Ready schools in Pakistan: School & classroom factors associated with children’s success in early primary

I am happy to let you all know that I successfully defended my PhD thesis last week. It was an exhilarating experience and an immensely useful discussion with a group of academics whom I truly respect.

I will be sharing more of my dissertation findings here in the months ahead, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you my abstract so that you can get a sense of my research, as well as my acknowledgements section so that I can express my appreciation to those who have supported me through this journey.

Sadaf Shallwani, Doctor of Philosophy 2015
Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto


The school system in Pakistan seems to be failing children from the very start – with low levels of enrolment, retention (staying in school), and learning, especially in early primary. What makes a ready school in Pakistan, a school that is ready to support children they first transition into early primary? This study used mixed methods to investigate school and classroom factors associated with children’s transition outcomes: entry, adjustment, and learning in early primary.

Quantitative methods examined relationships between school factors and transition outcomes at 35 schools. Grade 1 enrolment was higher at schools in urban areas, with better toilet and water facilities, with higher levels of intervention in the Grade 1 classroom, and with pre-primary programmes, particularly better quality pre-primary classrooms. Grade 1 attendance rates were also higher at schools with pre-primary programmes. Grade 1 learning achievement scores were associated with levels of intervention in the Grade 1 classroom, as well as with Grade 1 and pre-primary classroom quality.

Qualitative interviews and focus group discussions were conducted at four of the schools. Grade 1 teachers and parents were asked about their perspectives on school factors affecting children’s transition outcomes. Respondents highlighted the affordability of government schools as important for children’s enrolment. The teacher’s attention towards children was described as affecting children’s attendance and retention. For children’s adjustment to school, respondents emphasized the teacher’s approach and interactions towards children, peer interactions, and pre-primary programmes easing the transition. For children’s learning, respondents gave importance to the teacher’s instructional effectiveness, in addition to her/his attention and approach towards children. In addition, Grade 1 children’s perspectives on their school were gathered through drawings and interviews. In their drawings, children focused on peers, particularly siblings and close cousins, as well as elements of the school’s physical environment (e.g., furniture).

These findings indicate that education reforms in Pakistan should focus on improving access and quality in government-provided education, developing teachers’ relational skills as well as instructional skills, and providing pre-primary education.


Although this thesis bears my name, it could not have come together without the encouragement and guidance of those who supported me through this journey. While there are too many to list here, I would nonetheless like to acknowledge a few of my supporters in particular.

First, I would like to express my immense thanks to my supervisor, Carl Corter, for his invaluable guidance and mentorship, as well as endless support and encouragement. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from his expertise and example.

I extend my sincere appreciation to my committee members, Janette Pelletier and Richard Volpe, for their insightful comments, questions, and suggestions, which greatly helped to strengthen this work. Their encouragement also energized and inspired me.

I would also like to thank Frances Aboud and Angela Pyle for serving as examiners for my final oral examination. Their observations and questions raised important thinking and discussion around methodology and analysis.

My appreciation is also extended to Olesya Falenchuk and Laurel Duquette for their advice and assistance in statistical analysis.

I am deeply grateful to the Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, for the many ways in which they supported this research, including my data collection in Pakistan, my data analysis, and the dissemination of my findings at conferences. I am particularly thankful to Caroline Arnold and Kathy Bartlett, for their feedback and insights towards the conceptualization of my research proposal and in the interpretations of my findings.

I would like to express my appreciation as well to the programme and research staff associated with the Releasing Confidence and Creativity Programme in Pakistan, and the school officials associated with the schools at which I conducted this research. I am especially thankful to all the children, parents, and teachers who participated in this study. Without them, there would be no study.

I am thankful to my friends and colleagues, Tomoko Arimura, Saima Gowani, Farah Jindani, Sejal Patel, Y.Y. Chen, Saad Chahine, and many others, who offered invaluable support and constructive feedback – academically as well as personally – over the last few years.

My heartfelt gratitude goes my family – Mum and Dad; Ada; Sheena, Nishanth, and Raina; and Apajan and Bhaijaan – for believing in me and being by my side, encouraging me, all these years. I would not be where I am today were it not for their unconditional support.

I am also thankful to Abu and Ma, and the rest of my family, for their ongoing support and encouragement.

Finally, words cannot express my gratefulness and appreciation to my husband and best friend, Umair, for all the sacrifices made and for pushing me to the finish line, and to my son, Zamir, for inspiring and supporting me in his own wonderful way in the earliest days and months of his life.

Sadaf Shallwani

6 thoughts on “Ready schools in Pakistan: School & classroom factors associated with children’s success in early primary

  1. Hi Sadaf: Congratulations on your successful defence. I am so happy for you!! Hope you will come “home ” to Montreal soon!! Carol

  2. Pingback: Conceptualizing early schooling in Pakistan: Perspectives from teachers and parents | Sadaf Shallwani - Early Childhood Development Research

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