If there is a will, there is a way.
Over 10,000 teachers, teacher educators and education managers working in more than 1,600 public primary schools and teacher education institutions spread out over 7 districts in Sindh, 3 in Balochistan, and in Gilgit-Baltistan are setting new benchmarks for others to aspire to.
These teachers, working in some of the most difficult-to-access and challenging areas in Pakistan are now exemplary models of change – thanks to the capacity building provided by IED through the Strengthening Teacher Education in Pakistan (STEP) project, funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
“The STEP Project was planned well in consultation with the public education sector focusing on institutional capacity building of education system. The project used a holistic development approach to maximize educational outcomes. During the project a number of innovative education and policy practices were introduced and teacher mentoring was one of them. Through teacher mentoring a bottom-up and non-linear approach was used to prepare professionally competent teachers as teacher mentors who worked with their fellow teachers in their cluster schools. As a result, teachers started working with each other for improving their professional practices to enhance student learning outcomes. Recognizing the importance and success of the cluster-based teacher mentoring model, the Education Department, Government of Sindh has replicated at small scale in other than STEP districts which seems to be the most important impact of the project,” said Dr Muhammad Memon, former director of IED.
Dropout rates of Grades 4 and 5 students in STEP-supported schools in Sindh are half the provincial average – 7.2 per cent versus 15 per cent. The change in the learning environment has mainly attracted girls back to school, as they find their teachers more receptive and sensitive to their needs.
As one parent who is also a STEP teacher said “Before this programme, I didn’t think girls’ education was that important since men are the main earners for the family. But now I realise that everyone should be educated. So I’ve now also enrolled my daughters and younger sisters in school, and I’ll personally make sure that they complete their education.”
A ban on corporal punishment, responsible for one of the highest dropout rates in the world and a ubiquitous challenge across Pakistan, has been successfully implemented across all STEP schools.
But STEP’s sphere of influence extends beyond the schools and includes education supervisors and managers as well. Assistant District Education Officers now focus on teaching and learning 76 per cent of the time compared to 34 per cent at the time of the 2009-10 baseline study.
These efforts have translated into increased students’ enrolment, attendance, and participation in schools. For example in Quetta, in the Government Girls High School, Wahdat Colony, the enrolment increased by 300 students in 2014. In Sukkur, student enrolment has increased by 23 per cent across all STEP schools since the project’s inception.
The Canadian government, which has funded the project, is clearly pleased. Robert Snider, First Secretary, Development, Canadian High Commission said, “Clearly it’s a project that is doing well – a good and solid project. We are happy with the progress.”
As it enters its last phase, STEP is focusing its attention on advocacy based on its evidence-based approach to teaching and learning. Several policy dialogues are going to be organised to widely disseminate the project’s learning amongst education stakeholders – and most importantly, to the partners in the public sector. STEP serves as a launching pad for rolling out innovative and effective educational development initiatives that the Pakistani government will be able to adopt and adapt to improve the quality of education and human lives for generations to come.