Karachi: The misconceptions present in phrases such as those who can’t do, teach and you’re just a teacher are at the heart of Pakistan’s education problems, according to speakers at the Teachers Matter Symposium organised by AKU’s Institute for Educational Development (IED).
The symposium brought together 250 policy experts, principals, teacher educators and researchers who noted that the low status of the teaching profession is one of the major issues affecting the recruitment, development and retention of qualified teachers.
“Teachers are looked down upon even though their work lays the foundations for an educated, prosperous society,” said IED Director Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov. “The country’s commitments under the sustainable development goals require education stakeholders to attain universal access to primary and secondary education by 2030. You cannot achieve education for all without having teachers for all.”
Speakers at the event noted that many aspiring teachers choose to follow other professions because of concerns over pay and career development. They highlighted the need for school systems to introduce formal career development plans as well as continuing professional development schemes to boost teachers’ subject knowledge, teaching skills and their broader understanding of the profession. These initiatives would keep teachers motivated and participants noted that research shows that it is good for students too.
A study commissioned by UNESCO cites research into how students who are taught by two underperforming teachers in a row, are at risk of never catching up on their peers.
“An enthusiastic teacher cultivates a love for learning in students which prompts them to apply what they learn in class to the real world,” said Dr Sajid Ali, an associate professor at IED. “Everyone wants high test scores however the centrality of teachers in ensuring those scores is often ignored. Teachers need to be provided a facilitative environment in which they can prosper and inspire their students.”
Speakers at the event added that attending a variety of professional development programmes should be mandatory for all teachers and encouraged schools to reward teachers who apply novel techniques and learning methods in the classroom. However, speakers also noted that technological advances mean that today’s teachers have a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Teachers must also take charge of their performance by striving to innovate in the classroom and by constantly reflecting on how well students are learning, they added.
While participants at the symposium noted that government statistics highlight major shortages in the number of teachers in public schools, they viewed the education system’s failings as being a result of shortcomings in both the quantity and quality of teachers.
The poor perception of teaching as an occupation has also had an impact on teachers entering and exiting the profession. Speakers noted that many schools suffer from a high turnover with large classes, poor working conditions, low job satisfaction and low salaries relative to other industries being cited as reasons for teachers leaving their jobs.
“Teachers are agents of change; the conduits of knowledge and education,” said Sabrina Dawood, CEO of Dawood Public School. “Yet, the teaching vocation remains one of the most undervalued. The search for and retention of good teachers will continue to be a challenge until we can begin to value those who teach.”
Participants at the seminar also pointed to the gap between working conditions in private and state schools. They noted that public sector schools offer much better pay packages and job security than the private sector. However, they also pointed out that public sector schools need to improve their mechanisms to hold teachers accountable for their performance.
Other speakers at the event included Asim Iftikhar from Aga Khan Education Services Pakistan, Unaiza Ayub from The Citizens Foundation and Sadiqa Salahuddin from the Indus Resource Centre.