Education Roundtable at LUMS, March 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The LUMS Education Initiative held its inaugural Education Roundtable, at LUMS on Thursday, the 17th of March, 2016. The Education Initiative at LUMS was launched in January 2016 by the Vice Chancellor’s Office, aiming to create a forum where researchers in the field of education can work in close partnership with key stakeholders in education.

The Roundtable convened academics, practitioners, policy experts, and state representatives who have substantive experience in responding to complex challenges of education in Pakistan. 

The Roundtable was initiated by Dr. Sohail Naqvi, Vice Chancellor of LUMS, who expressed his gratitude to participants for coming together on one platform to deliberate education, a crucial catalyst in the development and progress of the country. 

Dr. Tahir Andrabi, Stedman-Sumner Professor of Economics at Pomona College, gave the Keynote address, speaking about the landscape of reform and intervention in the education system of Pakistan. Moderating the event, Dr. Faisal Bari, Assistant Professor at LUMS, emphasized the importance of incorporating women into mainstream education. The participants were then briefed by Dr. Mariam Chughtai, Doctor of Education from Harvard University, about the goals, various sessions, and expected outcomes of the Roundtable.

The Education Roundtable at LUMS convened academics, practitioners, policy experts, and state representatives who have substantive experience in responding to the complex challenges of education in Pakistan. The aims of the Roundtable were to:

Purpose

  1. gain a deeper understanding of these challenges and of the varied perspectives of the researcher, practitioner, and policymaker in the landscape of reform;
  2. formulate a set of research outcomes rooted at the nexus of research, policy, and practice of education; and
  3. develop a network of partners who can work collaboratively as the agenda for education reform through the LUMS platform takes shape.

 

The first half of the Roundtable convened participants to engage in sessions on

Text Box: 1.	Governance of Public Sector Schools2.	Arts: Adding Another Dimension to Education3.	School-based Management, Leadership and Agency4.	Technology Entrepreneurship for Education5.	Teaching of Teachers6.	Inclusive Education for Students with Learning Disabilities7.	Articulating Educational Quality8.	Curriculum, Textbooks and Policy

The final session for the Roundtable featured Faculty Leads from each session giving a summary presentation on their discussion, and a Closing Address by Syed Babar Ali, Pro Vice Chancellor of LUMS. Syed Babar Ali congratulated the gathering on a successful event that produced many important findings which shall inform an agenda for education reform and the role that LUMS can undertake in catalyzing this vision.

Schedule

Education Roundtable at LUMS
Thursday 17 March, 2016

Time

Stream 1
(Room: 012 SAHSOL)

Stream 2
(Room: 14A SAHSOL)

09:00am–09:15 am

Introductory Remarks by Dr. Sohail Naqvi, Vice Chancellor LUMS
(Moot Court: SAHSOL)

09:15am-09:45am

Keynote Lecture: Dr. Tahir Andrabi

10:00am-11:15am

Governance of Public Sector Schools

Arts: Adding Another Dimension to Education

11:30am-12:45pm

School-based Management, Leadership and Agency

Technology Entrepreneurship for Education

12:45pm-01:45pm

LUNCH
(Executive Dining Hall)

01:45pm-03:00pm

Inclusive Schooling for Students with Learning Disabilities

Teaching of Teachers

03:15pm-04:30pm

Articulating Educational Quality

Curriculum, Textbooks and Policy

04:45pm-06:00pm

Summary Session & Closing by Syed Babar Ali
(Moot Court: SAHSOL)

 

 

Session Summaries

 

1.      Summary of Session: Governance in Public Sector Schools

 

Various perspectives came up during the discussion. Participants deliberated over the inefficiency of governments in devolving authority to districts while stressing importance of devolution. Capacity constraints at lower levels were frequently cited as the reasons for authority not being entirely devolved.

District Education Authorities (DEAs) for the Punjab government were formed in 2013. At the district level they were to provide dedicated education solutions to local bodies, but their mandate was very wide. These institutions were supposed to be autonomous but they were kept subservient to district governments. How school clusters serve as an intermediate tier between the DEAs and schools and how DEAs maintain the pool of educators were some of the questions discussed. The DEAs were declared as having a one-point agenda: to make teachers responsible for everything but actually not giving them any real power to bring real change. Hence the relationships between DEAs and school clusters should be redefined clearly and then strengthened.

