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Friday July 01, 2022

Managing MGT

May 23, 2021

(Part-1)

According to an estimate, children waste half of their time while at school every day in more than 60,000 (out of about 130,000) public sector primary schools in Pakistan. This happens due to the fact that children are taught in a ‘Multigrade Teaching’ environment.

Multigrade Teaching or MGT refers to a situation at a school where a single teacher teaches two or more classes in parallel in the same classroom. Under the current MGT conditions in public-sector schools, when the teacher teaches one group, the other group(s) remains idle. In the short term, this has serious potential to make them disinterested in learning during the time they spend in the classroom. In the long run, this may potentially impact negatively on the learning attitude and behaviour of children in the later years of their educational career.

The magnitude and impact of the MGT challenge in Pakistan is simply massive. It hits different schools in all parts of the country at varying levels of severity. Given the gravity of the situation, this is imperative to mull over the MGT dilemma at the policy and school level to curtail further damage it may cause to the access and quality of learning of millions of children in the country.

It is widely accepted that the occurrence of MGT can be attributed to three possible reasons believed to be deeply rooted in the policy and design of our education system. First, it is caused due to the lack of the requisite number of teachers. Second, it occurs because of the scarcity of classrooms. Finally, it is triggered by a lack of enrolment in a school where the provision of separate classrooms and teachers does not make prudent economic sense for the financially starved education system.

Interestingly, different laws and policies which govern the education system in the country happen to cause the prevalence of MGT. Under the provisions of Article 25-A of the constitution, the government is bound to provide free and compulsory education to all children. Whereby it has designed a system that offers education to the children in a monograde learning environment – children of different grade levels will be provided a separate classroom and teachers. So, a primary school essentially means six grades – ‘Katchi’ till grade 5. This would require every new school to have at least six teachers and six classrooms. Conversely, the policy to construct new schools, in almost all the provinces, states that every new primary school will only comprise two teachers and two classrooms.

And, under their constitutional obligations, schools cannot refuse admissions to children because they do not have appropriate space for them. Resultantly, as a poor man’s compromise, they have to adjust students of different grades within one classroom. Where this policy is primarily governed by budgetary constraints, it also demonstrates design failure which surfaces in two ways. First, because the system does not equip its teachers to deal with the multigrade situation as the pedagogical design that teachers are trained on and encouraged to practice fails to accommodate the needs of a multigrade classroom. Second, because the education departments do not pay any attention to the requirements of a multigrade classroom while developing new schools.

This is an alarming situation and is liable to affect the education system in many ways. For instance, it is prone to negatively impact teacher behaviours which results in poor instruction in the classroom. Because teachers do not use MGT as a preferred pedagogical approach, they rather take it as a burden as they have to deal with different grade levels and sometimes teach different subjects at one time for which they have to adjust their teaching strategies frequently.

On another account, evidence from some parts of Pakistan suggests that, among other factors, the student transition rate is negatively impacted by MGT. Student transition rate is defined as the movement of students from one level such as primary to elementary or grade, and so on in the school system. The transition rates in Pakistan are astonishingly low at the primary level.

According to a recent ADB report, almost 60 percent children drop out of the education system at the primary level. More surprisingly, more than 40 percent children leave school during the first three grades of their schooling. It is unfortunate that a large number of children leave school during the early years of schooling which adds to the number of out-of-school children and then we start making expensive policies to bring these children back to school who had once joined school but the system could not retain them.

By the same token, evidence suggests that MGT negatively impacts student learning in Pakistan. This is substantiated by student scores in different assessments conducted locally by the provincial education departments as well as internationally such as ASER, PISA and TIMSS. A lot has already been discussed and shared on the media about the student scores in these assessments.

With the above realities in the backdrop, the important question is: how to deal with MGT issues. If the government desires to eliminate MGT today, they will have to ensure the availability of huge funds for the construction of classrooms and recruitment of teachers. For instance, Punjab alone will have to set aside about Rs75 billion for the construction of around 80,000 classrooms and increase the annual salary budget by about Rs20 billion to pay about 60,000 new teachers. Similarly, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will have to construct more than 30,000 classrooms and recruit more than 50,000 teachers in order to ensure that every school has at least six classrooms and every classroom has a dedicated teacher. This would require an estimated annual increase of Rs16 billion to cover salaries and Rs30 billion for classrooms.

Looking at the trends of education spending in Pakistan, it appears to be extremely difficult for provincial and federal governments to arrange the desired funds. This means that MGT will likely persist and thereforewe will have to find solutions within the given financial constraints.

To be continued

The writer is an education policy, reform and management practitioner.

Email: aahmadbilal4@gmail. com

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