When Alia Ayub of Pakistan’s Balochistan province approached the microphone at a recent national research conference, it was her first public research presentation in her career as an educator.
She is just one pioneer in the nascent field of empirical research in Pakistani education. Her Urdu language presentation focused on a study of teacher beliefs and how they affect teachers’ classroom practices, especially in science.
Ayub hails from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University (SBKWU), which is located in Quetta, one of the nation’s most violent and turbulent regions. The region’s first university for women, SBKWU graduated its first class in 2006.
The research conference was part of the EDC-implemented USAID Teacher Education Project, an ambitious $75 million effort that aims to overhaul teacher preparation as a way of improving education across Pakistan. About 70 academics representing 17 campuses attended the conference.
Ayub’s team was 1 of 15 that were sponsored by the USAID project, which supports the researchers and assists them with all aspects of the research process. EDC guides university professors through the traditional steps of reliable research—from posting a strong research question to developing a proposal to data collection and analysis. Researchers have selected topics related to assessment, curriculum implementation, and teacher recruitment.
The Pakistani researchers also are working with the EDC-based Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands (REL-NEI) to understand more about why Pakistan’s culture neglects research and how that can be changed.
Before this program, academic research in Pakistan was largely limited to science, medicine, and engineering. Bringing evidence of what works and why to bear on education is new.
“In the U.S., you use evidence for everything. Policymakers actually use research to make decisions,” says EDC’s Ayesha Razzaque. “Here, that is not the case.” Research is often thought to be a “luxury” in Pakistan, adds Naeem Ahmed, the project’s research manager.
Mahmood Butt, the EDC project leader, is inspired by the level of confidence and drive among Pakistani researchers. “The divide between academic research and policymakers is being overcome.” The next important step is to disseminate the findings nationally and globally, he notes.
The hope is that this USAID project will lead to new incentives and structural changes at universities that will allow research to prosper. “I have high hopes for academia in Pakistan,” said Sajid Ali, assistant professor at the Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development in Karachi. “There is now a research community. This is a culture change.”
Originally published on September 19, 2012