How to Address the Teaching Challenge in Schools across Pakistan
Pakistan can improve its education system by taking measures to ensure the availability of qualified teachers and to enhance the quality of teaching.
Pakistan has achieved remarkable progress towards the goal of universal primary education but stark disparities in learning levels persist across public and private schools and in the rural and urban divide.
One of the key reasons for these inequalities is the variation in teaching quality across educational institutions. Multiple challenges include inadequate numbers of qualified teachers, particularly subject specialists, uneven distribution of teachers across schools, teacher absenteeism, low teacher accountability, and insufficient training opportunities and incentives systems.
Pakistan’s public primary and secondary education system comprised 1.74 million teachers in 2021, reflecting an increase of 21% compared to 2015. Despite significant increases in hiring new teachers since 2019, a shortage of well-trained teachers continues to undermine the quality of teaching and learning outcomes.
While the average pupil-teacher ratios for all school levels across Pakistan seem reasonable, vast differences exist across public schools within and across districts, accentuating challenges with optimal teacher deployment. Multigrade teaching remains widely prevalent nationally.
At the middle, high, and higher secondary school levels, the inadequacy of subject specialists poses a major challenge to improving student learning outcomes. Despite recent teacher recruitment efforts, shortages of mathematics, science, and English language teachers persist, with even greater demand-supply gaps in rural areas.
Inadequate opportunities and incentives for professional development and career progression have rendered teaching an unappealing career choice in Pakistan. High teacher turnover and a slow replacement process exacerbate teacher deployment challenges across schools characterized by poor status, low salaries, and inadequate working conditions.
For several decades, teacher absenteeism has remained another critical challenge. However, dedicated efforts by the School Education Department in Punjab and the School Education and Literacy Department in Sindh over the last five years have focused on addressing this issue by employing biometric technology and enforcing penal action against teacher absenteeism. While these measures have yielded improvements, some provinces still suffer from irregular and uncertain teacher presence.
In general, a more uniform geographical distribution of teachers across school levels and schools within each level is needed to eliminate disparities in pupil-teacher ratios and reduce multi-grade teaching. While schools in large urban centers often have surplus teachers, schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas suffer from teacher shortages.
Despite significant increases in hiring new teachers since 2019, a shortage of well-trained teachers continues to undermine the quality of teaching and learning outcomes.
The teacher rationalization policy introduced in Punjab and Sindh needs to be prioritized and implemented fully to augment the fairness and transparency of the teacher deployment and transfer process. Circumventing political interference in teachers’ transfers will help achieve a needs-based teacher distribution and increase teacher retention in remote rural areas.
By offering additional monetary benefits to teachers employed in remote areas, schools can encourage well-qualified and high-performing teachers to work for them. Such incentives have proven effective in several countries, including the Gambia, the Republic of Korea, and Rwanda. Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also a successful case of the incentive mechanism.
Regular hiring of subject specialists in English, mathematics, and science subjects is required to replace retirees every year and narrow the demand-supply gap. Another strategy is to focus on school-based hiring of teachers or hiring locally based teachers who are unlikely to move away.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s school-based teacher recruitment policy is a part of the province’s decentralization policy in the education sector, under which teachers are hired by the school and stay with the school. This policy can be successfully replicated in other parts of the country by focusing on the capacity building of school leaders.
Along with improvements in teacher recruitment and deployment, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of existing teachers and new teachers entering the system. Teacher quality can be enhanced through improvements in teacher preparation programs, investments in institutions that provide pre-service and in-service teacher education and training, the introduction of a continuous professional development model, and regulations and standards for in-service and pre-service training.
The leadership and management capacity of institutions that regulate teacher standards and organize pre-service and in-service training needs to be fortified, and their ability to identify teacher training needs using learning assessment results should be enhanced. The government should stipulate and enforce uniform standards for public and private sector pre-service teacher preparation institutes to ensure new teachers are well-trained.
It is also crucial to introduce a merit-based system to link teacher promotion and career progression to teaching efficacy instead of seniority and political connections. Given similar qualifications and experience, teachers at various school levels should be offered similar salary structures to improve the retention of teachers at lower levels.
The current practice whereby well-performing teachers are promoted to managerial or administrative positions should be discontinued, and lucrative advancement opportunities should be created for teachers within the field of teaching.
Teachers are an integral component of any education system, and their effectiveness is essential in determining student learning outcomes and in reducing dropout rates. Pakistan can improve its education system by taking these steps to ensure the availability of qualified teachers and to enhance the quality of teaching.