Dr Qaisar Rashid
Published Date: May 7, 2015
Alif Ailaan’s declaration
In the districts that have been underperforming, it is not known what quantitative or qualitative change the presence of qualified teachers could bring
On May 7, 2015, the campaign for the promotion of education, Alif Ailaan, in partnership with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), produced the ‘District education rankings, 2015’ at the Marriot Hotel, Islamabad. The purpose of the yearly district rankings was to offer civil society, bureaucrats and politicians an idea as to where a district stood in relation to its past and vis-à-vis other districts of the country in the present. This was the third rankings result of 148 districts of Pakistan published in the form of a report.
The major focus of the report is on government schools and, in these schools, classes that go up to grade five (i.e. the primary school level). One can argue that the results are devoid of the private education sector, which is mostly urban based. Similarly, there might be some schools run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the rural areas. This data was obtained from different government sources; every source might have its own figures and tall claims of authenticity. The figures of which sources were accepted and which sources were rejected on what criterion is not known.
Minister for Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was the chief guest at the occasion, somehow heard the word “curriculum” from a preceding presenter. I say somehow because no else heard the word curriculum except for him. Consequently, as the next speaker, Asif addressed the curriculum problem at length. He derided and condemned both General Ziaul Haq and the US for changing the minds of Pakistanis by introducing modifications in the curriculum to fight Communism. Nevertheless, Asif failed to establish a link between his curriculum rhetoric and the findings of the report he was holding in his hands. He kept on repeating his trite remarks to play with the sentiments of the audience instead of speaking to the point. It was apparent that before coming to the occasion, he had not even bothered to read the Urdu version of the report summary. Certainly, his was a premeditated speech that exasperated the audience. Interestingly though, most guest speakers (mostly politicians) coming after Asif to the podium spoke about the curriculum. None of them could explain what the relationship was between the curriculum and the varied performances of different districts of Pakistan, as the findings of the report lay blame on differences between access to education, retention for education, gender parity and the availability of infrastructure in terms of the obtainability of electricity, water, sanitation, boundary wall and the condition of the building, which favoured one district over another.
A point the reader cannot understand in the report is the “learning score” (present under the head of “education score”). The report, which is basically a research report based on secondary data collected by some other agencies, has used the quantitative method of research (though the word quantitative is missing from its research methodology, section two) but the learning score seems to be qualitative in nature. The report indicates that the learning score was borrowed from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). It is not known (and it has not been mentioned in the report) what method was employed by ASER to collect this data. For instance, on the page regarding education score, when the report writes that “the biggest decline seen in the scores was in learning score,” it is not known what criterion was used to measure decline or rise of the learning score. Secondly, it is also not clear if, this year, education in all districts has been examined up to class five or class eight (i.e. middle schools) though mostly the term primary schools has been used throughout the report.
The findings of the report have already been made public through news items. It is preferable that the talk of Jan Muhammad Khan Achakzai of JUI-F is mentioned. Achakzai expounded the role of teachers in enhancing the cause of education. To extend his point further, the report has focused on students and schools but not on teachers, though in the limitations section it is mentioned that “ideally, indicators that measure teacher quality, such as teacher qualification, would add more validity to the score.” Without mentioning teachers and their role, the assessment of an education system is incomplete. For instance, it is not known whether the performance of a school or a district is because of the students’ own performance, the effect of the school, the effort of the teacher or all combined. Similarly, in the districts that have been underperforming, it is not known what quantitative or qualitative change the presence of qualified teachers could bring. The validity of the report cannot be ensured if the component of teachers is ruled out. This limitation might have been accepted when the first such report was published in 2013 but not now in 2015. In 2014, one must have invited the attention of Alif Ailaan to this fact. However, it is hoped that a comparison between districts on the basis of the availability of teachers and their qualifications will also be made by Alif Ailaan in its next report in May 2016.
Perhaps the writers of the report assumed that the terminology used in the report would be known to the reader. Though a page is dedicated to acronyms and abbreviations, no page is allotted to the glossary. For instance, it was assumed that the readers would know the difference between net enrolment rate and gross enrolment rate while describing why one term is preferred over the other. Though the report is colourful, in writing a touch of naivety is apparent. There might be several other loopholes to point out but the endeavour of Alif Ailaan to collate data for the purpose of comparison and contrast is praiseworthy. The effort is commendable also because no one else has taken such pains. At least Alif Ailaan has given utility to the data gathered in the field of education.