​Renewed Focus on Teacher, Teaching Quality and Learning: Localised Models and Practices

November 19-21, 2015  

If Pakistan wants to improve people’s lives and boost economic development, then the quality of education and learning is an essential foundation stone and teachers have to be well-prepared to develop innovative but local practices tailored to the needs of their learners, said experts at the 10th International Conference organised by the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development.


This was the discussion on the first day of the three-day conference that hosted over 100 workshops, plenary sessions and presentations.


Success or failure in achieving ‘education for all’ is not just by providing access but by assessing what children learn and the quality of their education experience. Quality education contributes to economic growth with learning having a direct impact on growth and development.


For quality education, a ‘renewed focus’ on the three pillars of an education system, on teachers, teaching quality and learning and particularly on learning that uses evidence-based ‘indigenous’ models has to become part of practice. Only then can Pakistan take steps towards achieving the new global Sustainable Development Goals on education – Goal 4 to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning by 2030.


World leaders may have committed themselves towards ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, achieve relevant and effective learning outcomes in the next 15 years. But there is an on-going debate on what comprises ‘relevant and effective learning’, and how this can be measured noted keynote speaker Pauline Rose, Professor, International Education and Director Research, Equitable Access and Learning Centre, University of Cambridge.


Dr Rose suggested tracking progress towards a universal target that, at a minimum, ensures that all children – regardless of their wealth, gender, where they live, or whether they have a disability – complete primary school and achieve the basics in reading, writing and mathematics. What is important is adopting a ‘stepping-stones’ approach to assessing progress for the most deprived. “Where do we need to get to in the next five years, and in the five years after that? If we don’t stagger our assessments, we will lose sight of the most disadvantaged,” said Professor Rose.


The quality of teaching can be improved by incorporating best practices from around the world but it is critically important that these best practices are not transposed without understanding learners and their local context and cultures cautioned experts.


Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov, Director, IED highlighted that worldwide, education is witnessing a reinvigoration of indigenous knowledge and models, a welcome change in countries with rich historical and cultural traditions of teaching and learning such as Pakistan. Equally important is that one should not fall into the trap of romanticising the indigenous but assess “local models for their quality, equity and inclusivity”.


As teachers are central to the quality of student learning, teacher quality itself is deeply connected to the quality of teachers’ own learning. “Teachers’ openness to and capacities for learning from multiple sources and challenging perspectives are key to the survival of teaching as a respectable profession and teachers as esteemed professionals.”​


The first day saw several concurrent sessions covering 24 presentations and 2 symposia on subjects ranging from understanding teachers’ sense of self-efficacy to transforming children from passive recipients to active participants through activity-based learning in primary schools in the coastal belt of Sindh.


Children and particularly disadvantaged students learn if assessment information results in change, in improvements in the methods and practices of teaching said Dr Yusuf Sayed, keynote speaker on the second day of the conference.


Dr Sayed, Professor of International Education and Development Policy (Education), University of Sussex spoke about how “we need to move from assessment of learning to assessment for learning”, which supports learning rather than judging achievement through tests or examinations. Teachers need to find out what students know, partly know or don’t know so that they can focus on activities that help learning. This helps children develop as capable learners rather than view themselves to be poor students.


He also analysed what this means for teacher education, teaching and teachers when the new global education agenda, Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls not only for quality primary and secondary education for all girls and boys by 2030, but also focuses on human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development. In such a scenario, the role and the potential of teachers as agents of change become all the more crucial.


Dr Marie Lall of the Institute of Education, University College London, in her keynote address on the third day of the conference, talked about how “In the continuum between government schools and private schools in Pakistan, philanthropic sector schools have started to try and solve Pakistan’s education crisis.”


Discussing her research on schools run by philanthropic organisations, she spoke about how teacher quality is a key factor in ensuring better learning opportunities for children from the underprivileged backgrounds. These teachers in the philanthropic schools need to have the same in-depth pedagogical knowledge and pre-service training that the government sector and private sector provide. They need to be empowered as professionals whose contribution to their communities is valued.


This was also echoed by Abbas Rashid, founding member and chairman of SAHE (Society for the Advancement of Education), when he shared the findings from ‘The Voice of Teachers: Learning from Teachers across Pakistan’ survey conducted in 2014. The survey found that issues that have a bearing on teachers’ performance as well as student learning range from government schoolteachers spending a quarter of the academic year on non-teaching activities- from local election duties to anti-dengue drives – to frequently changing textbooks and teaching in a language, English or Urdu, that may not be the students’ mother tongues.


An invited symposium highlighted the role of AKU IED in the field of teacher education and in developing and validating localised models and practices in Pakistan. It focused on how these models have impacted the teaching profession in terms of teachers’ competency, status and identity, as well as students’ learning outcomes. “These models need to be scaled up to benefit a larger community of teachers and learners”, said Dr Ayesha Bashiruddin, an Associate Professor and Head Research and Policy Studies at AKU IED.


At the conference’s end, Dr Sadia Bhutta, Assistant Professor and the Conference Chair, AKU IED summed it up as follows: “We need to rethink about how we teach, about re-energising our teachers to have a vision of education for today and tomorrow so that our children are members of their own communities as well as citizens of a global society.”


Other key speakers during the course of the conference included Professor Aziz Ali Najam, Director Usman Institute of Technology, Karachi, and AKU’s Drs Elnasir Lalani, Mir Afzal Tajik, Nelofer Halai, Sadrudin Pardhan, Mola Dad Shafa, Takbir Ali and other scholars and practitioners.