Conceptualizing early schooling in Pakistan: Perspectives from teachers and parents

As I was completing my doctoral dissertation on ready schools in Pakistan a couple of years ago, I was intrigued by the in-depth conversations I had with so many parents and teachers about what education and knowledge meant to them, and how it fit within their values and worldviews. So, I was thrilled when I was invited to write a chapter as part of a book edited by Anne-Trine Kjørholt and Helen Penn, entitled Early Childhood and Development Work: Theories, Policies, and Practices (2019).

Conceptualizing early schooling in Pakistan: Perspectives from teachers and parents

Anne-Trine Kjørholt and Helen Penn sought to produce a resource book which consolidates early childhood research and approaches that recognize and build on the diverse complexities of their socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts. As Helen Penn notes in the introductory chapter of the book –

Development work is a fraught process. There are many approaches and many different kinds of understanding, in the face of gross global inequalities. Development work in the field of early education and care can only reflect these complexities and difficulties, and requires a similarly tough analysis, if it is to be effective. This book is an attempt to provide such an analysis. (Penn, 2019, p. 13)

My chapter (you can read it here) focused on how early schooling is conceptualized in Pakistan – in Sindh in particular, by teachers and parents. In the first half of the chapter, I review key aspects of the historical and current socio-cultural context within which education has evolved in Pakistan, as well as the current education context in the country. In the second half, I describe findings from qualitative research conducted in the Sindh province of Pakistan in which I explored the views of parents and teachers on early education, and on the role played by schools and teachers in supporting young children’s development and learning. Some key findings included –

  • The utmost social and religious value and importance accorded to education and seeking knowledge. Many respondents spoke about the importance of education in terms of how it enabled one to be enlightened, good, and a contributing member in society. Religious ideals and values were also used to frame the importance of seeking knowledge and using it effectively to fulfill one’s duties. Parents spoke about the need for both secular/ worldly education and religious education, and how education provides one with the knowledge and attitudes to carry out one’s worldly and religious responsibilities in this world.
  • The importance of a teacher’s love and warmth in enabling children to adjust to and thrive in the early schooling environment. Parents and teachers alike noted that a child who was treated with love and kindness would feel welcome and cared for, and would be more inclined to enjoy and continue to come to school. On the other hand, when teachers were harsh or overly strict, children would stop coming to school. Thus, the teacher’s approach and interaction style was perceived as a determinant of children’s access to education.
  • Education was viewed not just as a right, but also as a responsibility. Parents, teachers, and even children were considered to hold responsibility for their education. As I note at the end of the chapter –

The conceptualization of education as a right as well as a responsibility places even greater obligations on all involved stakeholders – from children and families to schools, communities and government systems – to ensure that all children gain a quality and integrated education. However, what quality education looks like must be conceptualized and operationalized within the Pakistani context, taking into account local beliefs, values, and perspectives, so that the education system can be made effective in preparing children to grow into grounded, integrated, aware, responsible and contributing members in their families, communities and society. (Shallwani, 2019, p. 150)

The whole book is incredibly rich and an excellent resource for scholars, researchers, and practitioners. I highly recommend it for those who recognize the limits and risks of a single (Westernized) understanding of early childhood, and seek to explore, understand, and strengthen what early childhood development and work mean around the world.

Separately, if you are interested in the findings from my doctoral research on factors affecting children’s transition into early primary school, you can take a look at an article I wrote for ARNEC Connections (2016). The complete dissertation is also available here.

I would love to read your comments and feedback. Thank you.



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