By Zubeida Mustafa
A NUMBER of reports on education in Pakistan confirm what has been long suspected. Without improving the quality of our teachers, quality education for all will remain a pipe dream. Howsoever much their economic status may be boosted, it will have no impact on education for children from the low socio-economic classes if teachers are not taught how to teach and what to teach.
Many well-meaning, no-profit NGOs that are entering the school sector are learning this the hard way through experience and after much experimentation. The Garage School in Karachi that was opened by Shabina in her garage in 1999 to teach the children of the underprivileged the three Rs is a case in point. It is in the process of launching a teachers’ training project to upgrade its teachers.
The Garage School has expanded rapidly in the decade and a half that it has been in existence. Shabina understood fast that a holistic approach is essential for human development. You cannot expect an undernourished and sick child to be a quick learner. Hence she has a health and nutrition programme that is an integral part of her education system.
The children are provided milk, biscuits and fruit courtesy some kind donors. Shabina also sees to the happiness and welfare of the community by providing the families of the students food rations once a month and in Ramazan. The children receive clothes for Eid and there are extracurricular activities in plenty.
Challenges can be expected for a new teachers training centre.
Yet Shabina was not satisfied with the quality of education that she could provide, notwithstanding the few exceptional students that emerged from the TGS. Now it seems the TGS can hope for a turnaround.
The year 2014 opened on a new note when TGS announced that it was launching a teachers’ training centre to “provide professional development courses” to teachers not only of the Garage School but also other schools in the neighbourhood.
To learn more about this move I met Anita Florijn, director of Family Educational Services Foundation, who is playing a key role in organising this centre.
Anita, who is from Holland, has lived in Pakistan for 25 years. She didn’t expect to remain here for that long. But she derived tremendous satisfaction from her job as a teachers’ trainer and the Deaf Reach Programme she and her colleagues at the FESF founded to empower the hearing-impaired through education and training.
Anita has devised a teachers’ training programme for the professional development of teachers. All the aspects of pedagogy are taken care of and the teaching methodologies that will be taught range from child development theories, behaviour management, classroom organisation to phonics and courses in science, maths and social studies.
Avoiding a hierarchal structure, Anita wants to involve other members of the staff of TGS and Zarafshan to share responsibilities with her. What appears to be promising is Anita’s approach, especially what she has borrowed from her MOVE (Motivated Volunteer Empowerment) programme that seeks to “effect social change by training and engaging Pakistani youth in meaningful community development”.
Anita is a great motivator; motivation is the key missing element in Pakistan’s education system. Anita’s style is not just motivational and encouraging, she believes in providing continuous support to the teachers who are trained. She insists on team work and adopts a holistic approach that perceives multiple stakeholders having a role in the child’s education. The children, teachers, parents, school administrators and the community have to be involved in the education process and their active participation sought if education is to succeed.
Shabina is conducting a baseline survey to assess the prospective applicants desirous of being enrolled at the teachers’ training centre. This should give her an idea of the calibre of the would-be teachers. This may require her to modify some of the courses as she goes along. An important quality in a teacher is her ability to motivate her students and make education their passion. People who have achieved greatness have invariably attributed their success in life to a teacher who kindled the love of learning in them.
One wishes this venture all success. It called for immense courage to conceptualise and launch a teachers’ training centre in a low-income locality. Challenges can be expected — there is the language issue and the teachers’ lack of knowledge of various subjects.
One must not forget that most teachers in Pakistan today are products of the degenerate system that education has become. There is no option because the government has yet to show political will to improve education.
According to the NEMIS report of 2011-12, 80pc of teachers training institutions in Pakistan are in the public sector and they train 99pc of our teachers. That should explain the slide in education.