Pathway to a better education system

Nadia Siddiqui

Effective education is based on evidence informed planning, appropriate delivery and systematic assessment. There are gaps in all these elements of effective education in Pakistan. The more people are becoming aware of the right to education movement, there will be developments in overcoming the gaps. We hope that the successive democratic government in 2018 would keep education in their top priorities and major reforms will be made in the light of evidence informed practice.

This blog is to draw attention to a dire need of national assessment at the end of primary school stage which is the key determinant of school drop-out, performance and access to other pathways for successful life such as university admission. So far, we have education boards doing an excellent service of conducting independent secondary assessments but assessment at this stage is too late as a large number of primary dropouts are not part of it. Moreover, primary school targets cannot be established on the basis of what we know about secondary school performance.

In absence of nationally assessed primary school outcomes we cannot make any judgement if different school systems (public, private and madressah) are doing us any good or harm and what can be done to address the inequalities in these three parallel running systems in education. For effective monitoring of schools, we must set the primary school achievement targets for all school types and then reform evidence-based policy by tracking the most disadvantaged groups at primary school level.

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Assessment and monitoring are neglected mainly because of the high cost but this is one of the effective ways to monitor schools and the fair allocation of budget to schools. Assessment can help us track enrolment, dropout and completion and schools and regions can be incentivised based on the performance indicators. We need to prioritise the enrolment in primary school and completion of primary education based on a fair assessment system. Otherwise simple enrolment and completion will miss the integral aspect of learning which is the main aim of school education. The new education reforms have to realise the importance of fair assessment system which should be enforced on all existing school systems for the purpose of improvement and target setting.

We also need a system based on rewards and acknowledgement to school for their services and achievements. A national assessment policy at primary school level could be the baseline for such a reward-based system. Any imaginative idea adopted by schools should be rewarded in closing the gap in enrolment, dropouts and academic achievement at primary school level. Reward-based assessment pathways have been successfully implemented and practiced in advanced countries. However, we need to adapt these strategies in order to address problems in our local national context.

There is an emerging realisation of the need for quality data in education. Several think tanks and NGOs have already started developing these data resources which is a useful step forward in understanding the patterns and impact of poverty on children. However, we must know that it is the State responsibility to gather this information and make it easily accessible to public because we give tax for public services and, in return, we must expect what the State has done with that money. NGOs and charity providers can set some useful examples and guide the government but it is not their responsibility nor they can meet the nationwide demand for such services.

A systematic approach towards the development of education reforms and implementation of policy and practice can never be complete without a fair assessment and monitoring system. Assessment and monitoring are additional and heavy cost on the education budget but knowing at a pilot level how reforms can be informed on assessment measures can be a cost-effective and practical strategy.

Dr. Nadia Siddiqui is an Assistant Professor (Research) in the School of Education, Durham University, UK

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