Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Dire Chains Engulfing the Pakistani Education System?

Diogenes Laertius once said that “the foundation of every state is the education of its youth”; a statement that perhaps greatly reflects the dire straits Pakistan’s educational institutions are currently in the throes of. The following paper summarizes the findings of Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) and highlights the conditions prevalent in the private and public sectors as well as hopes of finding a viable solution to the pitfalls.

The challenges facing schools are innumerable, with the major one being of a very low rate of enrollment compared to other countries. However if one focuses on Pakistan itself, then the future looks optimistic as enrollments have started to increase primarily due to a higher number of schools available, better teachers, constant modernization of rural areas and an increase in awareness. A way to guarantee higher levels of enrollment is to locate schools closer to residential areas, as distance is they key factor, especially amongst girls, which discourages children from attending schools. Another tragedy is that kids deemed to have “lower intelligence” are less likely to be enrolled in schools by their parents. The LEAPS survey signifies that the focus should now be on what the children are being taught, as it shows that children are constantly performing at lower levels than what is expected of their ages (By the end of class 3 only 50% of children can perform class 1 math). It is shown that in public schools, the educational qualifications of teachers are higher as compared to private schools, however the effort they put into teaching is significantly lower. Hence, a solution to improving the performance levels of children in public schools could be the regulation of the output of teachers, by ensuring a high level of consistent hard work and effort.

The current scenario portrays that parents are now actively involved in the schooling of their children with illiterate as well as literate parents now being able to accurately decipher between “good” and “bad” schools, the percentage of private schools have significantly increased primarily due to the education of girls in public secondary in the 1980s (however public schools still remain the leading providers of education), the fees of rural private schools have gone down and even poor parents are now investing more on their children’s education. While the situation looks positive, many issues remain. Despite going to schools, children are not acquiring the knowledge that is expected of them at their academic levels. Children in private schools perform significantly better than in public schools and parental satisfaction is much higher, the reasons for which are the low student-teacher ratio, more sound infrastructure, provision of better facilities, lower fees (due to lower profit margin) and greater levels of output (effort) by teachers as evident from the lower rates of absenteeism.

The aforementioned points imply that private schools are a better option – but is that so? No. This is primarily because private schools are not available everywhere as they tend to be found in clustered richer, more urban villages and even within a village there is a critical problem of access whilst public schools tend to be more geographically widespread thereby providing easier access for people from all strata’s of society. However, NEC data (2005) shows that private schools are now gradually opening up in poorer, less dense areas.

How should the educational policy be formulated in order to tackle the various issues facing the public and private sectors of education? It has been suggested, firstly, that the minimum qualification levels of government teachers should be raised. However research indicates that an increase in the efforts put in by teachers has far greater benefits than increasing their educational qualifications. Plus, the labor market for educated teachers is already dire and bringing in teachers from other areas would just lead to higher levels of absenteeism. Secondly, it has been suggested that regulation of private schools should take place. Alas, if the aim of the regulation is to raise standards, then this should be focused towards government schools as it’s these institutions that rank amongst the worst performing. Since private schools operate in clustered areas, they have increasing competition with other private schools, thereby discouraging them from acting as monopolies and charging higher fees thus making regulation even more redundant. Also, if regulation is to take place, it is again the government schools which should be focused on as parents are now capable of deciphering between good and bad schools and if price is an indicator of quality, how can one distinguish between free public schools? Perhaps the solution lies in informing parents about the school, its curriculum etc. as this leads to higher levels of competition amongst schools, an improvement in quality and better performance of previously poorly performing children.

The topic of regulation is strongly correlated with governmental intervention and it is argued that the government should solve the distance issues arising from the locations of private schools and act to help make parents better, more informed decisions. It should provide information regarding both the public and private sector, improve the method of hiring and compensation government teachers and innovate by coming up with new ideas such as collaborations between the public and private sectors and providing financial assistance to the needy such as giving money to students to attend schools of their own choosing. A flexible approach which takes into account the differences inherent in different areas, teachers, students etc. needs to be implemented.

In conclusion, it is the public sector that is more in need of reforms regarding the quality of education provided, the compensations given to teachers, the lack of accountability and facilities, and the need of twice the resources as compared to private schools. Since children from poorer households with less attention given to them tend to enroll more in public schools, apt reforms in the public sector could guarantee a more uniform, overall improvement specially by bridging the gaps between public and private sectors of education.

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