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AESR 2023: A Call to Action for Education and Learning! By Kashif Mirza

Byadmin

Apr 4, 2024

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation

president@Pakistan

privateschools.com

ASER Pakistan, a flagship program of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), conducted one of the largest household-based national learning assessment surveys in 2023 to gauge the foundational literacy and numeracy proficiency of children in Pakistan between the ages of five and sixteen. Every year, ASER’s extensive collection of open-source data allows our citizen volunteers to evaluate Pakistan’s educational system by gathering information on the learning outcomes of children along with household and school-level indicators. ASER’s methodology of collecting the data by mobilizing 11000 volunteers makes it not only unique but also transparent and inclusive. The MoFE&PT, the provincial governments along the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) through ASER 2023 have access to levels of foundational learning data across Pakistan for formal and non-formal, state and non-state education systems from ASER Pakistan as a regular benchmark and prime reference document for SDG 4.1 tracking by the SDG secretariat and also for Article 25 a, the fundamental right to education in Pakistan. The ASER Pakistan 2023 records will help to improve the enrollment levels across the country corroborating with the Pakistan Institute of Education (PIE) 2024 Pakistan Education Statistics report, narrowing gender gaps in enrolment and in learning due to both demand side factors and supply side efforts of all actors. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a citizen-led, household-based survey, was one of the largest conducted in terms of its scale and scope in the year 2023. Along with 151 rural and also conducted the survey in 123 urban districts which was a huge assignment to manage, given the paucity of time. The survey mobilized 16 partner organizations and 11000 educated graduate degree enumerators, a mobile phone and a passion to uncover the core challenges of the education sector as active citizens. The volunteers and the master trainers from partner organizations were provided three days of rigorous field-based training, to conduct the oral one-to-one assessment in homes for both in-school and out-of-school children, triangulated by vital information from the households and visits to the local schools. In some districts, volunteers collected the information for the first time on the application, providing real-time information. The goal was to provide parents and other local actors with vital information on foundational learning so they could hold local officials and schools accountable for learning outcomes. This is why the contribution is so significant it goes beyond simply collecting the annual data mapping children’s learning progress, having established a vital component of the changing ecosystem, serving as a catalyst for bottom-up accountability and action to enhance learning in schools and to bring much-needed attention to the core dimensions of access, learning and equity for tracking 25-A, right to education and SDG 4. It’s expected that ASER Pakistan 2023 can make significant progress in converting data into action. In addition to capacity building and partnerships provided by ITA teams through ASER Pakistan, as civil society and autonomous organizations are extended a forum to collaborate and create solutions with the local community. Foundational learning is defined as basic literacy, numeracy, and transferable skills such as socioemotional skills that provide the fundamental building blocks for all other learning, knowledge, and higher-order skills. Embarking on the journey of collecting real-time data from the field, and reaching out to both urban and rural areas to present the first National Foundational Learning profile, it believed that the contributions of the ASER and ITA Pakistan can help the potential to change the educational landscape in the years to come, on such an evidence-based democratic citizen-led movement, from assessment to accountability to action. Which has been providing policymakers and practitioners with an important measure of foundational literacy and numeracy levels for children aged 5-16 years across Pakistan since 2009. ASER a call to action for stepping up efforts to improve foundational learning, is an essential public good produced by civil society in close collaboration with the government. ASER 2023 marks yet another important milestone in this journey, providing household-based learning data for children across 151 rural and 123 urban districts. This is a huge undertaking reaching out to 272,370 children 3-16 years and 200,987 children aged 5-16 years whose learning levels have been assessed using a simple grade two level tool (lower primary), robustly mapped to SDG 4.1.1 a and the national and provincial curriculum student learning outcomes (SLOs), in rural Pakistan. ASER fills a critical gap in learning data as no other national or provincial assessment in Pakistan has consistently measured learning levels in early grades. By measuring learning for children across the ages of 5-16, ASER also shows that children who are not learning the basics by grade 3, continue to struggle, with foundational learning gaps persisting in grades 5, 8 and even 10. South-South learning networks, such as the PAL Network, of which ASER Pakistan is an integral member, are making a powerful case to focus efforts on foundational learning. ASER provides open data on foundational learning, along with a host of other important education indicators, and is a national repository for evidence, mobilization, and actions for learning solutions. ASER is a reliable, meaningful measure of student learning and provides comparability over time so that we can tell if things are improving or not. It can be used for reporting on SDG 4.1.1 a and Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, as a model of good practice and accountability for foundational learning results.

