Khyber-Pukhtunkhwah government has decided to close down 360 state-run primary schools, where the number of enrolled students is not more than 50, in Mansehra district and hand over the buildings to deputy commissioner for some other use.
The decision, taken in order to rationalize expenditure and improve quality in education sector, would affect 250 boys and 110 girls school. Teachers will be assigned duties within the district, wherever required but it is not so far clear what will happen to students of abandoned schools.
There are widespread concerns about poor academic achievement and school attendance, particularly that of girls and children living in rural areas.
Due to weak governance and budget constraints, schools lack resources, teachers are ill-trained and without accountability. The entrenched use of pedagogical practices are not suitable to very young children.
Teacher-led classes allow limited teacher-child interaction whereas lessons focus on skill transfer through rote learning. There is left little space for children to explore ideas outside the realm of the text books.
Gender inequities occur because parents of girls often do not favour sending their girls to schools. Accessibility and cultural barriers also stand in their ways.
Understandably, several factors affect attendance in schools. Low population is one reason, poverty the other. Yet, there is trend, quite noticeable both in urban and rural areas, that parents prefer private schools for better results against the fact that public sector institutions’ performance is on decline since last decade.
How to address the problem of inadequate teaching methods, poor learning among students and, above all, scarcity of resources in education sector? The solution rests with radio, something that appears to be sliding in background after the arrival of satellite TV.
Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI), a distance education system that combines radio broadcasts with active learning to improve educational quality and teaching practices has been in use for more than 25 years and has been found effective at low cost.
IRI can be used effectively to overcome obstacles of access and increase the chances that students from poor families can receive quality education as well. Retaining its core elements the radio-based teaching method continues to evolve to meet new educational and social challenges.
IRI has ushered a revolution in in some developing countries boosting literacy to unprecedented levels by reaching out students in far flung and, otherwise, inaccessible regions.
West Africa, Thailand and Bolivia have used radio to improve quality of education in countryside overcoming scarcity of material and better trained teachers.
Pakistan’s experience with IRI is rather recent. It is being implemented in primary schools of Quetta district by Power99 Foundation, which has so far successfully engaged students and parents of both rural and urban areas of Islamabad, KP and Southern Punjab.
The project “Broad Class — Listen to Learn” is designed as an interactive, pedagogical approach for improving literacy, numeracy and healthy habits among young school-aged children (KG-Grade II) of marginalized communities and affords parents the opportunity to listen to lessons through radio broadcast and, hence, be involved in their children’s education.
The nonprofit organization stands tall in introducing the radio-based instruction method in Pakistan and earning the distinction of designing and implementing the ‘Most Innovative Development Project’ in the world by Global Development Network in 2016.
The scale of the success IRI has met in Pakistan can be gauged by the fact that in Haripur district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it has involved 8,860 children of 165 schools, 4370 members of parents and community members and 591 teachers and government officials for a duration of 18 months during 2014 and 2015.
KP had committed to utilize Challenge Fund in expanding IRI project to all schools of the province by directorate E & SE but the Peshawar tragedy of 2014, whereby dozens of students and teachers were massacred by militants at Army Public Schools, changed the priority of the battered province from education to the security of schools.
Federal Education Directorate wrote to Joint Secretary CAAD in March 2013 that the parents and stakeholders had approached it to introduce IRI system in the schools not in the loop. Here the Michelle Obama fund had to be diverted to raising school walls, obviously for security reasons and the IRI project was left un-attended.
Punjab remains too much obsessed with steel and tar concerns and has not shown any solid interest in IRI to bridge its literacy gap.
Having vast experience in teaching and personally knowing the problems of parents vis-à-vis providing quality education to their youngsters, the CEO of Power99 Foundation, Ms. Fakhira Najib says radio is an excellent tool of communication to reach out children of far flung areas of Pakistan.
Fakhira is working hard to upgrade Broad class up to class V believing that there is no other shortcut available to Pakistan for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) vis-à-vis literacy the country has committed itself to. Understandably, she is looking for the governments (both federal and provincial ones) to come forward and play their part after she has set the course with the help of international donors.
The writer is Director at the Center for Policy and Media Studies