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Research Spotlight: Public School Learning Outcomes

1 April 2013
Research Spotlight: Public School Learning Outcomes
In Pakistan we see both the private and the public education sectors operating simultaneously, but there exists a large void to be bridged amongst these two parallel systems based on quality education delivery. About ninety percent of the public schools in Punjab are classified as rural schools. Largely determined by the difference in the learning outcomes of the students as well as the general perception of teachers, recent studies show that there is a remarkable difference in the quality of education between the two sectors. 

The public education sector of Pakistan in particular, has attracted the interest of many local and international policy makers and researchers. Studies like LEAPS and ASER conducted in 2005 and 2011 respectively are precursors to many new analyses like the ones included in this report. 

Over the past few years, policy makers such as the government of Punjab have taken a few initiatives to train teachers, and improve the methodology of teaching imparted to students in the local schools. Additionally, free textbooks and scholarships have also been awarded to students to facilitate this sector. Among these, two of the initiatives are considered milestones in the last decade; the established of the Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) to annually assess the learning of elementary school children in 2005, and a motivated decentralized teacher Development framework set up known as the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) program in 2006 through the Directorate 
of Staff Development (DSD). 

These interventions are considered significant, yet unlike other developing countries such as India, these programs have not been rigorously evaluated in terms of their impact on educational outcomes of interest. The main areas of interest highlighted in this report are twofold; it explores through feedback from users on how CPD functions and operates to elevate the learning standards in the region, and analyzes the non conventional factors, which are usually never taken into account, come into play in students achievements. 

For this particular report, results of the fifth class exam held by the Punjab Examination Commission in 2005, along with school level information from the EMIS records available for government schools were analyzed through statistical tools including mean, variance decomposition and regression analysis. Furthermore, level data from the PMIU Monitoring Reports for the study period as well as the District Census Reports of 1998 were used. 

A shocking discovery was the substantial variation in the quality of public schools within the small districts of Punjab. This parity in student performance becomes more significant when schools were compared within a district rather than comparing district level performance. In other words, the gap between affluent and poor districts is relatively minor as compared to much larger differences existing across schools located within the same administrative units. 

The first conclusion to be drawn from the research is the overall poor quality of education. For instance, mathematics is a subject offering mathematically gifted students ample room for success, yet none of the 1.2 million students appearing in the 2009 class fifth exam scored full marks. Instead, sadly so, half of the students obtained less than 39 marks, and one in every five students scored less than 26, which clearly exhibits a lack of functional numeracy even after six years of schooling. 

Surprisingly these parities largely exist due to the school level factors and the presence of high quality school material inputs, such as infrastructure and facilitates like the school type, student gender , shift (morning or evening), availability of libraries, laboratories and playgrounds as well as provision of basic facilities (such as electricity, drinking water and toilets), completely built boundary wall, school council, number of classrooms and basic construction details of the school’s building like useful teaching aids, are significantly associated with higher school performance. Another notable fact was that the majority of schools had access to clean drinking water and toilets but rarely had libraries and playgrounds. 

In terms of teaching, most of the teachers lacked higher education beyond bachelors along with extensive teaching experiences. It was also found that students with lower student-teacher ratios tend to slightly outperform those with higher ratios. Similarly schools with higher educated and experienced faculty showed better performance. 

The paper largely focuses on the CPD framework in Punjab. To analyze the impact of the CPD on the sector, research information was collected through a field survey in district Jhelum to develop a deep operational understanding of the program before its impact on learning outcomes could be evaluated. 

Interviews with Teachers, Head teachers and District Teacher Educators (DTEs) revealed that the program was generally appreciated by its target market. Aspects of the program which include mentoring visits by the DTEs and periodic assessment of pupils in grades third to fifth were thought of being very valuable to the teachers. Moreover, the CPS was so well received that a demand even greater than the one currently present in these areas was generated by the teachers from low performing schools to improve their standards for the future. 

Since 2004 the Directorate for Staff Development (DSD) of Punjab is working as the key agency working towards establishing a system of professional development for teachers and education personnel for enhancing the quality of learning in the government schools of Punjab. In addition it also exercises administrative control over the 33 teacher training institutes in Punjab known as the Government Colleges of Elementary Training (GCETs). 

The CPD model comprises of top level District Training and Support Centers (DTSC) for each district as the primary unit for assessing and undertaking training activities, with decentralized delivery of teacher training at an appropriate sub district level through Cluster Training Support Centers (CTSC).The DTSC and CTSCs in each district have permanent staff called the Teacher Educators (TE) and District Teacher Educators (DTE) to implement CPD by responsibly reaching out to schools for learning assessment and teacher training/mentorship. 

However, the report concludes with the finding that there seems to be no uniform grading policy for marking assessment tests under the CPD. This creates logistical difficulties for the DTEs in disseminating, administering and collecting assessment papers for all schools in their clusters, due to which they suggested quarterly rather than monthly audits lowering the impact of the program manifold. Moreover, the absence of an incentive structure to reward well performing schools and teachers lowers the motivation to be a part of this program. There are other several inherent weaknesses such as lack of proper communication channels and discretion given to teachers in showing interest in the training program. It also seems as if the program is not effectively funded and there is an overriding focus on lesson delivery as opposed to enhancing the skills and knowledge of the teachers, which needs greater attention and improvement. 

The education system of Pakistan is in need of immediate attention and regulation. Although many reforms are surfacing in this sector through private and public channels, they’re not reaping the intended benefits. There is a need to dig deeper through researches and explore the holistic factors that need to be altered to elevate the education level of Pakistan. Prioritizing, improving and directing developmental efforts in the proper direction are greatly imperative to improve the current student learning environment in the country, to develop future leaders and thinkers which will lead to prosperity of the Pakistani generations to come. 

The research paper can be found here
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