Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

By Muhammad Yusuf, Muhammad Ibrahim, Tanveerul Islam, Aziza Sultana(MIED Chakwal)

In recent years, school-reforms has been a catch-phrase for policymakers, administrators, NGOs, researchers, parents, and teachers in Pakistan. Most of the government managed schools are in deplorable building conditions, lack basic amenities including furniture, mats, and learning aids, etc. Students are taught by using talk and chalk methods. Enrollment in government-managed schools is declining day by day. The reasons are that these schools are not fulfilling even primary responsibilities – reading, writing, and numerical skills. Sindh Education Foundation (2007) found that students at government schools are struggling to demonstrate basic literacy and numeric skills. Many different initiatives have been taken to improve the situation, but most of them move around teachers’ training while initiators believing that schools can be reformed simply by equipping teachers with modern teaching methods, Teachers’ development is only one component of school improvement. School improvement is an organized and continuous process that involves families, students, their parents, and communities as well. Only then we can create environments where all students can learn. This paper will present a reflective analysis of the decagonal approach of the School Improvement Program (SIP) which takes the “Whole School” as a unit of change rather than only teachers. The decagonal approach of the School Improvement Program (SIP) at present is being implemented in 30 schools of Chakwal district (Punjab). The paper will analyze each component of the approach based on working experience during the last two years.

School Improvement in MIED’s Prospective

‘School Improvement’ is another phrase that is frequently being used in the educational reform processes in Pakistan. However, many consider it a product not a process or series of processes. Educators and change agents need to have a proper understanding of the phrase “School improvement”. As we all know that government-managed schools are static units in isolation where there is hardly any interaction between the forces outside and inside the schools.

But among those who demonstrate an understanding that schools are complex interdependent social systems can move their schools forward. Unfortunately, many educational leaders are not able to make interconnectedness of the institutional components. As such, well-planned reform activities often address symptoms, not the underlying root causes of the problems, and therefore, significant school improvements do not occur. So, we need to know about organizational communication systems, power structures, and change processes, which can help us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the school systems.

As Margaret Mead said, “At clear understanding of a problem prefigures its lines of solution.” Efforts or adjustments to address weaknesses do not bring systematic change. Considerable educational change requires effective communication, coordination, time management, optimum use of resources, and expertise of all involved. In short, “school improvement program (SIP) is a systematic, sustained effort aimed to change the learning condition in a school with the ultimate aim of accomplishing education goals more effectively.” (Van Velzen et al., 1985).

Based on the above discussion, Mountain Institute for Educational Development (MIED) developed the following model for school improvement and implemented it in her project school and named it as Decagonal Approach for school improvement.

Capacity Building of Teachers

It is well known that teacher’s capacity building is central to school improvement and change. Within SIP, teacher capacity building is the main concern, and teachers are encouraged to learn from their day-to-day practices by reflecting upon what they say, do or observe in their schools. For the capacity building of teachers, MIED has developed a four-phase model. In the first phase, the emphases are mostly on the re-conceptualization of generic notions like education, curriculum, teaching, and learning. The participants are provided with opportunities to bring in knowledge by reflecting critically on their existing perceptions and practices. Moreover, they are made familiar with the modern techniques of teaching and learning through activity-based, child-centered based, and resources based teaching and learning approaches. Keeping in view the high student-teacher ratio in schools, multi-grade teaching technique is offered for application and experimentation in their classroom situations. However, the main focus during training is on active “participation” and “voice” of children in a school context with the accepted wisdom of “teacher as a facilitator.”

After completion of the first phase, the learned theories and practices are implemented, integrated, and tested by teachers by the contextual realities of their schools. Then during on job support educators observe classes of the course participants and provide proper feedback for further development. Educators discuss with the Course Participants to be aware of their needs making grounds for the next training.

In the third phase, based on field observations, actions are taken to address the dire needs of the teachers according to their contextual realities. The main focus is on subject matters, content, and innovative teaching techniques.

In the fourth phase, with refined perceptions, pedagogical techniques, and methodologies the participants are observed again in classroom and school situations. Mentors provide support according to the upcoming concerns through ongoing on-job -support.

