ISLAMABAD:06: How can a state put a whole population segment at a disadvantage? We can look to the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) for an answer.
First, get rid of the katchi classes – nursery and prep – and then introduce admission tests as prerequisites for getting into the better government schools. And it is almost guaranteed that children who belong to the poorest classes and with illiterate parents will immediately find themselves at a disadvantage.
And this has been the state of affairs in the government schools of Islamabad for the last two decades. In the evolution of the education system, katchi classes disappeared somewhere
along the way, and rising demand for admissions to the better FDE schools from parents forced the FDE to instate admission tests in these schools.
But with the efforts (mostly) of non-governmental organisations and UN bodies, the federal government has been gradually shaken out of its slumber to initiate work in the fundamental field of early childhood education (ECHE).
“After the 1980s, focus on education reduced drastically and the concept of katchi pretty much ended in governmental schools even as it endured in private schools,” explained director training at the FDE, Professor Waqar Ashraf.
However, he added, since 2003, a curriculum for early childhood education has been developed and revitalised again in 2007 at the federal level. Teachers are being trained once again with the help of Plan Pakistan to gradually open over 40 early childhood education centres at model schools of Islamabad.
“Kids learn from exposure around them and from their parents. There was a need to formalise this learning and early childhood education centres are one way to achieve this,” said Prof Ashraf.
Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education is not a much explored subject locally. The curriculum for early childhood education was developed a couple of years ago, and now Plan Pakistan has developed a detailed week by week syllabus to provide teachers with specific instructions about imparting the relevant skills to children as young as 3, 4 or 5 years old.
The development of such syllabi and guidebooks by different NGOs represents how strongly experts feel that this is an area that needs to be worked on extensively.
“A curriculum tells a teacher what to teach, but it is a difficult process to break into practical, teachable bits. This is where the syllabus can play an important role for the teachers,” explained Soofia Aziz, learning adviser for Plan Pakistan.
“Experts believe that a child’s maximum development occurs between the age of two years and six years and all stimulation and opportunities to play, interact and explore different things helps develop the child’s personality,” explained Arshad Saeed, senior national specialist in education at Unesco.
Many NGOs who focus on education have opened early childhood education centres in poor areas to provide the children of poor opportunity to overcome such a disadvantage.
Plan Pakistan has over 40 early childhood education centres functioning throughout Islamabad where they try to impart early education to give the children a fair chance at passing the admission tests of government schools.
These centres are small affairs with trained caretakers teaching the children skills of interacting in a group setting and developing basic skills and Plan Pakistan is planning on introducing their new syllabus both in their own centres as well as pushing for the government to adopt it.
In one such ECHE centre in G-7 in the centre of government quarters that house sanitation workers, Madeeha is the caretaker of 20 children.
“I tell the kids stories, teach them how to colour and draw and let them play. Initially when they come, it is all chaotic but then slowly they learn how to follow instructions and interact with one another,” explained Madeeha.
This February, 18 of her 25 young students from the previous batch were admitted into government schools. The centre functions at a fee of Rs25 and many mothers send their children to Madeeha twice a day, in the morning as part of the ECHE centre and in the evening for tuitions to prepare for admission tests.
“These are children whose fathers work as sanitation workers and mothers work as domestic workers so they don’t have much time to spend with their kids. Many are illiterate so they simply can’t prepare their kids for school,” explained Khurram, a Plan field officer about the usefulness of the ECHE.
“Children are supposed to be educated at home, but mothers either don’t have the time or the capability to sufficiently provide ECHE, so this is a formalised manner of achieving this,” explained Uzma Hashmi, another coordinator at Plan Pakistan.
“But Islamabad is an island in Pakistan. FDE has resources and facilities and it has already developed ECHE centres. It is in the rest of the country that a real need to develop such centres exists. The government has promised a lot since passing 25-A but has not achieved even one per cent of what it promised,” added Mr Arshad Saeed.Dawn.