With more than 22 million children aged 5-16 out of school, Pakistan urgently requires alternative models of curriculum and education delivery to engage the hardest-to-reach children, particularly girls and over-age dropouts in disadvantaged communities, said experts at a seminar at the Aga Khan University's Institute for Educational Development.
The event was held to disseminate the findings of a year-long research study that examined the efficacy of the non-formal basic education (NFBE) curriculum and materials for quality teaching and learning processes.
The study, supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, was carried out in 16 newly-established NFBE centres set up by NGO World, a non-governmental organisation, in the Korangi area of Karachi. All the centres catered for 7-16 year-old out-of-school boys and girls, who had either never been to school or dropped out early from school.
Under the research study, the centres were evenly divided into two groups of 'intervention' and 'non-intervention' centres. The former followed specially designed, accelerated primary school curriculum for NFBE, textbooks and teacher guides and their teachers received professional development support. The latter eight centres followed the mainstream primary curriculum and textbooks published by the Sindh Textbook Board.
At the start of the study, a baseline assessment of the 460 learners' basic literacy and numeracy skills revealed an overall average score of 30.4 per cent. Similarly, the average scores of learners in the intervention centres and the non-intervention centres were 34.3 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. Learners with prior experience of formal school education, up to classes two, three and four, secured 70-90 per cent marks.
The assessment was followed by an 'intervention period' where both groups were asked to implement the curricula they were following in their centres.
The comparative analysis of both groups revealed that all the learners had improved their overall scores – and especially the intervention centres' learners. They performed better in subject-wise scores for mathematics, Urdu and English and the scale of this difference was found to be statistically significant.
“The need for non-formal education in Pakistan has arisen because the formal system has been unable to cope with the growing demand of basic literacy education in the country," said Dr Dilshad Ashraf, project lead at IED.
The study's findings provide evidence of the usefulness of the NFBE curriculum, textbooks and teacher guides in helping teachers create an enabling environment for better learning outcomes, she added.
While the idea of non-formal education was not new and several such programmes have been launched in the country over the years, these programmes could not be sustained and institutionalised.
However, the Directorate of Literacy and Non-Formal Education's NFBE curriculum, approved in 2016, is a flexible curriculum and supports teachers to provide a learning environment that satisfies the intellectual demands of learners, she added
Giving recommendations, she called for extensive and consistent use of NFBE curriculum and curriculum materials, and tailor-made professional development programme for teachers. In addition, community-led NFBE provision and active partnership between researchers and development practitioners for generating the evidence for effective implementation of NFBE curriculum is a need.
Earlier Chiho Ohashi, chief adviser Of JICA Advancing Quality Alternative LearningProject, presented an overview of the work done to date. The speeches were followed by a panel discussion that included Ghulam Asghar Memon, the director general, directorate of curriculum, assessment and research, school education and literacy, Fouzia Khan, head of curriculum wing, school education and literacy and senior educationist Sadiqa Salahuddin, among others.