Early economists were of the view that economic development of a country fundamentally depends on the availability of natural resources – i.e. the higher the reserve of natural resources the more developed a country was projected to be. However, empirical evidence shows that although Scandinavian countries possess scarce natural resources, these are highly developed, whereas, Gulf Countries are underdeveloped despite the fact they are rich in oil resources and mineral wealth. The question arises why is that so? The answer is straightforward – education.
Educational development of a country is the most powerful factor of its economic development. Beyond a shadow of doubt, a country’s economy determines its objective of education. For example, if a state wants to increase its national income and achieve economic development, emphasis will be placed on the dissemination of science education because, primarily, research and development underpins innovation, which ultimately results in economic development. Therefore, the educational development in science and technology is mandatory and without this economic success cannot be achieved in the modern age.
How can Pakistan achieve sustainable economic development via education? There is no doubt that Pakistan’s education system has always been in conundrums. Although, myriad of education policies were formulated since its inception, none of these were truly implemented in letter and spirit. Therefore, to achieve sustainable economic development through education, the authorities must stress the significance of science and math subjects for the future success of our country. In other words, educating our students through STEM curriculum has become the necessary requirement.
STEM is an integrated curriculum, which makes learning more connected and relevant for students through educating them in four specific disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It integrates concepts across these four disciplines and emphasizes knowledge-application instead of mere book-learning and rote memorisation. In other words, it moves beyond simple test performance and focuses on developing higher level thinking skills by connecting classroom learning to the real world. We can say that the basic “features” of STEM curriculum entail collaboration, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. These are the mandatory skills that students need to be successful in today’s world regardless of specific interest or career goals.
So, how are Pakistani students faring in subjects like math and science? To answer this we will take a brief look at the state of math and science in Pakistan. There is a section in Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) which tests basic numeracy skills of students from grade I to X. In 2015, the results showed that on average, urban students performed well as compared to their rural counterparts. Moreover, gender disparity was visible in this test as boys outperformed girls.
Similarly, Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) examined the fundamental mathematical concepts of students of Grade V and VIII. Students were tested on three levels – knowledge, understanding and ability. The results showed that students performed better in questions that merely tested their knowledge (which is defined as the lowest level that can be achieved by merely memorising facts) as compared to ones that tested understanding or application. Other tests, like National Achievement Tests (NAT), Standardised Achievement Tests (SAT), were conducted to test the mathematics skills of students.
The objective of NAT is to explore performance of Class VIII students on different sections of geometry, algebra, problem solving and conceptual understanding. However, the 2014 results showed that students lacked cognitive and problem solving abilities. Correspondingly, SAT (2016) for Class V conducted in Sindh also manifested poor performance of students. In a nutshell, students’ performance in mathematics was substandard.
As far as state of science is concerned, NAT tested Class IV students’ conceptual understanding, practical reasoning, and scientific investigations. The results of 2014 showed that 79% of the students scored less than 50% on the test. It was further revealed that urban students performed better than rural ones and, in this case, girls outperformed boys. Similarly, science scores in SAT and tests conducted by PEC manifested poor learning outcomes in science courses.
One of the fundamental reasons as to why Pakistani students are performing below par in subjects like math and science is that our education system lacks quality teaching. It is imperative for a successful teacher to be academically well-trained in subjects he/she teaches; he/she should have professional training in the methodology of the subject and should comprehend the psychology of his/her student.
However, it is heart-wrenching to say that in reality many teachers are only in this profession because they could not find employment elsewhere. Hardly any effort is made to cultivate the intellect of students specifically in hardcore subjects like science and math. The situation is even worse in government schools where politicised teacher recruitments are rampant, thereby, increasing the rate of absenteeism because of job security. This results in poor learning outcomes in math and science.
Basically teachers lack adequate skills to teach high quality content in math and science; students, especially girls, have little or no home-support and doesn’t possess adequate levels of nutrition to study; schools are ill-equipped and lack proper infrastructure facilities and utilities due to financial budget constraints. Hence, under such grave conditions teaching-learning process produces poor learning outcomes in these subjects.
How can we ensure promising prospects of learning outcomes in the domain of math and science? What I believe is that it is mandatory to formulate and implement prudent education policies which incorporate STEM curriculum at grass-roots level. We have seen that education is mandatory for economic development of a country. We can also observe that Pakistan’s economy is experiencing downturns because its education sector is weak. Presently, minuscule amount of budget i.e. 2% is being allocated to education sector of Pakistan. In addition to this, we have also witnessed a decline in literacy rate from 60% to 58% in 2017, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2016-17).
Basically elections are just around the corner. Potential candidates should take necessary measures in addressing the shortcomings of our education system. Once elected, strengthening education sector ought to be their fundamental priority.
How to make that moment permanent
The village has only one high school with three teachers