By Syed Maroof Ali
As we start the year 2021 with the backdrop of Covid-19, we face the dual educational endeavor of implementing the Single National Curriculum i at the primary schools of Pakistan and drafting the National Educational Policy by March 2021 ii, a preliminary glimpse of the educational landscape of Pakistan can provide valuable context. To that end, we redirect our focus to understand the state of education within Pakistan’s boundaries, where the numbers are not entirely promising. The following piece is inspired by Mr. Yahya Bajwa’s insightful session on evidence-based policymaking in collaboration with the Learners’ Republic.
Just a glance at the national educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP that is roughly 2.3 percent, shows that we are yet to reach the international benchmark of 4%. With the literacy rate stagnant at a staggering 57% and the HDI ranking of 152 out of 189 countries, we rest in a precarious position where complacency in revamping the educational status quo should not be tolerated. However, the following two studies tell a different story.
The IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) at Boston College publishes the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). For the first time in the 2019 edition of the internationally recognized study, Pakistan participated for the first time, whereby the National Education Assessment System (NEAS) facilitated TIMMS. The nitty-gritty can be accessed in the paper by Anjum (2021) iii. However, the national results were dismal, where Pakistan stood second from the bottom in both grade 4 science and mathematics learning.
At the national level, we have the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the largest citizen-led household-based initiative. It is published on an annual basis to measure multiple aspects of education such as the status of children’s schooling (reading and arithmetic level) at the district level, the school characteristics (availability of infrastructure such as a library, whiteboard, washroom, etc.), the parents’ characteristics (education level), and the teachers’ characteristics (professional qualification and training received).
As per the National Report Card, 2019 iv by ASER, primary and secondary schooling is more prevalent in government schools (77%) while pre-primary education is largely found in private schools (54%), as shown in Figure 1. In absolute terms, 69.8 percent of rural children finish their secondary education from Government schools.
In terms of students’ learning levels, a snapshot of the average performance of Class 5 students is shown in Figure 2. Most students fare poorly in the three tests (lower primary assessment tools for Grade 2) for the year 2019, but there is an improvement in the five years performance from 2014 to 2019. Is this a celebratory consequence? Not really. With the astounding 22.8 million out-of-school children (UNICEF, 2017) and 22.7% primary school dropout rate v of Pakistan, it should be realized that a modest increase in enrolment in itself does not equate to an increase in learning, especially in the rural regions of Pakistan.
To account for a gendered perspective on students’ learning levels, Figure 3 shows the learning levels by gender. The results contradict the report by TIMMS 2019 since the international organization’s analysis of test scores was positively skewed towards girls, which is not the case in the ASER report, where the gender disparity provides an unfavorable picture for girls. One possible explanation may be the inherent difference in what ASER measured (reading and arithmetic) instead of what TIMMS calculated (Mathematics and Sciences). The apparent discrepancy can be addressed later; what is perhaps more important is identifying the continued difference in access to and quality of education to females.
Coming back to the start of a new decade where we face unique challenges and see a heightened disparity in terms of the impact of Covid-19 between rural and urban regions, rich and poor households, on education, the question remains: can we fulfill the constitutional responsibility of Right to Education (Article 25-A) and reach the Educational goal under SGD-4 by 2030? A decade more to go where we should hopefully see positive developments rooted in child-centric policymaking and service delivery.