An agreement was reached that the School Education Department also needs to be involved in planning and decision making. Governance fails because an appropriate structure for management and alignment of all stakeholders’ objectives has not been established. It was mentioned that approximately 323,000 teachers and 50,000 schools will change hands in the upcoming DEA structure. The academia and NGOs must help the government in improving the design of DEAs.

Participants commented that the school systems are not in fact ready for change. Devolution is not in place in its truest sense because schools do not have financial autonomy or any substantial decision making power. The main debate was centered around the question ‘What is the appropriate level of decentralization and localization?’. The first task is to engage highly qualified individuals to form policy, and to conceive clearly defined national education objectives for government and public school structures. Further devolution of power to head teachers or head masters was recommended, who should be provided support systems in terms of infrastructure and resources.

Another highlighted issue was that there is no accountability mechanism to measure performance of schools and that teacher behavior in the class room environment is not regulated, for which a series of experiments and pilot studies of classroom scenarios is needed. Finally, the issue of under-performance due to underpayment of public sector teachers was also stressed upon.

The discussion ended on the note that building a solid and effective education system requires consistent hard work and will need at least 15 to 20 years to mature. Further questions to be explored such as what a good distribution of functions among various tiers i.e. provincial, district, and what school clusters would look like, and what lessons are to be learnt from similar experiences of other countries, were outlined.

 

2.       Summary of Session: Arts: Adding a New Dimension to Education

 

This session identified various challenges and perspectives towards education in the arts. The discussion underlined that there is resistance to the arts at all levels of society. Students remain disinterested in arts in Pakistan due to lack of a broad vision about academics. There is a dilemma that students at the secondary school level are categorized into fields and hence cannot have a broader perspective about academics. In addition, students are not encouraged to take arts as a subject by parents and teachers both because it is generally believed that the arts have no promising future.

The discussion highlighted loop holes existing in current teaching techniques and methodology. Teachers in general, and of arts subjects in particular, are resistant to curriculum renewal and pedagogy training initiatives and remain set in their ways. They often continue to teach in unimaginative and static ways for years. The panel agreed on the point that teacher training is imperative to imparting knowledge to students. If teachers are able to teach students through visual and performing arts, it will be much easier for students to comprehend the topic under discussion more effectively. But unfortunately teachers are not eager to opt for creative ways to make the subject matter interesting. One reason why teachers remain resistant is the lack of incentives in the schooling system for teachers to change. Schools can be equally unimaginative about renewal and training efforts, considering these as futile exercises, as they believe teachers are likely to move on to other, better opportunities. School systems are often run like businesses with unrealistic teacher student ratios and the art teacher’s role in these schools is seen as far from the powerful, constructive, and transformational position such a teacher potentially has.

Furthermore, the session also stressed upon the importance of the curriculum along with the understanding of the arts which play a vital role in improving a student’s ability to learn and think creatively. Addressing the arts in the curriculum requires integration. Curricula and their implementation in schools are compartmentalized through instructional practices that remain in the silos of subjects and disciplines. Therefore, it is required that the arts be integrated into curricula and their scope should be expanded to all areas so that learning becomes more interesting and creative.

The conclusion of the session’s discussion was that the process of teaching and learning, especially in schools, need to be holistic and integrated. This approach should address all aspects of the curriculum as well as how the content is delivered. Moreover, a sustainable long term research and development agenda with clear goals needs to be developed, garnering the support of viable private and public, local and global funding bodies. Extending dialogue to actual practitioners by initiating an open source scholarly publication alongside a database of current practices in education in the arts will prove to be crucial. Furthermore, a sustainable program of policy dialogues on education in the arts involving representatives from local and federal education commissions (e.g. HEC, regional education boards and foundations of education) as well as local and federal cultural institutions (e.g. PNCA and Lahore Museum) must be initiated. This participation and dialogue would be imperative for bringing about a gradual transformation in the perception of education in the arts at the national and individual levels.

Conventional art forms also need to enhance their accessibility to non-art-literate sections of the population. The best approach, to this end, would be to form clusters of private-public partnerships.

