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Saturday April 20, 2024

Urgent action to support inclusive education stressed

By Our Correspondent
March 28, 2024
A teacher is reading a lesson to students in her class. — Online/File
A teacher is reading a lesson to students in her class. — Online/File

Islamabad : The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan Provincial Report 2023 was officially launched the other day, shedding light on the educational landscape of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The event emphasised the need for urgent action to support inclusive education, specifically for children with functional disabilities, girls, and marginalised groups. Faisal Khan Tarakai, Education Minister, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, graced the occasion as the chief guest, says a press release.

The launch event witnessed the participation of esteemed guests from various sectors, including government officials, civil society representatives, and development partners. ASER Pakistan, a flagship programme of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), aims to provide reliable estimates on children’s learning status, aligning with education targets and article 25 A. ASER Pakistan 2023 reached 41,373 children aged 5-16 years, assessing them on foundational learning or a grade 2 level learning tools in Urdu, Arithmetic, and English, across 962 Villages in 34 Rural Districts of KP, including 1,478 schools and 20,357 households, offering a nuanced understanding of the educational landscape, challenges, and opportunities. One of the key highlights of the ASER 2023 report in KP is the remarkable increase in enrolment rates both for ECE and 6-16-year-olds, signalling a positive trend in educational access. The report indicates that KP boasts a 90% enrolment rate for 6-16-year-olds, demonstrating a significant improvement from 73% in 2021 and for Early Childhood Education (ECE) it stands at 39% (30% in 2021).

This surge in enrolment reflects concerted efforts by the government and private partners to enhance access to education for children across the province, laying a solid foundation for future educational endeavours.

While the report indicates a shift towards private schooling from 14% in 2019 to 24% in 2023, government schools continue to play a pivotal role in accommodating the majority (76%) of 6-16-year-olds for the year 2023.

This analysis sheds light on the dynamics of educational preferences and choices among parents in KP, highlighting the need for targeted interventions to ensure equitable access to quality education across both public and private sectors.

ASER 2023 revealed a dip in the learning levels in the region with Urdu Story reading from 50% in 2021 to 44% in 2023 of 5-16-year-olds. A similar trend could be seen in English Sentence reading and solving two-digit divisions in Arithmetic. 48% (54% in 2021) of children can read a set of sentences fluently in English, and 49% (50% in 2021) can solve 2-digit arithmetic divisions. This dip in the learning levels in concerning for the province as we have not fully recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic. District level interventions should be targeted to lift the learning outcomes of the children. One of the stark contrasts that could be seen is at the grade 3 level learning outcomes. ASER 2023 shows that only 17% children can read an Urdu story, 20% can read a set of English sentences fluently and only a meagre 14% can do a 2-digit division that is aligned with grade 2 curriculum. These learning crises persist in the later grades and evidence of the poor learning outcomes at higher grades.

Moreover, boys continue to outperform girls in all three competencies. The gender gaps persist, but the good news is that more girls and boys are going to school compared to 2021 and 2019.

Encouragingly, the percentage of out-of-school children has notably decreased in KP, reflecting enhanced access to education opportunities for both males and females. Compared to 2021, the current report indicates a notable decrease in the number of children who are out of school, reflecting improved access to educational opportunities. ASER 2021 reported 14% males and 13% females who were out of schools, and this year the number has decreased to 6% females and only a meagre 4% males.

Access to technology emerges as a crucial theme in the ASER 2023 report, with insights into household technology usage and connectivity. The report emphasises the importance of technology access in education, with a focus on household connectivity and climate change awareness. 84% households reported possessing a mobile phone, 66% had a smart phone at homes, 25% had access to internet connectivity, 63% of households use WhatsApp, and 66% of households use SMS, underscoring the transformative potential of technology in education.

Furthermore, ASER’s unique focus on climate change sheds light on the impact of environmental factors on education, highlighting the need for climate-resilient education strategies and awareness initiatives. The report finds that 24% of households reported being ‘well informed’ about climate change. While the apparent shocks of climate change can be seen from the 12% households that felt that their family has been impacted by a natural disaster within the last year. 11% households apprehended that their psychological well-being has been affected by the climate change “significantly’.

The report provides valuable insights into the state of infrastructure and resources in schools across KP. While there are improvements in teacher attendance and facilities at the primary level for both government and private schools, the infrastructure of school buildings has been improved such as having boundary walls, clean drinking water, electricity connection, and sanitation. KP reported having 11% children in government schools and 6% children in private schools with any functional disability. This year ASER emphasis on inclusivity calls for actions from the state and other stakeholders to provide accessible learning opportunities and facilities in schools for children with functional disabilities which are often ignored by parents and teachers.