ASER Pakistan 2023 can make significant progress in converting data into action, and as a regular benchmark and prime reference document for SDG and also for Article 25 A, the fundamental right to education in Pakistan, will help to improve the enrollment levels across the country

Pakistan ranks as the 5th most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index (UN-Habitat, 2023). Climate change and displacement caused by rising global temperatures exacerbate the inequalities and barriers that already exist. In particular, the effects of these are felt more deeply by those belonging to more socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, by women and girls, rural communities, and persons with disabilities (UNESCO, 2023). The climate crisis also intersects with another crisis – interruptions to education and learning and the resulting widening inequalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The founding Development Partners of the Global Coalition for Foundational Learning are FCDO, UNICEF, UNESCO, USAID, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). As development partners with a shared commitment to improving foundational learning for all, we have to come together to address this challenge through the Global Coalition for Foundational Learning with a shared commitment to improving foundational learning for all and a desire to work together to drive change more quickly. We have to work differently and together, to ensure we meet the commitments as set out in the Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning, launched by the Coalition at the UN Secretary General’s Transforming Education Summit (TES). Working closely with government partners, we have to collaborate on addressing the learning crisis, including developing a shared understanding of the challenges in order to support country-led action and implementation, improve learning data and monitoring mechanisms and continue advocacy and communication on the importance of foundational learning. There is evidence to show that disasters are now increasing in severity and occurring almost five times as often as they did 40 years ago and these disasters are disrupting the education of nearly 40 million children a year. The effects of these disasters on education are direct and indirect – flooding, for example, destroys schools, droughts result in children having to go further to collect water, financial impacts of climate shocks mean families cannot afford to keep children in school. Current, high-quality research in global contexts shows that without urgent action, climate change will make it increasingly challenging to achieve a quality education. The findings from ASER 2023 on these issues are stark. It is well known that certain regions in Pakistan are particularly prone to the impacts of climate change. It is well known that the recent floods that hit the country have been a catalyst for the many risks faced by vulnerable and marginalised populations living in these regions. The rural sample has revealed that whilst nationally, almost 22 per cent of the households reported being affected by the floods in 2022, there are stark regional disparities with 49 per cent of the households in Sindh and 47 per cent in Balochistan noting that their household was affected by the 2022 floods. The findings are even more telling – with 69 per cent of households in rural Sindh and almost two-thirds of those in rural Balochistan reporting being significantly or moderately impacted by any natural disaster/event in the past year. In Balochistan, almost a quarter of the rural respondents sampled reported a decline in earnings between 26-50% and in Sindh the equivalent was almost 19% of households. The impacts of climate shocks will have long-lasting effects on the wellbeing, learning, life and economic outcomes of those directly affected but are also likely to be transmitted across future generations.

According to Article 25A: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Article 25A was added to the basic rights section of the Constitution of the country in 2010. There were laws for universal primary education even before then but the right to education, for all children and, in fact, the obligation (free and compulsory) to educate ALL children for 10 odd years was added to the Constitution in 2010. The tragedy is, despite the constitutional promise we are no closer to fulfilling this promise to our children than we were in 2010. By latest estimates, more than 26 million children between the ages of five to sixteen years are out of school in Pakistan. We have report after report, including many rounds of Annual Status of Education (ASER) data that show that the majority of children who are enrolled in schools have been and are getting poor quality of education. This has been corroborated by reports from the World Bank as well. Grade 5 children can hardly do grade 3 work, and many children in grade 8 are not able to read paragraphs and do simple mathematics. We are simply not living up to the promises we have made, implicitly and explicitly, to our children as far as educational opportunities to access and quality are concerned. As a state and society, we have to encourage the private sector to develop as a provider of education services at both K-12 and university levels. Today we have an education system in the country that is extremely differentiated, fragmented, diverse and iniquitous. Educational institutions vary along many variables. Of these, the public schooling system only caters to 24 million and the private schooling system caters to 26.9 million, with over 26 million currently out-of-school-children (OOSC). As per All Pakistan Private Schools Federation‘s data and Pakistan Education Statistics 2020-21, private educational institutions are serving a sizeable number of students (56%) with 26.9 million students, 1.5 million teachers and 207,000 private schools. We need more than 200,000 schools with 2 million new teachers, to cater to over 26 million currently out-of-school-children (OOSC). Private entrepreneurs and individuals should be encouraged and given incentives to open new schools and adopt schools for infrastructure development and the provision of necessary facilities. The incentives could be in the shape of tax amenities and rebates or the attribution of private schools for at least 10 years. Article 25-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan safeguards the Right to Education of children aged 5-16 years. After devolution under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Provincial Assemblies also enacted Article 25-A to ensure free and compulsory education to all children and approved Compulsory Education Acts. Pakistan is also a signatory of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which reiterates Pakistan’s pledge to mainstream out-of-school-children (OOSC) by the year 2030. This legal provision in the constitution of Pakistan and international commitment shows a strong determination to address the challenge of OOSC. PPPs can expand access to education, particularly in underserved areas. By partnering with private entities, the government can extend its reach, ensuring that quality education reaches every corner of the country. In these circumstances, no doubt, ASER is a national asset working in close collaboration with public sector departments of school education and literacy and the MoFEPT to be used extensively in relevant citations at provincial, national and global levels for lower primary indicators of SDG 4. No bounty, the efforts of the Government of Pakistan, both at the Federal and Provincial levels are commended in pursuing this fundamental policy priority with the utmost focus and resolve. As a first step, and to complement ASER, we should call on the Government to design and deploy large-scale, nationally, and provincially representative, comparable learning data over time to know whether students are learning, which are being left behind and to understand where to adjust education policies and practices based on agreed minimum proficiency levels.

By admin

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