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Who will teach the teachers?

Salma A. Alam

“I took my child, with a broken arm, to a hospital, only to find that an accountant was available in the ER. Looking for treatment, I asked him to operate on my son.”

Sounds incredulous and bizarre, doesn’t it? Now consider this:

“I took my child to a school only to find that an accountant was available to teach. Looking for an education, I asked him to teach my son.”

Suddenly, the scenario feels a lot less ridiculous even though, in both cases, there is a clear mismatch in the required skill set to ensure a child’s wellbeing. In Pakistan, we are comfortable with the idea of just about anyone becoming a teacher, as if to say that children’s intellectual development is somehow less important than their physical growth and well-being.

I established Durbeen — a non-profit organisation working to raise the standard of public schools via reforms in teacher education — in 2017, to re-invent teaching as a rigorous, selective and top-choice profession in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s education system is caught in a vicious cycle. Standards of education are plummeting because the teachers who teach students themselves often lack professional knowledge and skills. They, in turn, have unqualified trainers and the teaching profession does not attract the best because its social status is low. Can this repetitive cycle be broken?

With this objective, we undertook a public-private partnership at the Government Elementary College of Teacher Education, Hussainabad, Karachi in 2019, where we are presently offering a four-year Bachelor of Education degree programme for aspiring grades One to Eight schoolteachers.

Our name, Durbeen, is the Urdu word for “telescope”, which features centrally in the company’s logo, being held up by an adult as a little girl looks at the sky through this telescope.

The telescope is a symbol of inquiry, which we believe should be the foremost goal of an education — asking good questions and seeking answers. But another meaning of ‘durbeen’ is far-sightedness, which is born out of a realisation there are no shortcuts to elevating the teaching profession and reforming public education, and that achieving this goal will take time, consistency and careful planning.

It was exactly the combination of these factors that led to a groundbreaking education reform in Sindh two months ago.

On June 2, 2023, the Sindh Cabinet approved the Sindh Teaching Licence Policy. This landmark policy aims to bring the same rigour and stature to the teaching profession as enjoyed by other skill-based professions such as medicine, accounting, law and engineering.

Under the new policy, the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) teaching degree will become mandatory for aspiring government schoolteachers and all B.Ed. graduates will be required to clear a teaching licensing exam before they are employed.

Previously, elementary school teachers were inducted at BPS-14 government pay scales and candidates were required to have completed their graduation in any field. The Government of Sindh has now created 700 new elementary school teacher posts at BPS-16. These new 700 vacancies will only be offered to graduates of the B.Ed. degree programme who have also passed the licensing exam.

This reform has a unique position in the history of education in Pakistan. Most reforms are typically driven and funded by the prescriptions of donor agencies. They see mixed results and generally die out once donor support ends.

One to Eight. Another problem is that the teaching profession usually attracts those candidates who are academically weaker.

In 2020, Durbeen launched a social media campaign called ‘Teachers Matter’. The campaign sought to highlight the importance of teachers in national development. Under the campaign, Durbeen surveyed students at various universities and asked them why they did not opt for the teaching profession as a career. 

 

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