Mano Mal has an experience of 22 years as a teacher and headmaster in Salhoo Ram School. The ratio of teachers to number of students in his school might be unbelievable to some. “At one time the school had 168 children, and I was the only teacher. This was somewhere in the 1980s,” he recalls, sitting in his home in Charnor village, Tehsil Chachro in Tharparkar.
One day, when in a meeting he was required to answer some questions put by the district officer, his vocal chords gave up. “I couldn’t produce a single sound from my throat. Teaching from 6am to 6pm, all alone, was not easy.”
Decades later, nothing much has changed. Today, there are 55 children studying in his school in Charnor, with only one teacher, his son who took over his father’s job after he retired. “My son is not paid; he is a volunteer. We hope that the Sindh government will actually hire more teachers as is being promised,” says Mal.
A government school officially, it’s made up of three small huts, with neither toilets nor electricity. Foreign philanthropists helped fund a solar water pump, so the school has water, a luxury in Tharparkar. The curriculum is provided by the government. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are taught on one day, and grades 4 and 5 are taught the next, all clumped together in small rooms in the unrelenting Thar Desert heat. With one teacher teaching 55 students of five grades all subjects, and a lack of resources, the quality of education is low down on the list of priorities.
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While the Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16 proudly states that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in grades 1-12 has reduced by 3 per cent a year from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16, 22 million plus are still OOSC in Pakistan.
What’s worrisome is not just the numbers, but also the quality of education the children going to schools are provided.
“Teachers are not motivated enough to excel in such an environment and perform their duties in a perfunctory manner which is a setback to the learning process of the children,” says Varisha Khalid Nabi, Member, Board of trustees, The Justuju School, Karachi. Schools like Justuju are numbered, but are rays of hope, fighting against the odds.
The Justuju School started five years ago in the underprivileged Azam Basti in an attempt to bridge the gap between government and private school education. It began with 30 students; today it is 270 students-strong. The school runs on donations, yet is known for the standard of education and teaching, and the drop-out rate is close to zero. The parents of these children might be poor and uneducated, but have recognised the importance of quality education, which is why they vie for admission here. The key is the emphasis on the teachers’ training. Their academic department is pro-active in equipping teachers with the required skills sets, and has formed alliances with organisations that facilitate trainings and evaluations.
“We started the school to provide education parallel to any good private school. Quality education shouldn’t just be the privilege of the rich but a right of every citizen,” says Varisha.
Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says, adding that the infrastructure is just one of the factors to quality education. In his view, Pakistan’s dilemma is that “the smart child is being taught by the inept teacher. The teacher is no longer the fount of knowledge. The student has access to sources of knowledge that the teacher doesn’t,” he says, and continues that it is unfortunate that many senior teachers refuse to keep up with the times, ignoring the use of tools like the internet.
At senior levels, if schools don’t provide education that keeps up with the times, students may drop-out, and join specialised institutes instead.
Teaching methodologies are important if the bar of the quality of education is to be raised in Pakistan. “A student-oriented approach is used in privileged schools which is non-existent in public schools,” says Asma Munir Salman, teacher and founder of APNA Shelter Home and Learning Centre in Islamabad.
Her experience has been both as a teacher in upper tier schools and also as the person behind APNA, a school providing quality education to underprivileged children. She cites teaching techniques like collaborative learning, group discussions, and use of analytical and reflective approaches. “But in public schools, they’re still using the ‘chalk and talk’ method even in this technological world,” she says. “They feel intimidated by their students if asked questions. They make them cram information without making them understand. I have come across teachers who solve math problems on the board themselves and make their students copy them down and learn them.”
Husain feels that upper tier schools don’t even have the alibi of a lack of resources. They charge exorbitant amounts as fee, yet still lag behind technologically. He says that teachers today are focusing on “professionalism, which is the status of the profession in society, but not on professionality, which is having the required knowledge and skill sets.”
When asked about the makings of a good classroom, he says that the answer lies in three things: “respecting the child’s individual voice, providing a safe space for the child to grow, and accepting all kinds of diversity in the class”.
The onus to not just give quality education but also to keep the children in school, then, largely lies on the teachers, and on their training and growth. “Teaching is a prophetic profession. People should be tested and chosen to become teachers only if they can be as sincere to the students as they are to their own children,” says Mal.
As Husain sums it up, education in its best sense should allow children to have role models in every domain of excellence.