 

3.      Summary of Session: School Based Management, Leadership and Agency

 

This session was motivated by the need to explore the potential of schools to be agents of change, and to develop a framework for thinking about the link between school leadership, and effective teaching and learning in the context of Pakistan’s schools. This session was shaped around some central research questions.

Participants were asked how teaching practices and learning outcomes were impacted by school leadership and what a successful school leadership meant in practice. Some other research areas that were probed included the different possible approaches to school leadership in Pakistan, realities for school leaders in Pakistan, and in a move towards a more decentralized structure of governance, how the role for school leadership should be imagined to help develop effective schools.

The session saw a consensus around the importance of school leaders in affecting intermediary and final outcomes at the school level, and the need to catalogue school leadership practices and models. The session also emphasized an importance to develop a framework by operationalizing school leadership and making it a part of evidence generation.

Important comparisons between realities of state and non-state school contexts were made in the session, such as autonomy and the ability to respond to individual contexts, and shared knowledge in terms of accountability, a feedback loop, and incentives linked with performance.

The issue of decentralization was highlighted and it was proposed that head teachers must be empowered in actuality. Participants representing schools said that they consider the teacher as the most important tool for imparting quality education, but for teachers to understand this truly, a strong head teacher/leader is required. School leadership is critical to the success of the education sector. They said that they look at academic leadership as a sum of noteworthy academic excellence and remarkable ability in terms of subject knowledge and service delivery of the teacher, and an understanding of how effective the leadership actually is in terms of output.

The gaps in research and policy that this session addressed included non-inclusion of measures of quality of school leadership and degree of autonomy in studies of school quality and effectiveness, and highlighted that the challenge may not be dealing with individuals but rather with mechanisms that are limiting the potential of school leaders to act as agents of change in their contexts. Additionally, mechanisms for taking inputs from school leaders in policy decisions and their impact on teaching and learning in their schools were also discussed. Similarly, mechanisms for identifying appropriate talent for leadership were discussed, which could encompass decentralization of governance structures and an understanding of a considerable balance between autonomy and agency – not just for school leaders but also for middle-tier bureaucrats and teachers.

 

4.      Summary of Session: Technology Entrepreneurship for Education

 

This session looked at the multiple perspectives on attempting to deploy educational technology solutions in a local context through the government, private firms, and individual entrepreneurs. It sought to understand whether the source of educational content is local or global, and to assess whether we have some success stories reflecting measurable, scalable impact. Further, it aimed to identify areas of research interest and training from invited stakeholders, and to evaluate the support that can be garnered from stakeholders in pursuing various projects and initiatives. Finally, the session attempted to understand sources for case studies that can be used as part of the curriculum and academic output.

The discussion centered on the assessment of impact of initiatives, how players can specialize in specific areas of the supply chain and realize where partnerships are more efficient, where training is required, the expense of implementing solutions and the importance of using technology to empower rather than replace other learning mediums.

During the discussion, it was discovered that several entrepreneurial technology-in-education projects are up and running: the Ilm Ideas Fund channels donor money to scalable, impactful projects; PITB has several large-scale public school initiatives such as e-learning and assessment systems; private sector entrepreneurs are selling globally produced platforms and products directly to organizations; and private schools are attempting to integrate technology in classrooms.

Participants expressed many different perspectives. Talking about technology and its use in educational institutions, many of the speakers were in favor of replacing conventional methods of teaching. But there was some skepticism towards the impact of technology in general as participants emphasized low rates of adoption and little measurable impact. They highlighted the challenges of using technology as a tool to improve concepts.

Participants brought up political, training and mindset related challenges in working with schools. A participant mentioned the need to have neutral third party agencies for impact assessment of technology incorporation in educational institutions. It was commented that evidence from the developed world has shown that technology can improve learning outcomes, but results in our peer markets are more varied and suggest that the processes need some tweaking for our markets. The government provides a captive audience for deployment in comparison to the multitude of fragmented private sector actors. Moreover, it was highlighted that there is a need to focus on using technology to understand and improve processes more than outcomes, stressing on the fact that how good a design is is critical in designing online learning.

