Recently the South Asian Forum for Education Development (SAFED) released their annual report on the status of education in Pakistan: Annual Status of Education Report 2011. (The full report in pdf format is available here.)
The report highlights some of the key challenges facing education in Pakistan. In rural areas, one out of every five children between the ages of 6 and 16 is not enrolled in school. The numbers jump to almost 60% when it comes to access to pre-primary education. Even those children who are accessing primary school are not gaining the skills schools are expected to teach them. Only 41% of Class 3 children are able to read a sentence in Urdu or Sindhi (at the Class 1 level). The numbers are even lower when you look at data from government school students separately.
In recent decades there has been a growing international movement to improve access to quality education. Education is considered a basic human right. The international community’s declaration for Education for All explicitly aims for universal access to and completion of basic education, equity, and quality in education.
Countries in the Majority world are taking steps towards universal primary education, and indeed, around the world, more and more children are enrolling in primary school. However, many children enrolled in school are not completing school or are moving through the system without learning the skills schools are expected to teach them. Analysis of grade-disaggregated data demonstrates that the real crisis is in the earliest grades of primary, with Primary 1 often having the highest levels drop-out and repetition in many Majority world countries.
Education statistics from UNESCO have findings similar to those attained by the ASER 2011: In Pakistan, primary school enrollment is far from universal, with only 66% of primary school aged children enrolled in primary school. Almost seven million children are out of school, and 60% of these are girls. The quality of education in Pakistan has also been found to be dismal, particularly in government schools and in rural areas. Government schools are often characterized by severe limitations such as a lack of basic facilities, inadequately trained and often absent teachers, and a severe shortage of learning materials and books. Similar to the trends of other countries, the primary school system seems to be failing children right from the start. Of those children who do enroll in school, less than half complete primary school. The drop-out rate is highest in Primary 1 – with approximately one out of every six children who enroll never making it to second grade.
Given the importance of education for human development, and the significant progress made in increasing access to primary education, it is concerning that so many children are falling through the cracks, particularly at the very beginning. Are children not benefitting from the education system? Are schools not meeting the needs of children? From a rights-based perspective, all children have a right to learn, and communities and schools have the responsibility to ensure environments that enable children’s successful learning.
In this context, it becomes critical to understand school-level factors that impact children’s entry to, adjustment to, and success in – in other words, their ‘transition’ to – early primary. This is the ‘readiness of schools’ for children – as opposed to the more generally emphasized and researched ‘readiness of children’ for school. Thus it is necessary to understand characteristics that make ‘ready schools” – schools that are ready to receive children and enable their success.
For those who are interested: My doctoral research uses mixed methods to develop a contextually-grounded understanding of ‘ready schools’ in Pakistan. My study quantitatively examines school-level factors which are associated with children’s successful entry and adjustment to primary school in Pakistan, and qualitatively explores perspectives on the early primary school environment by those involved in it (students, teachers, and parents).
Interestingly, one of the introductory sections of the ASER 2011 report, Dr. Irfan Muzaffar calls for such an investigation into ‘correlates’ of effective schools – in other words, what are the characteristics of those schools that are effective in enabling children’s successful learning? I hope that the findings from my research will contribute to a contextually-grounded understanding of quality early primary school environments (‘ready schools’) in Pakistan.