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In Pakistan, primary students struggle in literacy, numeracy: ASER - The Express Tribune


Trends in learning levels in language and arithmetic have shown an improvement from 13% to 17% for students in Grade five. However, children continue to struggle at lower levels to grasp foundational skills in basic literacy and numeracy.

This was stated in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2019 National (rural) survey of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA). Minister for Federal Education and Vocational Training Shafqat Mehmood launched the report on Monday along with Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan at a ceremony in Islamabad.

According to the report, which reviewed trends and scores from 2014 to 2019, student competencies in learning languages, English, and arithmetic have improved over the years.

At least 59% of children from grade-V can read a grade-II story text in their respective medium of education such as Urdu, Sindhi and Pashto. However, in English, only 55% of the surveyed grade-V students could read sentences meant for students of second grade.

Arithmetic learning levels have also improved since 2018, the report said, adding, now 57% of students of grade-V can do a two-digit division, pegged at second-grade curriculum. New questions on time recognition along with word problems on addition and multiplication were also added for the first time in the survey.

At least 60% of children in grade-V can recognise time correctly, 60% can solve addition word problems and 53% can solve a multiplication word problem, the ASER survey said.

Private sector schools report better learning outcomes and boys outperform girls. In comparison, the learning levels in urban areas were considerably higher than rural areas across all three competencies.

However, the report said, that only 55% of the surveyed grade-V students can read sentences from a grade-II English textbook.

Despite the recent focus of the federal and provincial governments on enrolment drives to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution — which requires the provision of universal elementary education — 17% of children between the ages of six and 16 remain out-of-school, the survey said.

In contrast, a survey in 20 urban centres across Pakistan reveals that only 6% of children were out-of-school. With 40% of the population residing in urban areas, this presents an important opportunity to accelerate universal access for the urban five-16-year-olds, whilst simultaneously focusing on rural areas, the report suggested

Education targets can be met through extraordinary resolve and actions by the state to guarantee a constitutionally fundamental right, it said.

Teacher competencies

The ASER report highlights teachers’ attendance in government and private schools stood the same at 89% closing the gap, on the day of the survey. Whilst private school teachers were reported to have better qualifications at graduate levels — 40% compared to 33% in government schools.

However, for MA, MSc and other post-graduate qualifications, a larger percentage of public sector teachers had higher qualification than their private school counterparts.

Multi-grade classrooms highlight teacher shortages, it said.

ASER 2019, rural findings reveal that 46% of government and 26% of private schools impart multi-grade teaching at grade two. In grade-VIII, multi-grade teaching stood at 18% in both government and private schools. A teacher taking classes of multiple grades in government middle schools has risen from 5% in 2018 to 18% in 2019.

Private schools lose students

The ASER rural results over the years highlight a decline in the number of children going to private sector schools. Around 23% of children up to 16-years-of-age were enrolled in the private sector in 2019, compared with 30% in 2014. The shift to government schools has increased the enrolment share from 70% in 2014, to 77% in 2019.

This edge must be maintained with persistent state actions for quality facilities, the report stated.

Early Childhood Education (ECE) has been historically tracked by ASER Pakistan. From 2014 when ECE enrolment stood at 39%, it has not registered significant improvement (39% in 2019), although ECE was critical for foundational learning readiness in literacy and numeracy.

Better school facilities in private sector

The survey showed that 87% of private primary schools had boundary-walls as compared to 75% of government primary schools.

Functional toilets were available in 59% public and 89% private primary schools, the report said adding that safe and conducive environments do affect learning positively across public and private schools. The government must make missing facilities an integral part of school-based budgets rather than as a separate budget head.

Health and disability

The ASER survey included a section on health and disability of students, in which headteachers and teachers were asked questions about specially-abled children and appropriate facilities in their respective schools.

Around 22.2% of the surveyed government schools reported having specially-abled children, compared with 16.6% of private schools. Of the types of disability prevalence in schools, the highest reported was physical (41.4%) followed by behavioural (12.1%) and multiple (11.8%).

The report said that only 2.1% of government and 2% of private schools had ramps for wheelchairs and only 3.9% of government and 7% of private schools had disability-friendly toilets. 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2020.



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