This session foresaw future developments of improved academic results in the private sector with the incorporation of visual and personalized technologies. Ilm Ideas was said to have played a role in evaluating and funding opportunities including rigorous training and due diligence of projects. The presence of local technical ability to deploy generic learning systems was foreseen, through which local content can incorporate knowledge of adaptive learning techniques which can translate into a business model with free content and paid-for certifications. Finally, the interest of private sector schools in using technology tools as a way to develop critical thinking skills in their students was also anticipated by participants.

 

5.      Summary of Session: Teaching for Teachers

 

This session had several focus areas. Firstly, it addressed the extent to which there is a disconnect between teacher training provided at the provincial center, and the demands of teachers on the ground-level. Secondly, it addressed the extent to which existing teacher monitoring mechanisms are effective in assessing and supporting teacher and student performance, or are they simply bureaucratic procedures that disrupt classroom activity.

The discussion focused on the need to strengthen teacher education, the issues of balancing pedagogy and content knowledge in pre-service and in-service teacher training, the importance of the non-cognitive aspect of teaching and learning, the difference between the realities of schools in urban centers and those in rural areas, and the role of character building in teaching. Participants expressed that the desired balance between pedagogy and content is hard to find in teachers and that continued professional development backed by content knowledge is required to make well-rounded teachers. But it was noted that professional development pathways are missing proficiency, hence a development track needs to be established. It was highlighted that teacher licensing mechanisms should also be developed to regulate quality.

The session presented on-going work at the Directorate for Staff Development (DSD) that is attempting to address these issues through more regular training and mentoring of teachers. Induction training and continuous professional development are underway through DSD. However, the problem is that the general public is seldom exposed to such initiatives, and so such efforts are often either overlooked or ignored. There is a lack of awareness about success stories in the public sector, although accountability is very high, since the results are not being celebrated or shared. Hence, it was recommended that data sharing between policy makers, researchers, and practitioners should be strengthened.

The discussion led to the recognition of how quality control mechanisms are an added burden on teachers. However, they are located within a larger context, with ‘political will’ at the center, where such quality units are considered more important for the purpose of ensuring teacher attendance and participation, often advertently or inadvertently leaving a negative impact on teacher motivation and empowerment.

The outcome of the discussion was that policy makers, implementers, and researchers, are willing to form a partnership in taking this conversation further. There is a genuine interest in having another session of this sort, taking input from the DSD and the Ali Institute in formulating questions that will direct further discussion. The DSD was also willing to collaborate on possible solutions in addressing existing limitations of teacher training and professional development modules.

 

6.      Summary of Session: Inclusive Education for Students with Learning Disabilities

 

This roundtable session fostered discussion on the importance of inclusive education for children with Learning Disabilities (LDs) and the need to train teachers to enable them to deal with specific learner needs. It sought to discuss the key challenges in inclusive schooling for children with learning disabilities and the role of school managements, teachers, and parents in preliminary diagnosis, assessment procedures, and behavior management. It also sought to explore existing teacher training programs that can be reformed to include components on developing the required teaching skills for inclusive education. Further, the session identified which stakeholders may be engaged to change the existing landscape of biases, negative attitudes, and the stigma associated with learning disabilities in order to integrate children with LDs into the education sector. Finally, the session touched upon the role of governing bodies in influencing inclusive education policies that address the challenges teachers face in inclusive classrooms.

The session highlighted the need to focus on the assessment and diagnosis of LDs especially by teachers, and the dangers of under and over diagnosis. Misconceptions that teachers have about the nature of LDs were discussed, the characteristics of children with LDs were identified, and the effort required to deal with students with special needs was recognized. The importance of inclusive schooling was highlighted, and the ways schools can strengthen teachers' competencies and skills in inclusive education to equip them with resources to deal with children with specific learning disabilities were brought up. It was noted that on the government level, in inclusive education centers, hearing-impaired children are often grouped with children with LDs whereas they should be differentiated and LDs should be recognized as a distinct problem.

Representatives from relevant organizations showed interest in collaborating to raise awareness about the importance of inclusive schooling and to ‘marginalize marginalization’. They agreed to work together towards changing the existing landscape of negative attitudes, biases, and the stigma associated with learning disabilities; and to design and run teacher training workshops that shall focus on equipping teachers to screen students for LDs, and use research-based intervention strategies and simple accommodations. Participants said that a proper framework needs to be established at the national level, and a 3 to 5 year plan needs to be developed alongside proper awareness campaigns. Furthermore, they agreed that easy-to-implement teaching strategies such as differentiated instruction and intervention, scaffolding, multi-sensory instruction, use of learning and compensation strategies, and remediation, which could be incorporated into existing teacher training programs need to be prepared. For the future, it was recommended that new specialized teacher training programs should be developed that specifically deal with equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge to identify LDs in students using informal level A and level B assessment tools. It was also suggested that accommodation strategies should be planned and implemented in the classroom in order to make learning for such students enjoyable and effective.