Leadership and Management

 SIP develops leadership at the levels of teachers, headteachers, students, and system line supporters to bring about permanent and everlasting change inside the schools. School heads guide teachers inside the classrooms and prepare teachers, parents, and students for the process of change as well. Any change effort initiated by the school leaders brings good results because they know their problems better than anyone else.

Community Participation

Schools are based in communities comprising different people. These people have different beliefs and priorities, which influence a school’s learning environment. But a school in its place hardly leaves its impact on the community norms, as the studies reveal. MIED wants a balance between these rates of influence. So a school should be a place where everyone from the community can learn. A school’s learning zone should include students, their parents, and the grand-partners within itself.

Children Participation

Children’s learning is the end product of an effective school improvement program. So children must participate actively in their learning process. Children learn best when they are exposed to situations where they act as leaders. In a school, they can play their role in issues related to cleanliness, homework, classwork, absenteeism, and relationship building. They play their roles not haphazardly but in an organized and systematic way at the forum of Students Representative Councils (SRCs)

Developing Physical Environment in Schools

In a country like Pakistan, schools do not have suitable learning environments. School buildings in some rural areas are turned into stores to keep the broken furniture. At places, they are turned into the bedroom of the school’s watchman. In some cases, local influential use them as their guest houses. School improvement efforts aim to improve such physical environments so that they could be used as conducive learning environments.

Curriculum Enrichment

Nowadays almost all teachers and education officers take textbooks as a curriculum document. Therefore, the teachers strictly follow the textbooks thinking it their professional obligation. They do not change, modify, or improve any material given in the books. Such stereotype teaching has caused great damage to students, who have different needs and styles of learning. School improvement program aims to enrich the curriculum in a way where it suits the different needs and learning styles of the students.

Research, Documentation & Dissemination

Almost all schools are passing through a change process. The process may be slow or drastic. Somewhere the change may be well managed, but at places teachers and school, leaders are still thinking about how to find ways to improve their children’s learning. These achievements and efforts need to be documented and disseminated among the schools and communities.

School Governance, Ownership and Advocacy

Although parents, teachers, and system line leaders all play their roles they do not own their schools. They do not know how to manage even small issues. They hardly discuss their problems with one another. The result is that the problems do not only persist but continues to be complicated. MIED involves all stakeholders in the process of school improvement so that schools’ governance can be made effective along with improving ownership and advocacy.

School-Based Interventions

Treating all schools alike would be misleading. Each school has its reality; a successful intervention in one school might be a disaster in another school. Therefore, MIED takes each school as a unit of change. Besides, teachers development MIED provides follow up support to suit it to the varying needs of different schools, teachers, and students inside them.

Local Resource Generation

Human potential is fundamental to the process of teaching and learning but it is the resources that also make the achievements sustainable. Resources are found everywhere. Schools should be able to identify both material and human resources present all around. Like village mason along with volunteers can render useful services to the building improvements. Local resources generation leads the communities to own their schools.

Lesson learned

During the implementation of the decagonal approach for school improvement, MIED has learned the following lessons.

SIP… Whose responsibility?

Theoretically, MIED started SIP implementation in consonance with Fullan (2001, pp 1-2)), “deep and sustained reform [SIP] depends upon many of us, not just the very few who are destined to be extraordinary.” From the initial days of SIP implementation, MIED tried to assure mobilizing and involving every stakeholder, from the Executive District Officer (EDO) Education down to one grader, in the process of school improvement. Through awareness sessions, MIED was able to communicate to them their roles and responsibilities in the school and by involving them in SIP activities. MIED provided an opportunity for them to practice those roles in SIP. With time, became teams comprising UC councilors, teachers, parents, and students. For example, in Thatti Jammun, the community was encouraged by the rehabilitation work, Teachers’ Development Courses (TDCs) and formation of Students’ Representative Councils (SRCs) by MIED and they structured two classrooms on a self-help basis. They have also taken the responsibility of paying the electricity bill for the school. Similarly, in Natural community members and school council has taken the responsibility of rehabilitation work and requested MIED to focus on academic excellence in their school.

