The global community has failed dismally in meeting the challenge of providing all children with a quality education. This education failure is tragically apparent in Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous country. This failure of learning is evident both in the results of public sector examinations and private sector citizen-led household-based assessments like ASER Pakistan. More than ever Pakistan needs to break out of the country’s complacency with poor education and move toward a system of principled equity and quality matched by regular assessments. Crucial to success are answers to fundamental questions: What are the critical benchmarks of learning across the different levels of education? How do citizens understand the proposed frameworks and nature of learning of their children? Who should measure learning? How does the assessment of learning influence education policy, planning, teaching and learning norms, and budgets?
A vital step towards addressing this situation in Pakistan was the adoption of Article 25 A in 2010 as part of the 18th amendment to the country’s constitution. This made education a fundamental right for all children ages 5-16, spurring legislation across the provinces to provide universal access to education up to secondary school. With governance in the social sectors devolved completely to the provinces in 2010, education policy, planning, budgeting, implementation, and technical areas such as curriculum, medium of instruction, textbooks, and assessments are now entirely managed by provincial government entities.
Pakistan’s Article 25 A sets out a goal of access to education for all, but also ensuring that education is high-quality. To meet that goal, a group of public and private partners from all provinces have joined together in order to make Pakistan a Learning Champion, an initiative of the Learning Metrics Task Force, to construct a strategy on defining education quality in Pakistan and measuring that quality. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), the organization for which we work, leads the ASER Pakistan movement on learning, coordinates our in-country LMTF Learning Champion consortium in collaboration with government representatives from each province. This consortium includes the Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen, the National Education Assessment System in Islamabad; the Provincial Education Assessment Centres from Sindh; the Policy Planning and Implementation Unit in Balochistan; the Provincial Institute for Teacher Education; the Kashmir Education Assessment Center; the Punjab Examination Commission in Punjab; and the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development. There are also technical representatives from the technical planning units of each province. The 15-member group is currently involved in mapping existing assessments in the country in order to identify effective ways of reforming the system. The consortium is committed to ensuring that testing does not remain limited to numeracy and literacy, but shifts the focus to the measurement of students’ success in both cognitive and non-cognitive domains.
So far, the group has reviewed current assessment practices at both the national and provincial levels and prioritized the learning domains and areas of measurement from the LMTF recommendations. The next step is to convert the learning domains from LMTF guidance into practical strategies and assessment tools from early childhood to upper secondary age. Each of the provincial agencies is now involved in developing assessment tools that will be piloted by the end of this May to gauge students’ performance when tested. At the same time, the group is exploring options for launching a National Learning and Assessment Forum, which will convene twice a year to review assessment practices, research and recommend improvements.
The LMTF recently brought together the Learning Champion consortium from Pakistan with 14 other Learning Champions and other interested parties at a forum in Kigali, Rwanda, where everyone endeavored to add a layer of knowledge, expertise, coherence, excitement, and rigor to the many similar efforts ongoing across the world. For Pakistan, these next steps that have grown out of LMTF research may be an opportunity to mobilize a broad range of actors to prepare for the post-2015 period, during which both access to education and to high-quality learning—across all levels of education from early childhood education to secondary and post-secondary—is being proposed as a major goal under the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals.
A journey has begun in Pakistan through this forum that will be informed by national and global experts to make sense of the learning-education quandary. It is an expedition that Pakistan cannot afford to squander.