 

7.      Summary of Session: Articulating Educational Qualities

This session was centered on several key guiding questions. These included questions such as why exploring educational quality is a worthwhile pursuit, how to measure quality and drivers of quality, what factors guide researchers when measuring these, and how evidence based research can guide us in studying educational quality and in making use of funds for education effectively.

The engaging conversation in this session’s theme explored many aspects. Firstly, it was agreed upon that examinations are generally the basic measure of quality in Pakistan.  Students are often over-tested given this primary mode of gauging students’ academic capabilities. However, it was also noted by participants that students are not tested for their critical thinking and that there is a difference between the way students are assessed in public and private schools. The quality of assessment methods itself needs to be questioned. Teachers, who were agreed to be the most important deliverers of quality education, should also be made subject to assessments at several levels.

Participants commented that educational quality also needs to be gauged outside of standardized testing. It was pointed out that each individual is psychologically different, and so their assessment methods should be flexible. Dealing with conflicts and problems of learning proper languages to maintain a quality education was stressed upon. The discussion was then directed towards the need to devise a method of measuring non-cognitive skills effectively and figuring out its cost. Participants agreed that teachers are the most important drivers of educational quality. In early childhood years, new approaches to teaching reading and learning should be tried. Moreover, participants said that schools need to encourage project based learning, which is a student led approach.

The merits, demerits, and methods of measurement of public versus private schools’ drivers of quality were deliberated upon. It was discovered that not a lot of information was available about the quality of education. The only metric found on the national level was ASER’s which is a very basic analysis looking at learning outcomes. Teaching tools and assessment methods need to be improved by creating a Monitoring and Assessment System that functions periodically, however this method has been observed to be very expensive and requires a strong department conducting it. The assessment at the national level lags behind and not everyone supports the investment, one participant pointed out. Finally, it was brought-up that metrics on quality of education and learning curves of children need to be fully developed.

 

8.   Summary of Session: Curriculum, Textbooks and Policy

 

This session had two themes, one related to textbooks and curriculum pertaining to the sciences and mathematics, and the other to the larger debates in curriculum and textbook policy, in particular the debate on the privatization of textbook writing and publishing processes. It explored research questions such as, ‘Will privatization of textbook writing and publishing improve textbook quality?’, ‘How are learning objectives defined and who is responsible for incorporating them into the syllabus?’ and ‘In what ways can private publishers work with government institutions to produce textbooks that are of a high quality, are produced in a timely manner, and are affordable?’ The session hoped to discover how new topics could be put into the mathematics or sciences syllabi and how the government can build capacity of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) in textbook production to complement the private publisher’s capacity.

Participants discovered that a national curriculum was set before the 18th amendment, a fact which is not well known or referred to, and often, just the required texts in books are seen as the curriculum. Student learning outcomes are usually ignored with students being told to memorize portions of the text. This problem possibly arises from weakness of teacher training and preparation, hence the teachers themselves are unable to deal with the curriculum. Post 18th amendment, the curriculum is the responsibility of the provinces and so should be more embracing of it. Participants declared that assessment, and more importantly, the effective nature of assessment, is the key, which has the most influence on how students study and how teachers teach. Participants discussed the role of the private and public sector, especially in terms of textbooks, and whether or not foreign textbooks should be imported and inexpensive versions printed instead of producing new texts in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the issue of “sensitive material” that is likely to provoke controversy for possibly being against religious, cultural or social norms, was brought up. The centralization versus decentralization debate was also expounded upon.

The session concluded that the changes that will flow from the 18th amendment are not entirely clear at this time. The role of assessment needs to be given greater attention. The government should encourage the private sector to publish textbooks but constant monitoring will be required. It was accepted that the challenge is how to make effective textbooks in accordance with the curriculum.