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Numbers don't add up for Pakistani school students

Perfect exam marks disguise the real problems at the heart of the education system

Numbers don't add up for Pakistani school students

A newspaper advertisement by Punjab Group of Colleges congratulating students on achieving perfect 1100/1100 scores in grade 10 exams. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: October 21, 2021 04:09 AM GMT

Updated: October 21, 2021 04:38 AM GMT

A new joke is circulating among professionals, teachers and scholars since Lahore’s education board announced the results of grade 10 exams last week.

“707 students in Lahore board got 1100/1100 marks. And we thought aliens were unreal,” stated lawyer Yahya Tariq Cheema in a tweet.

Apparently, Punjab Group of Colleges thinks the perfect marks are real. The largest educational network in Pakistan proudly published photos of 80 students in a newspaper and congratulated them for landing their unblemished scores.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore congratulated two students of St. Anthony’s High School, one of the top schools in Lahore Archdiocese, for achieving top marks.

“Let me share some good news. In the neighboring Sacred Heart School for Girls, a few students also achieved more than 1090 marks,” he said amid smiles and claps in Lahore Cathedral on Oct. 17.

“All our educational institutes are social and anybody can study. It’s a very good result. The numbers are very good. We congratulate the parents who worked hard and will keep praying for our students. May they progress and take our country out of the crisis.”

That marks the first time in history that students were able to achieve a perfect score in languages and social sciences

Sadly, our country won’t come out of its deep economic and security crisis with Covid-related policies like the one notified by Punjab’s Higher Education Department in July.

The policy for promotion and examination of matriculation and intermediate students in Punjab allowed students to only appear in elective subjects. The same percentage was awarded in compulsory subjects with 5 percent additional marks. Those who failed in any subject were given 33 percent marks.

That marks the first time in history that students were able to achieve a perfect score in languages and social sciences. Scores will always vary in subjects involving creative thinking as we all have different experience of our own realities. It was wrong to handle such problems on a scientific basis. The promise of Article 25-A of the constitution is to provide free and compulsory education, not free grades.

According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement district level survey 2019-20, the literacy rate of the population (10 years and above) has been stagnant at 60 percent for the past six years. The latest policy will have a spillover effect on an already neglected education sector.

The board exams will become irrelevant. Selection will further incline toward admission tests and interviews. The degrees of Pakistani students studying abroad will be verified with more suspicion and doubt. Courses will be on sale. The academies engaged in preparatory exams will flourish, minting more money from parents.

Countrywide protests have already started after a huge number of students failed in the Medical and Dental College Admission Test (MDCAT). Several students have challenged MDCAT results in Lahore High Court. Frustration will further increase in a radicalized society that faces a serious lack of entertainment.

“This one tops all the jokes about education. It can only happen in Imran Khan’s government. The private education mafia has been given all opportunities for plundering. Now the numbers are being looted,” said Farooq Tariq, an adviser at the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication.

Education suffered the most when authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown last year. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the largest citizen-led, household-based initiative to measure the quality of education in Pakistan, sheds further light on the impact of the pandemic.

The findings of the survey, released on Oct. 20, show significant learning losses at primary and lower primary levels. It includes 9,392 households, 25,448 children aged 3-16 and 21,589 children aged 5-16 (43 percent girls and 57 percent boys) in 16 rural districts.

Enrollment for the 6-16 age group dropped from 83.5 percent in 2019 to 81.8 percent in 2021. ASER reports a 20 percent increase in dropouts due to sudden financial hardship. Learning dropped from 24 percent to 21 percent from 2019 to 2021 in Urdu story reading and from 20 percent to 16 percent in English reading.

Without a strong base and accustomed to rote learning, these students will face challenges in higher education

ASER reports greater learning losses for children in poor families. Learning at home added household chores to girls. Sixty percent of children could not give proper time (at least one hour a day) to studies during schools’ shutdown. 

Some 58 percent reported that schools never reached out for learning support, while 77 percent of household heads said their earnings were affected and 65 percent reported psychological stress. Children from higher socioeconomic classes enjoyed better access to technology. Basic facilities such as toilets and drinking water have deteriorated in government schools.

I may not be an educationist but I see both of my children struggling with online education for the first time in their lives in a system that has gone to the dogs. I appeal to our policymakers to give serious thought to this issue and avoid racing for numbers.

“A perfect score is OK in primary classes but signifies a lack of creativity in higher classes. Such a result, despite a year of no schooling, is not a good performance indicator. Its effects will linger for many years,” Anjum James Paul, a Catholic professor at the Postgraduate College Samundri in Faisalabad Diocese, told me.

“Without a strong base and accustomed to rote learning, these students will face challenges in higher education. Missionary schools should focus more on personality growth and grooming students.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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