child (if the parent is literate), and sharing simple exercises with parents via text or phone call.

Direct communication from schools, such as regular updates and progress reports, helps keep parents informed and engaged in their children’s education. Encouraging parents to read to their children and engage in educational activities at home promotes early literacy and cognitive development. Sharing simple exercises and learning activities via text or phone can provide parents with practical tools to support their children’s learning at home. Supporting the role of parents should be a component of public policy in the medium term, as it can have a lasting impact on children’s educational outcomes.

At the same time, it is critical to generate a broader understanding of Pakistan’s foundational learning challenges. While some challenges persist throughout the country, Pakistan’s education landscape is heterogeneous, and delivery is devolved to the provinces. Each province has its unique set of challenges and priorities, which must be addressed through tailored solutions.

The writer is an education researcher and works for an Islamabad based think tank.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2024

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