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Schooling reforms needed to improve learning process

By Mohammed Gul SAHIBBZADA-Government funded schools take on the largest number of students from grade one to grade twelve across the country, and Ministry of Education is the largest employer in Afghanistan. Thousands of schools are run by the Ministry across the country. Thousands of teachers and school administrative staffs are on the pay roll of the Ministry of Education, and millions of books are printed and distributed among students for free. This huge program is funded with money coming from troves of national exchequer and donations from international community. But the level and quality of education imparted to students are sub-standard, low and nowhere close to any standard education system in the world. This status quo persists despite expenditure of hundreds of millions of US dollars on schooling program in the country.

Lack of innovative management, alignment of current education system with acceptable standards, and dragging on with dilapidated, old schooling system are some of the main causes for the present disaster in schooling system. Curriculum is part of the problem as well. A student of grade seven has to study scores of subjects in a year, and the number of subjects increases as the student promotes to next level every year. In addition, content of the books are laid out in a boring and unattractive way. Students are not attracted to chapters’ contents because of complexity and lack of illustrations in their books. Teachings hours are thirty-five minutes on average, and every shift of schooling is two and half to three and half hour for elementary and primary schools, and four hour for high schools. In addition, there are sixty to seventy students crammed in each class and this is true for all grade students– which in no way is suitable to provide learning environment.  Students’ commute to schools is another problematic area, especially in cities. Students of all ages walk to schools, which make them vulnerable to incidents including being hit by careless drivers and girl students’ harassment by passerby.

In the face of all the issues furnished above, Ministry of Education in Afghanistan has only tried to keep the status quo. Though more funds were made available for schooling program by international community, government of Afghanistan is bragging about ‘millions of girls and boys attending schools’ after Taliban regime was toppled – referring to quantity only. No reference is made to quality of government schooling program despite passage of eighteen years of relative calm, at least in urban areas where population density is high. The establishment of private schools has brought about some new ideas and changes in schooling system. They operate standard teaching hours and provide transportation for students. School curriculums of private schools also include additional subjects with more emphasis on English language, but they are obligated by rules and regulations enforced by Ministry of Education to include all the subjects which government schools teach students, and this makes curriculum cumbersome and boring for students studying at private schools as well. But these schools mostly cater for middle class families, which comprises very small percentage of students compared to school going boys and girls across the country.

Government schooling system can improve and there are many unexploited areas and ways to bring about drastic improvement in the sector. First and most important step is to bring innovative managers at the helm of affairs at Ministry of Education. Unless a team with innovative mindset is in place at the decision making level, this trend to keep status quo will continue to take toll on the new generation of students every year. The leadership of Ministry of Education needs to overhaul the entire schooling program in the country. In order to do so, a team of highly specialized, expert advisors and consultants should be called in to undertake this process. Managers and owners of private schools – including highly successful Afghan-Turk schools – should be part of the process of this overhaul. Recommendations and suggestions put forth by the experts should be made public and shared with central government and donor community to effect changes. Better use of the current allocated financial resources is key to making it possible for changes and improvement in schooling system in the country. This area should be parts and parcels of the thorough overhaul and evaluation of the country’s schooling system. Teaching hours, school timings,curriculum, and finding ways to provide transportation for schools girls and boys in government schools are main areas for improvement and should be focused upon relentlessly. In order to complement this process, Ministry of Higher education should unleash education and teacher training programs for teachers to bring up their knowledge level and to understand psychology of teaching and their ability to identify students’ abilities and talents in various fields, and to level playing fields for these talents to nurture during teaching hours. It is important that teachers are trained to standard pedagogical level in order to bring about healthy teaching methods. Students need encouragement and focus for their development.

It is falsely believed to live with the sub-standards of government schools ‘because government schools are substandard all over the world’. This kind of perception is not true. We can easily see government schools in Turkey, India, Sir Lanka, Iran, Pakistan and neighboring Turkmenistan where schools funded by government have established good teaching methods, and have brought about drastic reforms in imparting quality education to students. Example of such school is Afghan-Turk school chain, which operate in Afghanistan and in many other countries since last twenty years. These schools excel in all important aspects of a better schooling. Innovative management and rules based accountability and reprisal mechanism should be in place to make sure continues improvement in schooling education takes place. Afghanistan has been graduating engineers, doctors, lawyers, managers and accountants for the last one and half decade. But still our patients leave for India or other countries for treatment of their illness, our construction sector hires engineers from other countries for a bit more sophisticated projects and our Ministries and other national institutes hire specialists and advisors from other countries. Why they don’t hire local graduates? Our education system lingers behind the accepted international norms and standards, and very little efforts are made to update and improve quality of education in these precious institutions. This is the reason local graduate cannot do the job!Quality and quantity of schooling system, Universities in a country determine standards of life and development of that country. Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan should take heed of this important sector, and leave no stone unturned to improve standards and quality of schooling for students. Quality education is the number one requirement for a successful, prosperous and developed nation.

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