Improving our school education (Pakistan Observer)

WHILE addressing a seminar held to launch National Achievement Test (NAT) report for the year 2014, state minister for education said that the education system of the country has many shortcomings and how these could be resolved is beyond his understanding.

The report has worrying results, but it is the step in the right direction, said the minister. Pakistan is not facing problems with its school education.

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 report resulted in strong criticism over national education standards in advanced world.

Every three years, PISA tests more than half a million 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading literacy (defined as reading skills for professional and social settings) and general science from more than 70 OECD member states including 44 advanced countries comprising 90 percent of world’s economy.

According to PISA 2012 results, UK was at number 26 in 65 countries. Relatively unknown countries like Estonia (11), Poland (14), Vietnam (17) or Slovenia (21) did much better. UK failed to show good results despite having Sats- a twostage test for school students in reading, writing, mathematics and English (http:// www.theguardian.com/education/sats). PISA papers are translated in native languages.

UK’s PISA standing shows that Cameron’s policies of market based or privatization of education including turning of government schools into academies, and allowing schools to develop their own curriculum have miserably failed.

But he is pushing his academy plans despite opposition from teachers union, headmasters association, and parents. The poor results in 2006 and 2009 point toward wider problems with country’s school education system. America school education system is also struggling. America was ranked 36th in PISA 2012 report. It is worse than 2003-2009. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which Pakistan is has copied in NAT, couldn’t bring the US students in top ten in PISA in last 15 years.

NAEP, like UK’s Sats, is structured and organized. It has developed excellent frameworks for aligning grade 4, 8 and 12 education standards with higher education and national annual assessments. Beginning 2017, NAEP will administer technologybased assessments (TBA) for mathematics, reading, and writing. School students are learning typing for TBA. More subjects will be added to TBA in 2018-19. NAEP is largest nationally representatives and continuing assessment programme including all states, TESOL, National Rural Education Association (NREA), Air Force and Military Academies, army and air force reserve officers training corps, teacher and writers associations.

The PISA 2012 results reported developing countries like Kazakhstan (49), Turkey (44) and Qatar (63) annualised change of more than five points in science performance, which is excellent. But Qatar had low mean mathematics score of 376 despite its $93,714 GDP per capita which is more than $77,000 OECD average. Australia education funding criticized after poor results in PISA 2009. It shows money and being an advanced country will not solve complex education problems. It is a challenge for Pakistan’s government just like the governments of PISA member states, organisations of NAEP, Sats and NAT.

School education is not all doom and gloom. Where PISA has shown poor results of world powers, it has also revealed schools getting highest scores. Shanghai-China topped the list. It scored 613 in mathematics (OECD average 494), 570 reading (avg. 496), 580 science (501). Recently five Chinese teachers travelled to UK and taught 15 school students. The results improved by 40 percent. Hard work and commitment pays.

Teachers in UK don’t like Sats due to its narrow curriculum; a universal problem with standardization and standardized testing. OECD and PISA are damaging education worldwide. The PISA methodology: do its education claims stack up? And 10 things teachers need to know about PISA results.

Modern testing and frameworks are good but they have turned education into a numbers game in which only scores count. The critics condemn it because it is pushing out roundedness due to systems inability to develop rubric to measure morality, respect, empathy, universal and family values and so on.

Finally, a successful education system should be free. It should help students from all socio-economic backgrounds to succeed. English should be made optional in all provinces. Corruption should be weeded out. Teachers should be respected, well paid and selected from CSS, PCS etc.

Critical thinking, robotics, IT (coding for programming), e-commerce, human rights, and legal rights should be taught in our schools. We can learn from NAEP frameworks and PISA sample questions and research to improve our school education in line with international standards and higher education.