In conversation with Dr Sajid Ali

By Tooba Ghani
Fri, 04, 19

A lot of students after studying education get into teaching and then later on in their career find out their area of interest.....


“I don’t think education is so much about making a living, it’s about making a person.” - Tara Westover

After reading Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, that tells the story of a young woman’s efforts to study in Idaho and get a PhD from Cambridge, it felt like a perfect timing to meet Dr Sajid Ali, the Interim Director of Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED), and talk about what the field of education is and what it offers to young individuals who are ready to opt it as their career path.

What’s the scope of education in Pakistan?

If you’re passionate about pursuing education as a career path and believe in lifelong learning, you can do quite well in terms of both your career trajectory and your ability to make a good living.

When we think of education, we primarily think of teaching in schools only; though it’s still the strongest career option for education majors, there is so much else to explore in the field. There are leadership positions in educational institutions such as coordinators and supervisors. Further outside the class, we have departments of textbook and curriculum development, examination boards, assessment cells; we generally don’t consider them as career options but they are high impact areas where you can utilize your skills.

A lot of students after studying education get into teaching and then later on in their career find out their area of interest and make bold career moves; this flexibility isn’t there in professions like medicine and engineering.

We have the development sector where education is a key element. The government says it wants to work on education and for that greater investments are being made. We have USAID, JICA and UN agencies actively working in Pakistan and they have a very strong component of education.

Misconceptions about the field of teaching and teacher education

That education is not a proper profession. We believe education is a profession just as medicine, nursing, or law. You can’t treat patients until you have an MBBS degree or you can’t fight a case in the court until you have a license; similarly you shouldn’t be teaching until you have a professional qualification for that. Unfortunately, education isn’t treated like a proper field of study.

The good thing is those who join the field very quickly realize that they need professional competence if they want to make a career out of it.

Another misconception specifically regarding teaching is: anybody can teach. Just being awesome in maths is not enough. You must also know how to teach it.

What degrees and courses are offered at AKU-IED? Do students get any form of financial assistance?

In non degree programmes we have short courses, directed towards specific needs of the educators, certificate (for example, Early Childhood Education and Development) and diploma programmes (for example, Educational Leadership and Management). Degree programmes include Masters in Education, MPhil and PhD in Education. MEd programme offers specialisations in teacher education, educational leadership and management, and assessment, measurement and evaluation. We also offer merit-based scholarships and needs-sensitive financial assistance to the students of graduate programmes.

Is there any exchange programme or affiliation with any foreign university?

We had an active exchange programme in the beginning with University of Oxford and University of Toronto since IED was established in partnership with these universities. After 10 years, when we had built our capacity, our partners withdrew and we took over.

Our partnership is at different level now. Currently our faculty is into joint research with these universities.

Tell us about some of the most impactful researches conducted at AKU-IED.

Researches at AKU-IED have provided valuable input to the Sindh Non-Formal Education Policy 2018.

We have contributed to the National Education Policy 2009 and Gilgit-Baltistan Education Strategy 2015.

Our faculty members sit in various consultative groups in Sindh Education Sector Plan. We are also part of Aga Khan Development Network; today our partners sit in various consultations taking place at federal level. Whenever needed they consult us and we share our researches with them.

Is there anything people don’t know about AKU-IED?

That we exist! People only think of AKU as a hospital and medical school. What they don’t know is AKU has a dedicated academic entity for education development and we have been here for 25 years.

What can young teachers do in case they aren’t able to undertake professional trainings?

If you have no resources, you can begin with reflecting on your own teaching practices. Self-learning can be an effective way to identify faulty teaching practices and improve yourself while you teach.

There are multiple resources available online for teachers; there is fake stuff, too, so just make sure you delve into rigorous research before you choose a platform. Know that there are fake journals and publishers out there. Sift through material and see what’s authentic.

But then again everybody should remember they can be on their own to a certain extent and that e-learning is usually decontextualized. Teaching requires embedding into the culture and making mistakes and learning from them. So at later stages, teachers would need professional qualification to move forward and for that they will have to reach out to universities.

Also seek help from your fellow teachers. They can be your mentors and can help you overcome professional challenges.

From learners’ perspective, do you think tuition culture is corroding our education system?

There are a lot of tuition centres that have developed their own practice of making students exam smart. What they do is help learners secure high percentages in board exams or As in Cambridge exams. The dangerous thing is by doing this you can take away the essence of acquiring an education that is learning.

Mark Bray introduced the concept of shadow education which exists in Asian countries. This concept compels students to receive private supplementary tutoring after school or college. And we can see how popular coaching centres, academies and night schools are. Sadly, the teachers who are part of the main system are actually the ones championing the shadow education system. Students begin to rely on tuition centres completely since it looks like a quick solution to getting As.

As long as tuition systems exist to support the mainstream, they are useful; but if they take over which seems to be the case at the moment, they are extremely dangerous for our learners.

How can learners, educators and institutions work together to cultivate healthy learning practices?

  • Learners should be whistleblowers. They should be able to talk about things they find problematic in their classrooms.
  • Teachers should not endorse that success is only about getting good grades. It is more about learning and acquiring skills. And that’s why teachers should encourage volunteer work and internships. Also, parents should be taken on board and counselled regarding our society’s obsession with grades.
  • Institutions should also work closely with teachers and address their needs especially when it comes to managing workload and providing them with professional help.
  • Young people who are considering getting into the teaching profession should first do some volunteering or work as internees at educational institutes to get the feel of it and then decide if they want to fully commit themselves to this profession.