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July 5, 2020

Reimagining education

Opinion

July 5, 2020

In the federal budget for 2020-21, the government earmarked Rs83.363 billion for Education Affairs and Services against the revised allocation of Rs81.253 billion for the current fiscal year, showing a snail’s pace increment of around 2.5 percent.

Given the pandemic, the education disruption is expected to continue indefinitely. With unsettled, open-ended and directionless policy responses on education in the last three months, it is essential to take into account what the future holds. In a world of rapidly changing economic, political and cultural topology, education models require a revisit, expansion, and revision to prepare generations for a sustainable and inclusive future.

As the global conversation is invested in technological advancements, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and workspace transformation, Pakistan’s education reality remains status-quo driven – disconnected from the economic world order, international millennial realities, and social needs. For instance, the country’s colonial education legacy continues to treat fields of natural science in the limited scope of technical knowledge, and not an aspect of sociological construct. Hence, topics of cultural vigour are compartmentalized from engineering courses.

As we continue to deal with education as business-as-usual at home, the global debate on shaping education models is largely influenced by innovative market economies and efficient productivity. In Pakistan, education models heavily rely on traditional passive techniques of learning with emphasis on memorization and instruction methods; ignoring individual human-centric skills development and interactive learning critical for innovation-led economies. Though irrespective of developed or developing countries, education is majorly recognized as learning opportunities within the confines of school infrastructure depicting a process of transmitting structured knowledge.

The World Economic Outlook 2020 of the IMF financial surveillance projects that world economic recovery is expected at 5.5 percent, that of China at 8.2 percent, India at 6 percent and Pakistan at one percent. While the government of Pakistan struggles with 22.8 million out-of-school children between the age of 5 and 16 (pre-Covid-19 figures), inter-provincial disparities based on socio-economic status, geography and gender vary largely. Other indicators include, enrolment and retention rate, accessibility, number of schools and teachers available, infrastructure related challenges and malnutrition induced learning disabilities amongst children.

While global economies struggle to fight the current pandemic, it is time for our federal and provincial governments to rethink education models, to reprioritize education resources and enhance learning and productivity simultaneously. Financial models predict that an estimated $11.5 trillion can be saved globally by 2028 if countries develop and adopt efficient learning systems in sync with future economic needs.

Globally, education discourse is transitioning into preparing children for potential industrial needs. An established theorem in this argument is that education in childhood years has longstanding returns on an individual’s learning and earning outcomes. While ‘quality’ of education is debatable, fundamental innovation, creativity, adaptability to change are key in the new economy. To actualize this, it is also key to address needs for future-oriented content designed, and build upon the agency of interconnectedness with global community, sustainability, problem-solving and critical thinking. The evolving world economic order necessitates that societies that are quick to adapt new concepts and build ecosystems accordingly will always have a competitive edge.

Overall, these skills can transpire through multiple formal and informal learning interventions. Central to non-traditional learning opportunities is the development of social-emotional intelligent skills dovetailed with an enabling environment that shapes today’s children to lead with empathy, inclusivity, cooperation and values of global citizenship.

Global coalitions are experimenting to promote innovative skills to enable exploration instincts, inquisitiveness and trial and error through playful activities that are structured and unstructured. Likewise, coding games and online education can go hand in hand – whereby app developers allow children to express creativity by contextualizing learning through the use of engineering design.

The future of education would also require teachers to act as coaches and facilitators to enable critical thinking for real world needs as compared to traditional top-down teaching. This requires developing a learning environment that is student-led, custom tailored and self-paced while simultaneously collaborative and unlocks maximum potential of a child.

Furthermore, redesigning schools with customized learning characteristics is essential to personalized learning experience for children. With key features on responsiveness and flexibility to students’ needs and environmental realities, schools would need to provide learning spaces that sharpen non-academic life skills, use of instructional methods coupled with competency-based learning – but most importantly allow student-centric learning and growth. This would also require assessment tools that encourage cognitive and behavioral skills amongst students to promote high order thinking.

As organizations turn agile, move towards flexible work models and expect multi-talents from the workforce, it is critical that the children of today are provided personalized learning practices based on individual experiences, skills mastery and alternate narratives. A recent RAND Corporation comparative study on student learning outcomes between schools providing personalized learning and traditional schooling methods concluded that personalized learning strategies are “making greater progress over the course of two school years, and that those students who started out behind are catching up to perform at or above national averages.”

To reorient Pakistan’s public-sector education discourse, private-sector inclusion is key. Empirical evidence has shown that the private sector education system has proven better learning outcomes and effective results-based teacher training. This implies not only experience sharing but also allowing private sector participation in public service delivery. Outsourcing education services has been a tested solution globally; allows for improved organizational efficiency, quality and student learning outcomes, teacher trainings benchmarked on process oriented assessment and evaluation – while the government holds the oversight and top management reins.

The writer consults for the parliament of Pakistan on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Twitter: @HassanHakeem87