The quality of science education in a country is often seen as a leading indicator of its development potential. For most children, their first exposure to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects comes through a primary school teacher.
Most teachers are comfortable with teaching the topic, but the best educators create an environment which nurtures inquisitiveness, critical thinking and problem-solving skills in students that awaken their interest in the subject as a whole and inspire them to innovate. Achieving this step change in teaching standards requires capacity building and the support of a mentor who can coach, advise and inspire their peers.
Teachers are expected to be role models for students but we forget that teachers need role models too, says Professor Nilofer Halai of AKU's Institute for Educational Development (IED), the author of a new book that offers a detailed roadmap on how mentorship can be used to elevate science teaching standards in public and private schools across Pakistan.
Her roadmap highlights the potential of teacher mentors as a source of professional development and guidance to other teachers at their institute. Such ongoing support addresses the problem of ad hoc teacher training and one-off workshops that rarely carry through to the classroom.
Professor Halai’s book builds on the results of the seven-year Strengthening Teacher Education in Pakistan (STEP) project which impacted over 14,000 teachers in Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. The book, Enhancing primary science teaching through school-based mentors: A study from Pakistan, represents a detailed study of mentorship programmes in primary schools in Sindh and Thatta, which were a part of STEP, and highlights how such programmes can positively influence teaching practices and deliver systemic improvements in science education.
“Teachers need much more than just workshops to bring a radical change in their teaching practices and understanding of science,” explains Professor Halai. “They need post-training mentoring support to develop a habit of rethinking their teaching practices, learning newer methods of teaching and seeking guidance to ensure constant improvement.”
Similar to STEP, the initiative aims to enhance access to quality teaching and to increase the supply of qualified teachers which are key targets under goal 4 of the sustainable development goals, Quality Education.
“Emerging from the local context, the book speaks to different audiences but a big chunk of it speaks to the practitioners, said Dr Sajid Ali, interim director and associate professor at IED. “It also invites further research on bigger policy questions related to improving science education in the country.”