My journey to Pakistan
The sun was orange.
We struggled to make it through the narrow, rocky, bustling streets of Khatana in a tiny Suzuki Mehran. I was riding in a Careem, the Pakistani version of Uber, on my way to a K-12 school in the slums of Rawalpindi. Mozah Khatana is an area within Rawalpindi. I have tried “Googling” the area so that I could provide you with a more accurate description of the place, but my searches return empty, so I will describe it to you the best I can here – Khatana is a small, dusty village with patches of green grass where goats, chickens and occasionally cows roam freely, houses with flat rooftops, gypsy tents, cement tomb stones laced with tinsel and stretches of dry dirt littered with plastic and rubbish. Women walked around in groups wearing floor length shamiz, their hair wrapped with dupatas. Men wore their shawls and round, flat-topped hats, dragging donkeys, driving heavy vehicles, pushing carts. Children of all ages spill out onto the streets. They play in the fields during the day, some of them pick up rubbish to earn money and stay out until the sun goes down and the winter chill settles in. A lucky few attend a local school.
Pakistan has one of the world’s most alarming learning crises. A UNESCO report in 2010 listed 49.5 million adults as being illiterate, two-thirds of these are women. World Bank data shows that most Pakistani children who start school are likely to drop out by the time they are aged nine. A mere 3% of those starting public school will graduate from their final year of schooling. Poorest girls are most disadvantaged, with over half never having been to school.
There are many reasons for the Pakistani education system’s failure – poverty, family background, personal circumstances. But research has found that the quality of teaching is probably one of the most decisive factors – many Pakistani teachers are not sufficiently prepared to plan effectively and deliver lessons that are innovative or structured. Their relaxed attitude towards teaching feeds the belief that education is unimportant.
During my time in Pakistan, I taught several classes in one of the local schools of Khatana, and worked with missionaries to run teacher training programs at various community schools. We explored the practice of lesson planning, investigated formative assessment techniques and pooled together ideas for improving student outcomes. We shared with each other the highlights and lowlights of teaching, the differences between Australian and Pakistani education and mutually encouraged each other the best we knew how with the language barrier.
I don’t think there is a better way to end this article than with the words of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who won hearts with the determination and bravery. We must “wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”
Ms Quinn Lee