A Trip to Beijing
Important lessons imparted and learned
XVI World Congress of Comparative Education Societies in Beijing
BY: WAQAS A KHAN
The major findings revealed that in public-sector schools 36 percent of teachers are putting a major emphasis on classroom tests, which runs contrary to 100 percent of private-sector teachers, who do it on a regular basis
In Pakistan, the second major problem is the uneven rise of private-sector educational institutions. We have seen recently how the share of public-sector enrollments is shrinking toward the private sector
I was privileged and honoured to attend the XVI World Congress of Comparative Education Societies in Beijing. With me was Professor Dr Abdul Hameed, a renowned educator and research supervisor at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore. We co-authored the research paper on Comparing Assessment Practices in Public and Private Schools of Pakistan as a Lever for Achievement Gap, and our mission was to present this research. Pakistan faces an education crisis of unprecedented proportions with nearly half of all children of school-going age out of school. Although there is broad consensus on the problem, its magnitude has reached 25 million.
Our study examined assessment practices in public and private secondary schools of the Lahore and Kasur districts in Punjab. The research was warmly welcomed and discussed by world-renowned scholars and professors who represented 82 countries. In this research mathematics teachers from 100 schools were surveyed via questionnaires, including 50 from the public and 50 from the private sectors. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and crosstabs. Part 1 collected background information about each respondent. Part 2 compared these teachers’ emphasis on the need for class testing. Part 3 compared the frequency of such testing. Part 4 compared their use of rote memorisation. Part 5 compared their use of application questions. A separate section collected data about understanding patterns and relationships among different concepts. The final part of the questionnaire compared the use of questions that require explanations and justifications.
The major findings revealed that in public-sector schools 36 percent of teachers are putting a major emphasis on classroom tests, which runs contrary to 100 percent of private-sector teachers, who do it on a regular basis. Results within six areas of assessment practices revealed possible causes of achievement gaps. The results were based on hypothesis testing and were reported separately. It was found that although working conditions for teachers in public sectors are far better than that those within the private sector. Even so, private-sector teachers excelled in all areas. Such performance may be attributed to continuous pressure and job threats. Another major factor may be performance-based high motivation levels of these private sector teachers.
The study produced — and we presented — the following results.
- Public school teachers place more emphasis on classroom tests than do public-sector teachers.
- Private-sector teachers administer tests with more regularity than do their public-sector peers.
- In public-sector schools, teachers depend upon questions that require a reproduction of text-based facts; private-sector teachers include such questions only occasionally.
- Questions requiring the application of the learned concepts are missing in public-sector test instruments at large; this practice is vice versa in the private sector.
- A large number of private-sector teachers include questions that require searching for patterns and relationships between different concepts. This practice occurs in only a negligible percentage of public-sector schools.
- Private-sector schools tend to include questions outside the textbooks, inducting questions that require explanation and justification. Only a meager percentage of teachers within public-sector schools use this approach.
We were open to sharing and gaining knowledge by connecting with experts on issues that are hampering the progress and sustainability of education system in Pakistan, chief among them the OOSC (Out of School Children) issue. Matters related to this were discussed with notables including Professor ElenitaQue (University of the Philippines) and Professor Laurde B. Filato (Western Mindiano State University), with each sharing personal experiences. The government of the Philippines has taken novel steps to tackle the OOSC issue. First among them is part time teaching. Very young but poor students, unable to afford school, are called in for two hours of school each afternoon. Teachers try to inculcate the basic skills of writing and reading in those students for six months, at which time those students are set free. Those OOSC’s come out of the illiterate barrier at least to some extent. A traditional education cannot be given to students who are kept away from the school because they are their families’ primary bread winners. For them, technical training institutes are set up and technical skills are imparted to help them be useful contributors to society. Professor Hameed seconded these notions, which he said could be applicable to Pakistan, too. He also offered workable solutions.
In Pakistan, the second major problem is the uneven rise of private-sector educational institutions. We have seen recently how the share of public-sector enrollments is shrinking toward the private sector. I discussed this trend with Professor Dr E. Vance Randall (Brigham Young University, USA) and Professor Hameed. Professor Randall was of the view that in Pakistan there is a little motivation in public-sector teachers to do things differently, unlike what seems to drive private-sector teachers. He emphasised the need of a system within the public sector to encourage and reward teachers. The matter of resources was also brought forward and Professor Hameed shared that in Pakistan the facilities in public-sector schools are nowhere near competitive to private-sector schools.
This discourages the public to enroll their children in these government schools. In recent years, the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) has “adopted” more than two million children by partnering with 3,230 private schools in Punjab. In this way the government officially is leaving hopes from the public sector and funding private schools for quality education. The major way the PEF is funding these schools comes through foreign donors like UKAID and USAID. This matter was thoroughly discussed by Professor Dr Keith M. Lewin (University of Sussex, UK) and Professor Hameed. They took on the topic “Is PEF Partner School Program a Sustainable and Forever Approach?” Both esteemed experts were of the view that it is not. They emphasised the need to strengthen public-sector schools, and they rejected the current practice of pampering the private sector at the cost of public-sector schools. They cautioned about the long-term reliance on the government to fund the foundation if/when these foreign donors decide to pull their funding. Remember, donations never are truly forever and the interests of countries change with the flow of time.
Another prevailing trend in Pakistan is the race toward enrollment in the sciences. Every student regardless of his or her capability tends to enroll in science studies at matriculation and upper levels. This is limiting and badly hurting the horizons within other fields. For example, enrollment in Social Sciences in Pakistan — and in other parts of the world — is shrinking. Intake is very low and so is the intellectual ability of those in this particular pipeline given that so many of the brightest minds are gravitating toward science and engineering. So what is the problem? Nations are not necessarily run by scientists and engineers. Philosophers, educationists and other better-educated humans are equally necessary to understand, contribute to and uplift their societies and chart their countries’ futures. When I discussed this with Professor Dr. David Small, Deputy Head of School of Educational Studies and Leadership, University of Canterbury and Professor Hameed, both recommended that we cannot be reliant on market forces (i-e demand and supply) for social sciences. It is high time that nations begin pushing good quality students toward social sciences to help equip our society with skills of a higher order than can allow us set lofty goals and accurate aims.
This world congress was organised with the financial support of the government of China, the World Council for Comparative Education Societies (WCCES), China Comparative Education Society and Beijing Normal University. Special thanks are offered to Professor Dr Wang Yingjie and Professor Dr LIU Baocun of the Beijing Normal University who made this world renowned knowledge-sharing and learning event such a wonderful experience for those fortunate enough to take part. The next Congress will be in Mexico in 2019. Upon our return, Salman Iqbal Sehgal, CPEC board member and advisor to the chief minister of the Punjab, Mian Mohammad Shehbaz Sharif, briefed us about the current progress on China-Pakistan economic corridor. We are back with a new resolve and the hope that with each passing day relations between Pakistan and China will become stronger, healthier and more prosperous.