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Quality teachers for quality education

Pakistan's education landscape
Quality Education March: Educators, policy-makers, students, teachers and government stakeholders have been emphasising the role of education in national prosperity in Pakistan for a very long time now. Education has long been treated as a national cause but upon taking a critical look at Pakistan's education landscape, it is obvious that past governments have left their mark, through a new education policy every now and then.
In their pursuit to promote the Pakistan ideology, previous governments have passed on their vision through curriculum and textbooks, but very little has been done about teacher education and training. Unfortunately, this area has been ignored in the larger context of education in Pakistan, but institutions such as Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Aga Khan University-Institute for Education Development (AKU-IED) and Ali Institute of Education have been directing their efforts towards teaching quality improvements in Pakistan. One such commendable effort to promote teacher education is the USAID-funded $75 million five-year Pre-Service Teacher Education Programme in Pakistan (Pre-STEP), which primarily works towards building a better future through more quality teachers across all provinces of Pakistan including Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

According to the National Education Policy of 2009, reforms in pre-service training and standardisation of professional qualifications are essential requirements for improving the overall standard of education in Pakistan. "A Bachelors degree, with B.Ed shall be the minimum requirement for teaching at the elementary level. A Masters level for the secondary and higher secondary, with a B.Ed, shall be ensured by 2018. PTC and CT shall be phased out through encouraging the present set of teachers to improve their qualifications."

The Pre-STEP programme focuses on nurturing those aspects in teachers that correspond to the basic requirements of this policy. In August 2010, Pre-STEP launched the two-year Associate Degree in Education (ADE) programme and four-year B.Ed (Hons) Elementary degree programmes in joint collaboration with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the Ministry of Education (MoE). Executive Director HEC Syed Sohail H. Naqvi says, "This is the vision that guides our teacher education policies."

The teacher education component of Pre-STEP focuses on improved pay scales for teachers, professional standards development, and university rehabilitation at four universities including Fatima Jinnah Women's University, Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University, Bahauddin Zakariya University and the University of the Punjab, teacher mapping techniques to identify education trends in provinces, scholarships, research grants and more.

Recently, 10 universities were awarded grants upon review of their respective research proposals submitted on the theme "Prospective teachers". According to Dr Shahida Sajjad from the University of Karachi, "Teacher training was always ignored and Pre-STEP has given tools that are addressing this problem. Teachers are motivated to develop a better understanding of the process."

Among many other initiatives directed towards reviewing the content of new curriculum and providing technical and financial support to key universities, key colleges and Government College of Elementary Teachers (GCETs) across the country, Pre-STEP has collaborated with Teachers College, Columbia University to help provide expert advice to Pre-STEP's partner universities in the formulation of a strategic, curriculum and research plan for the Faculties of Education.

Founded in 1887, Teachers College Columbia University is an independent graduate and professional school of education and is one of the oldest and largest schools of education, ranking as one of the top three education schools in the US. Currently, Teachers College has been engaged as a University partner to the Pre-STEP programme, providing senior-level expertise in strategic planning, curriculum and research. Prior to its collaboration with Pre-STEP, Teachers College has also partnered with the Ali Institute of Education in Lahore. Pre-STEP invited Executive Director of International Affairs Teachers College Columbia University Ms Portia Williams, Assistant Director of International Affairs Ms Maribel Roman, Prof Frances Schoonmaker, Ms Lesley Bartlett, Ms Jo M. Shepherd and Professor of International and Comparative Education Ms Gita Steiner-Khamsi to provide expertise on three components - strategic planning, curriculum development and research. The Teachers College team recently visited Pakistan in order to better understand the needs of universities here in line with the three components.

In terms of the curriculum development component, the Teachers College team designed and participated in a workshop titled "Curriculum Design Workshop for ADE/B.Ed. (Hons.) Elementary Degrees" in Lahore, where team leaders including Associate Professor Air University Islamabad Dr Hina Ashraf and AKU-EB representative Ms Saba Sherali among other representatives from all provinces were present. The Teachers College team visited the University of Peshawar, University of Punjab and Government College for Elementary Teachers (GCET) Faisalabad among others, to lay the groundwork for a new approach towards designing curriculum and strengthen the overall cohesiveness of the universities initiatives. This workshop further focused on aspects of coursework, textbooks and reference, grading policy, dilemmas in curriculum and teaching and curriculum writing.

In line with the strategic planning component of the programme, Pre-STEP organised the "Inception Workshop Strategic Planning", which invited Dr Gita Steiner to deliver a lecture on strategic planning as a quality enhancement tool. This was followed by a presentation using National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards, tools and mechanisms for strategic planning in teacher education by Chairperson NACTE Dr Munawar S. Mirza and a reflection on strategic planning in education by Dean of Education AIOU Dr Rehana Masrur and Dean of Education University of Sindh, Jamshoro Dr Parveen Munshi.

The Pre-STEP team welcomed the Teachers College team to attend the "National Research Workshop on Data Collection and Analysis", which is part and parcel of the Pre-STEP research initiative. On day one of this workshop, key partner universities including Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University, Quetta; Karakorum International University, Gilgit; University of Balochistan, Quetta; University of Karachi and Hazara University shared their research proposals and ideas. For instance, Hazara University proposed a study focus on the integration of ICT in teacher education and University of Education, Lahore proposed to examine the impact of information and communication technology on achievement of prospective teachers in Pakistan.

Teachers College has also proposed that a two-week study tour for deans of Pre-STEP's selected partner universities be arranged this year; the study tour will allow participants to meet with educational leaders at New York University to discuss views on the implementation of teacher education programmes, and for Pakistani participants to discuss their experiences in the US higher education system. Teachers College has also proposed that participants must have an opportunity to meet with NCATE in Washington DC, and participate in cultural activities to gain a deeper understanding of the Teachers College community.

Teachers College Columbia University's involvement in Pakistan's teacher education programme auger well for Pakistan and its future needs for improving the overall quality of teacher education and basic education. However, this is a stepping stone to promote international scholarly collaboration to implement professional standards based pre-service programmes of teacher education that have been approved by HEC.

By Anum Pasha - The writer is a Lahore-based freelance journalist - anumpashaa@gmail.com (Dawn)

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