Should We Wait for the Next Century to Become Literate?

Education in Pakistan is crying for help. Thirty per cent of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty-having received less than two years of education. At current rates of progress, Balochistan has to wait for the next century to be able to guarantee children their constitutional right to education while Punjab can achieve that only in 2041, Sindh in 2049 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2064.

And those who are able to attend school, only thirty five per cent of rural school children can read a story while fifty per cent cannot read a sentence. They don’t fare really better than out of school children twenty four per cent of whom can read a story showing almost a parallel performance. What a great performance by those at the helm of affairs.

Lack of political will is the core that breeds so many factors responsible for this tragic state of affairs.  More than twenty one thousand schools don’t have school buildings while thirty thousand need major repairs or are in dangerous conditions.  Thirty nine per cent schools don’t have boundary walls, thirty eight per cent are without latrines, thirty five percent without drinking water and sixty one per cent are without electricity. True, it is important to guarantee the provision of all these prerequisites so that an enabling environment could be created for the learners. But there are other prerequisites which precede all other prerequisites without which erection of buildings and provision of electricity and drinking water becomes meaningless. The first and foremost is the curriculum that is relevant to the specific needs of the learners and the country and is responsive to the changing realities. Such curriculum demands ongoing development and experimentation of teaching and learning methodologies which are sensitive to the specific learning and assessment needs without blindly aping the ideas imported from alien conditions and cultures . This leaves us with the gigantic task of developing competent and committed teachers as incompetence breeds de-motivation among them.  Development of teachers requires training, follow-up and refreshers at regular intervals which are based on feedback from the field. The development of teachers does not mean just prescriptive training but ongoing research on what is happening in schools, what are the learning outcomes, what are the gaps and bottlenecks and how to respond to them.  Education is not something static. In order to make it responsive to the need of the hour there should be lively discussions and serious debates among teachers and other stakeholders on the issues and challenges. And before anything else a teacher has to have a solid academic background.

The neglect of the core prerequisites has resulted in the near collapse of the edifice of education in Pakistan. The seriousness of the authorities can be gauged from the amount of resources allocated for the purpose and the willingness to try and adopt innovative methodologies developed by the non-governmental sector.We have just entered a new century but the bleak picture is forcing us to talk about waiting for the next century to be able to provide basic education at the current pace.

If there is a real commitment, achieving effective literacy in Pakistan does not require decades but is a matter of a few single digit years.

Talking of appropriate approaches and methodologies of teaching and learning I am reminded of the fruits of Khoj methodology which can be witnessed in the work and performance of the learners.

Let’s see how children are making progress in learning in the tiny village of Thathi Bhanguaan in the province of Punjab.

Word generation children

Performance of a 5 year old after learning written representations of 15 phonemes

Performance of a 5 year old after learning written representations of 15 phonemes

This is a group of nineteen children between the ages of four and five years who participated in an activity and play focused early childhood care and development program for fifteen months. Then they were promoted to class one in November 2012 and were exposed to writing and reading. Using Khoj methodology they are taught reading through learning the art of writing first. In the process, first of all, they were exposed to the world of sounds, progressing from the sounds around them to the human speech organ through a range of activities. They are led to conceptually understand through listening to themselves how using sounds they make words. Once they are able to segment and blend words phonetically they are ready to learn the written representations of the phonemes in selected words. In less than four weeks they start writing sentences, which can run into hundreds, within the confines of the written shapes they have so far learnt to write. In a matter of six months, a learner is able to  have conceptual understanding of what is reading and writing and how it takes place. Reading and speaking take place within the process of writing.

Sentence generation

The children have learnt the written representations of fifteen phonemes through segmenting phonemically and blending phonemically and phonologically both. Using the phonetic skills, they are also able to generate new words and sentences by changing the location of sounds with corresponding written shapes.

On 15th February 2013 an assessment took place; it was a test of their phonemic and phonological understanding, learning of phonetic skills, application of this knowledge creating new words and writing words and sentences by joining written representations learnt so far including their different position specific shapes. Children were asked to write ten sentences as part of the assessment of their learning level. It was made sure that none of the sentences was read or written by them before.  The result was amazing. They wrote the words they had never written before progressing from one phoneme to the other, building phonic connections. They themselves were thrilled to see that they had constructed new words with the knowledge they had gained through the process of learning some words.

