The foremost objective of any education system, anywhere in the world, is to help children to learn, broaden their worldview and expand their potential.
Accordingly, a well-rounded approach to education ensures that every student:
- Learns in a physically and emotionally safe environment,
- Is actively engaged in learning content not only specific to school but also the community,
- Can access learning through qualified and caring adults,
- Is challenged academically, (and)
- Prepared for participation in the global environment.
During prolonged school closures triggered by the pandemic not only did millions of children across Pakistan have no access to learning support but their emotional and psychological well-being was also compromised. This significantly contributed to learning losses and posed a two-fold challenge for educators: to reintegrate students into the formal learning stream upon the re-opening of schools and provide them with quality education without further compromising their emotional and psychological health.
Students in remote provinces such as Balochistan, where education indicators had been dismal compared to the rest of the country even before the pandemic were most adversely impacted by this situation.
How successful has Balochistan been in making quality education possible for its students?
Before the pandemic, the Secondary Education Department in Balochistan had taken several steps to improve the state of education delivery in the province. The most prominent reforms included merit-based recruitment of teachers; a shift towards non-conventional learning with revisions in textbooks, the inclusion of life-skills-based education; and investment in improving school infrastructure.
However, despite these welcome steps, as highlighted in a series of white papers issued by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the provincial system continues to grapple with multiple supply-side challenges that limit its ability to deliver equitable quality education effectively.
Inevitably, the persistent presence of these challenges has adversely impacted students’ learning.
While the learning levels of students were already worrisome, prolonged school closures triggered by the ongoing pandemic have further aggravated the provision of quality education in Balochistan.
The Andrabi, Daniels, and Das study highlighted a gap of 1.5 to 2 full years of learning losses among children after the 2005 earthquake where students were out of school for an average of 14 weeks. During the first phase of school closures in 2020, schools in some parts of Balochistan remained closed for almost 10 months, i.e., 40 weeks, inevitably contributing to a significant loss of learning.
Five solutions to improving the quality of education in Balochistan
- Multi-grade curriculum for early years (primary school)
According to the Balochistan Education Statistics Report 2016-2017, there are 5,257 single-teacher primary schools across the province. This essentially means that 47% of the total government primary schools in the province have only one teacher to teach students enrolled from Grade 1 – 5. Despite this situation, there is no official multi-grade curriculum for single-teacher primary schools. Needless to say, teachers in these primary schools are struggling to manage administrative and teaching tasks for students enrolled across five grades.
A solution to this predicament would be to devise a multi-grade curriculum for the primary school level, which can be implemented in single-teacher primary schools across the province. Such a curriculum would help prioritize learning benchmarks rather than tasking the teacher with having to cover 100% of all five curriculums.
- Continuous teacher training on multi-grade classroom management and teaching
More continuous professional development opportunities need to be explored for government school teachers, especially at the primary school level. Non-traditional methods of capacity support such as the creation of professional development consortiums for teachers are urgently required to make capacity support possible for primary school teachers.
- Addressing gaps in content
The Bureau of Curriculum should undertake a rigorous review of the current curriculum from Grade 1 – 10 to identify and rectify progression gaps.
- Addressing the gaps in children’s learning – foundational skills
Across Pakistan, including Balochistan, learning loss was a pressing concern even before the pandemic. Prolonged school closures during the outbreak of COVID-19 further aggravated this situation. The first step to address this colossal challenge would be the development of a remediation framework for each grade. This framework should first and foremost chalk out a strategy to address the issue of weak foundational skills (literacy and numeracy) among children enrolled in government schools.
- Technical and vocational pathways
Research shows that parents of girls in rural areas do not see a link between sending their daughters to schools and their employability prospects, thereby discouraging them from investing in their daughters’ education, especially at the secondary level.
Therefore, the linkage between school education, skill development, and career opportunities, especially for girls needs to be strengthened through well-thought-through strategies developed by the provincial government with the participation of schools and communities.