Peshawar: To build capacity of primary school teachers the provincial government in the Khyber Pakhunkhwa province is planning to use short message service (SMS) to advise teachers on teaching methodologies related to different subjects.

Thrice a week, education experts based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) will send primary school teachers short messages on how to teach different subjects in the class. Zia ur Rehman, an official from the KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department told News Lens that work was underway on the initiative that would be launched very soon.

The need for building capacity of primary teachers was felt after the KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department assessed the learning curve of students of grade 5 through Universal Primary Examination – another initiative recently introduced by the provincial government. Results of students of grade 5 were evaluated in March 2016, said Rehman. On the basis of students’ performance in English, Urdu, Mathematics, General Science and Islamiat, it was decided to engage education experts to coach primary school teachers to improve their teaching skills.

“SMS messages would be generated by education experts and the education department will send them to teachers working with the department,” said Rehman. “We already have a database of phone numbers for our teachers to send these messages to.”

He said the process of putting together the database of mobile phone numbers took about 3 months. Contact numbers for all male and female teachers were collected thorough district education officers and fed into a system for bulk messaging.

Rehman said that In the past, the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government in KP had introduced several initiatives, including an independent monitoring unit (IMU), to monitor teachers’ performance and account for missing facilities in schools. The education authorities had installed bio-metric systems at schools to regularized teachers attendance, he said, constructed container schools in areas affected by conflict and disasters, introduced universal primary examination for class five students to assess their learning curve and awarded best teachers with cash prizes.

The SMS initiative has officials in the education department excited considering the need for capacity building of school teachers, many of whom serve in remote areas and do not have access to training. However, some of them foresee challenges in effective outreach to teachers through SMS technology because of limited coverage of remote district by telecom companies and lack of communication facilities.

Others say that instead of capacity building through SMS messages, limited resources could be better spent through ensuring basic facilities like provision of electricity, school boundary walls, clean-drinking water and toilet facilities in schools in villages and towns that are less developed.

President All Primary Teachers Association (APTA) Malik Khalid Khan said that the association appreciated initiatives the government undertook to improve learning and teaching techniques. However, he pointed out that in backward districts like Chitral, Upper Dir, Kohistan, Torhgar, Lakki Marwat and DI Khan there was not enough telecommunication coverage and frequent network problems. Some teachers, he said, did not or could not use mobile phones which would make the initiative less productive.

“The government should focus on basic missing facilities, providing electricity, drinking water and toilets to schools,” said Khan.

According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department Annual Statistical Report 2013-14, there are 28319 government schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which 27892 are functional. Of these, 22892 are primary – 14670 of them Male (65 per cent) and 8222 Female (35 per cent). The overall enrollment in these schools is 4.16 million with 3.01 million (69 per cent) in primary schools from class 1 to 5.

The total number of working teachers in the government schools is 118754 (77715 male and 41039 female), of which 71378 (45366 male and 26012 female) are in primary schools in 25 districts.

Rehman, the official at the KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department, said that the department had designed software for bulk messaging, with the capacity to send SMS to all teachers simultaneously. The education experts hired for this purpose would design short massages delivering guidance tips for teachers.

“This is a new way to train teachers in their respective specialties,” said Rehman. “Conducting [on location] training for a huge number of teachers is a formidable task that takes a lot of time and resources.”

Information Technology, Communications and Media Advisor to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Programme (KESP), Zunash Abbasi, said the SMS initiative was started for improved teaching and learning and to fill up the gaps identified after assessment of results.

She said that for grade 2, the teaching tips shared would relate to English, Urdu, Maths and Science. For Grade 5, the SMS service will advise teachers on methodologies for 8 subjects.
“Teacher training is a very lengthy process and requires a lot of time,” said Abbasi. “Through this service, we will save time and use fast technology to train teachers in teaching methods and using resources effectively.”

She said this would save time for many teachers who couldn’t leave schools to attend training sessions. “They will be guided through weekly SMS tips and guidelines.”

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