The teaching and learning of these literacy skills do not take place in isolation but the whole process is embedded in a host of life skills and knowledge emerging from active thinking, participation, dialogue and action.

An international evaluation called this way of teaching a fast track method which has tremendous potential of making the whole nation literate and logical in thinking.

Khoj methodology is a good news for everybody serious about education for all in Pakistan in a short span of time.

7 Responses to Should We Wait for the Next Century to Become Literate?

  1. Sameena Gul says:

    Excellent analysis! All measures needed to make a dent in the current education system are very well covered. I agree that curriculum, teaching methodologies, teacher training and other aspects are critical to ensure learning takes place. However to ensure all this happens, we need leaders who are committed to the cause of quality education for all. I wonder whether one could first develop a curriculum to educate these leaders and transform them into sincere and committed leaders? Without political will, it seems unlikely to see a change.

  2. Fawad Ali says:

    Nasira — I beg to differ, NOT on the analysis but on the premises.

    Its not the question of lack of politial. You know that better than anybody else: this is well planned and deliberate and look at the success they have achieved!

    Bureaucrats (with or without uniform, pea brained politicians, holy mullahs, lafafa media and anchor persons (ALL OF THEM) sufis and pirs and sajjada and gaddi nashins— they are all one big happy bunch of party poopers. Well ,they are winning at the moment but for how long???

  3. Saeed Muhammad says:

    Excellent analysis of the problem, I am also agreed with the solutions you have given but there required much more action on so many fronts.

  4. Prof. Rehana Mughni says:

    Nasira you raised a very important question and analyzed it well: as regard of curriculum I believe this is designed and modeled in the classroom I give more importance to teachers’ selection – criteria, training and follow up . How this is going to be changed , I hope due to election a transition is going to take place , new government will identify education as an investment and not a burden on the exchequer. I hope not mere literacy but quality education up to Matric would be made a part of their policy, and be implemented in true form and spirit. I believe respect of merit and zero tolerance for corruption would be practiced. Public school system would be raised up to the expectation of the nation, and a comprehensive adult education program along with vocational education would be initiated for about 60 million adult between the ages of 15 to 35 who had been out of school. If God forbid it was again snubbed and ignored the Literacy Practitioners and Social Activists have every right to agitate to the limit, their voice is heard.
    There are two more things I need to share; firstly we need to closely observe and follow up manifestos of political parties versus their tall claims, and matching budgetary allocations. People like you can move forward and prepare a proposal for making strategies for monitoring Education Policy in order to strike at the right time. Secondly concentious citizen should move forward to offer their full support to the coming government for the cause of promotion and quality education which is a back bone of economy and support for fast transition from demoralized and broken nation to a proud nation. It is a good omen that a good number of citizens seem to be vigilant of the issue their voice has to be united to make a difference.
    Prof. Rehana Mughni

    • Nasira Habib says:

      Thank you very much, Rehana, for your valuable comment and action oriented suggestions. You may be pleased to know that very soon I will be analyzing the manifestos of the major political parties and would also keep a track of what they promise and what they actually do against budgetary allocations. But in order to make our voice strong and heard we need to make a concerted effort. You are a great activist and an experienced campaigner. Let’s join hands. I invite you to write for my blog.

  5. Akhtar Mirza says:

    Dear Nasira,
    I agree 100% with your views. Education of general masses is not the priority of ruling class. They don’t want our children to read. I also agree with the views of Prof. Rehana Mughni that selection and training of teachers is critical. The present lot of politically inducted teachers have no aptitude towards teaching rather they are not teachers.
    Secondly, the teaching methodology in primary classes is a cause of poor quality and performance. I wonder why we are away from phonic method of teaching at the initial level. All languages have phonics but unfortunately, we are still shy of adopting it. And if it is seen anywhere, no proper planning, training and implementation is seen. We are playing with the future of our generation.

    • Nasira Habib says:

      Thanks, Akhtar, for your comment. This is to bring to your knowledge that Khoj methodology, which is a result of eighteen years of action research done by me, offers a comprehensive method of teaching literacy through building phonemic and phonic awareness and coaching in speaking, reading, writing and self expression. A professionally designed teacher training program is in place. Teachers have been trained nationally and internationally with excellent results.

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