Sunday July 03, 2022

Education correction

April 11, 2019

In one of his elaborate speeches during the dharna, Imran Khan said that 25 million children were out of school in Pakistan. This was perhaps the first instance where a major political leader denoted the country’s education challenge in concrete numerical terms.

Khan went on to repeat this figure at press conferences, public gatherings and television interviews as an example of decades of neglect, poor governance, and criminal disregard of the human development priorities of different governments. Notwithstanding the veracity of the number itself and Khan’s questionable political tactics at the time, he deserves credit for mainstreaming the issue of education within the political discourse, and projecting the education challenge in quantitative terms as opposed to an amorphous mix of layered issues with no coherent markers in popular imagination.

After becoming prime minister, Khan reiterated his desire to address human development challenges through a compassionate address that brought hope to most – including his critics.

However, now that his government has been in power for over seven months, robust policymaking and systemic reform efforts ought to replace normative claims. From what is observable over the current government’s tenure, there is little to suggest any meaningful change in how the country’s education infrastructure is managed. There is very little change in the education management coordinated and overseen by the federal ministry.

A critical component of the country’s education infrastructure that ought to have been on the list of this government’s priorities is the education data collected and curated by the state at different levels. With a government that came into power on the back of robust messaging around a specific education data point, the initial hope for concrete measures to diagnose the education challenge through timely and reliable data was not unfounded. Pakistan’s education data landscape is marred with chronic structural flaws and capacity issues. The area has suffered enduring neglect under subsequent governments over the years. Informed policy solutions cannot be formulated in the absence of a robust evidence base curated periodically.

So, what is wrong with Pakistan’s education data?

Enrolment and infrastructure versus quality: The education data architecture is structured to capture inputs into the system and largely ignore the outputs/outcomes. The federal repository of data – the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) – contains indicators on enrolment, number of teachers, basic physical facilities in schools etc. There is however no coverage of indicators pertaining to the educational experience of students enrolled in these schools. There are no data points in the NEMIS repository on learning outcomes and teachers’ performance. The government has no instrument to measure learning levels on a yearly basis. The national achievement test overseen by the National Education Assessment System has been a sporadic exercise with just two iterations over the last decade.

School based standardization: At the federal level, NEMIS records input level data from all schools across the country. At the same time, there are multiple instruments at the provincial level that record data on learning outcomes. Furthermore, there are wings within provincial departments that record data on teachers including years of service, trainings and scores on various tests. All this data, however, is not pieced together in a standard format that links all data points to specific schools across the country.

Centralized consolidation: As mentioned above, provinces use multiple instruments to capture a range of education indicators. However, very little of this data is consolidated adequately at the federal level. This precludes the state from effective monitoring and evaluation of education cumulatively across the country. Central consolidation is necessary for Pakistan’s international obligations through SDGs, education for all etc.

To correct education data inconsistencies including those noted above, the federal government needs a clear vision of what needs to happen and what the ideal state should look like. That should in turn inform an approach that works backwards from the goal to processes and means that ought to be employed.

Unfortunately, the federal government has so far exhibited neither. Coordination with provincial counterparts is one of the functions of the Federal Ministry for Education and professional training. Sustained coordination among all federating units curated by the federal government can go a long way in improving education data landscape in the country. The PTI currently leads two provincial governments and is a coalition partner in one. Going by our political history, one wonders when again a party can have such a luxury if this term goes begging.

The writer is an education researchercurrently based in Lahore.