Change is a Process, Not an Event

During the period of SIP, MIED educators conceptually have understood that school improvement is a process and not an event. Activities take time and require continuous effort to move from intervention to Institutionalization.

Individuals Need to Change

It is necessary for change to happen, and desires to occur in individuals. MIED learned in two years of SIP implementation that initially, understanding the need for change was a critical part of the whole process of school improvement. One has to change oneself before trying to challenge others. MIED also found that in their moving schools it is the teacher who plays a major role in institutionalizing SIP intervention in their schools.

Change Needs Team Effort

For a positive change in schools, all stakeholders need to work together for positive change. Without creating the spirit of a team the process of change cannot take root in the schools.

Shared understanding

Shared understanding among all partners is necessary to implement a project like a school improvement. Hence, MIED considers it a blessing that the project partners (Plan-Pakistan and SSO) continuously support SIP activities either it is in the project proposal or not, either it is budgeted or not. For the time being MIED developed understanding through presentations and monthly coordination meetings that school improvement is a process, not a product and every school is unique and requires a separate action plan to move from a sinking school to a moving school (Stoll and Find 1998).

Change in Teacher Attitude – a Process

During the field support program, teacher and student-friendly attitudes are some of the keys for MIED. MIED believes that learning can be accelerated when teachers become friendly with students and engage them in meaningful activities rather than explaining the concept by sitting on their chairs. In the first visit, after the formal introduction, MIED’s educators first meet with children where they are sitting either on mud or under the tree. They discuss with them their learning and the challenges they face. Then they try to fulfill their immediate needs and then move to the teachers and discuss several ways to implement their learning during face to face teacher development component. Due to this attitude to sitting with students, discussing and questioning in a friendly manner, MIED finds that teachers have started teaching sitting with students rather than standing in front of a whiteboard or sitting on their chairs. Moving teachers from their chairs to children’s mat, MIED succeeded to create a friendly environment among teachers and students, where students can learn freely and able to share their difficulties and success with their teachers and colleagues. In short, active learning strategies and child-friendly behaviors help children to strengthen their coping mechanisms.  

Conducive Environment Contributes to Learning.

When MIED started to implement SIP in Chakwal, they found empty walls of the schools. First MIED started to decorate them with students drawing works. With the passage of time filled the classroom walls with students writing, time table, content-based charts. It shows that students have an opportunity to share their work and creativity with their classmates rather than teachers only. They interact with different learning units whenever they see them in the classroom.

Coordination with Communities Provide better Opportunity to use Local wisdom in Creating more opportunities

MIED provides a platform through joint meeting sessions with the community, school council, and teachers to discuss school-related issues. They come up with a lot of ideas and local solutions to problems. In such situations, MIED works as a facilitator and uses the expertise in SIP such as managing and monitoring of rehabilitation of the school. MIED developed their linkages with the Education Department and other development organizations in Chakwal, from where the community can get a benefit for their schools through this linkage. For instance, in Miani GGPS’s School Council got approval for the use of the classroom which is the part of GBPS. For use of maximum human resources academic excellence, Dhokh Bair community got the approval of merging two primary schools and now the school is running as a unit under one management.

Conclusion

Implementers need to act as role models first of all. Whatever the level, be it classroom, school councils, or education department change processes need to be not only shared and disseminated but demonstrated differently and patiently according to the context of the stakeholders.

 Reference

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Sindh Education Foundation (2007). Educational for All: A Critical Review. Sindh Education Foundation: Karachi

Stoll, L. and Find, D. (1998) The cruising school: the unidentified ineffective school, in L. Stoll and K. Myers (Eds) No Quick Fixes: Perspectives on schools in Difficulty. London: Falmer Press.

Van Velzen, W., Miles, M., Ekholm, M., Hameyer, U. & Robin, D. (1985). Making School Improvement Work: a Conceptual Guide to Practice. Leuven, Belgium,

By Muhamamd Yusuf

The writer is Pedagogy Expert at SIPD. He can be reached at m.yusuf.edu@gmail.com

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