December 4, 2012
For many of the Pakistani educators who visited classrooms during a recent study tour in the United States, the most powerful experience was seeing the pivotal role that reading plays in every subject and teachers’ ability to teach reading in an interactive, hands-on fashion. Touring Eastern Michigan University and classrooms in Fairfax County (Va.), they also observed the interactive learning, collaborative group learning, and peer review that are common practices in U.S. education.
“After this visit, I have a new vision,” Rafaqat Ali Akbar of the University of the Punjab told the school hosts. “I will go back and focus on reading and literacy skills. In Pakistan, we are really deficient in student-centered learning.”
Aniqa Mumtaz, who represented a government college in Rawalakot in Azad Jammu and Kashmir province, echoed his comments. “There is so much focus here on reading and literacy,” says Mumtaz. “In Pakistan, we just focus on language, teaching by memorization. We need to focus on the basic skills of language—the art of using a language.”
Literacy instruction is sorely needed in Pakistan, where about a third of the population cannot read or write. Pakistani schools and teachers face many barriers, including a lack of reliable electricity, few resources, large classes, students who are sometimes poorly nourished, and a constant demand to fulfill bureaucratic requirements. By embedding reading into every school subject and developing a “culture of reading,” says Mumtaz, “we will create a new generation that will benefit the entire country.”
The 24 educators were selected by the government of Pakistan to join the USAID Teacher Education Project’s tour of U.S. teacher education programs and public schools. Implemented by EDC, the USAID Teacher Education Project is the largest education initiative in Pakistan. The project has worked with about 100 colleges and universities to develop degree programs that meet international standards—a two-year associate’s degree and a four-year bachelor’s degree that prepare students for careers in teaching.
In Pakistan, public school classrooms average about 60 students but may have as many as 100. Teachers instruct by rote and recitation. “Ninety-nine percent of schools have the same old system: write on the board, recite again and again,” says Sanat Ullah, who is from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semiautonomous tribal region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What Ullah saw on the tour was eye-opening for him. “I discovered that any subject can be taught by activity-based learning,” he says. “I was impressed at how friendly the relationship can be between a teacher and a student.”
For Abid Ali Naeem of the Gilgit-Baltistan region the opportunity to interact with the U.S. teachers was inspiring. “When you have high caliber professionals, you have high caliber institutions,” he says.
Shaista Gul is a faculty member at a government college for elementary education in the volatile region of Balochistan. She was particularly interested in the way student-teacher or practicum programs are operated in the United States. “I saw practicums in the field, observed classrooms, and talked to teachers. Coming here has raised my confidence.”
Some of the educators came from areas where girls’ education is discouraged. While enrollment among girls is up, the challenge is to make sure those girls stay in school and graduate, says EDC’s Nadya Karim-Shaw. Many of the new enrollees in the teacher education program are women, who may serve to inspire the girls they teach. “It’s a paradigm shift,” adds Akbar. “The future of the nation is in the hands of the women teachers.”
Rana Hussain, who works for EDC on the project’s curriculum development activities, acknowledges that profound change in education and teacher training will take a long time. “I have hope in this project,” she says. “It’s national. It’s not piecemeal. It is the government’s own decision. We’re using the right medium: the teachers.”