Views about teachers’ professional development in Pakistan

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Views about teachers’ professional development in Pakistan

Here I present the issues and challenges of teacher education in Pakistan. Before these are addressed, there is a need to offer a brief overview of teacher education in Pakistan where this study is placed.

Teacher education in Pakistan

Using data from a 1988-89 national survey of primary schools in four Pakistani provinces as well as other research findings to assess the causal factors contributing to effectiveness, Warwick and Reimers (1995) note teacher education in Pakistan neither develops skills for teaching nor makes teachers masters in the subjects they teach. From experience working with teachers in schools, Kizilbash (1986, 1998) asserts that PD in Pakistan is confronted by an array of challenges: conventional lecture methods, inadequate training of teacher educators, short training periods, lack of commitment, lack of research, and lack of evaluation of teacher education courses. Mohammad and Jones (2008) confirm the transmission model as pervasive in Pakistan: “Even when they are advocating more creative and innovative ideas and methods, the teacher-educators’ approaches are likely to be formal and transmission-based. For the teachers-in-training, whether in pre-service or in-service courses, the medium is most of the message” (op. cit. p. 535). Furthermore, Khan (2002) reports that due to a limited budget allocation, only a few teachers are offered PD and in most cases teachers do not take these opportunities seriously: “government sources describe these courses as being attended ‘in a holiday mood’ and of poor quality” (Khan, 2002: 339).

Issues and challenges

The literature on PD in Pakistan presents wide-ranging issues, tensions and challenges. (Barber, 2010; UNESCO, 2008, 2006c; Academy for Educational Development, 2005; Jamil, 2004; Government of Pakistan, 2002b; Hoodbhoy 1998; Asian Development Bank, 1992). Furthermore, the associated change proposals do not describe how to better interpret the problems, how to understand the underpinning causes and how PD could address them. The literature that discusses how to overcome these issues is descriptive in its analysis and prescriptive in suggesting solutions. Issues are discussed in isolation rather than attempting to explain the interrelationship among the underlying causes. The literature does not describe PD from the perspective of new knowledge from research in both local and international contexts. In fact, attempts at portraying teacher education over-emphasise the structural and organisational issues associated with education, whilst overlooking the conceptual and pedagogical foundations of PD.

Pakistani teachers’ practice

Teachers in Pakistan are not acquainted with such terms as learning through experience, reflection, and problem solving because they are not taught about these. According to Rarieya (2005) and Halai (2001) teachers consider reflection to be one of the most important facets of teaching practices today, but “teachers in Pakistan ... are generally unaware of what the term ‘reflective practice’ means” (Rarieya, 2005: 285). Interactive environments and learning through experience are also almost non-existent.

Mohammad and Jones (2008) elaborate on the general attitudes of teachers and their teaching practices in the following words: “The teachers - isolated from practical and moral support in their schools - are rigidly constrained by the authority of their schools, taught for the right answers and explained facts and rules rather than developing their students’ intellects and thinking abilities” (op. cit. p.535). Saeed and Mahmood (2002), as cited by Oplatka (2007), stress that teachers cannot demonstrate minimum competences due to their poor background knowledge about the subjects they teach. Another important point that Oplakta (2007) makes regarding teachers’ education is that the only teachers exposed to training opportunities are the ones nearer to areas where a particular donor-funded intervention is taking place. Therefore, many teachers will be deprived of these opportunities. From an analysis of three life histories of Pakistani teachers, Eliot and Rizvi (2007) use the terms under-educated, under-trained, and under-valued. A UNESCO document (2003) reports that official policy requires teachers’ PD every five years, but such policies are not implemented. These discussions portray teaching as a stagnant profession.

Teachers undertaking PD in Pakistan

The Civil Service of Pakistan in its 2012 economic survey document states that Pakistan culture has a number of characteristics, but of relevance here is that Pakistan is a hierarchical, patriarchal society. Similarly, whilst researching into constraints on teacher development by investigating the implementation of how three teachers resumed their teaching after attending an 8-week in-service course at a university in Pakistan, Mohammad (2004) reflected on the Pakistani teachers’ experience of their professional development as being “…characterised by hierarchical structures in which respect is unidirectional: for example, from weak to strong, from poor to rich, from student to teacher, and from teacher to head teacher” (op. cit. 2004: 102). As a case study of three individuals there are perhaps implications to the extent to which this finding can be generalised, but this highlights implications for me as a teacher-educator and as a researcher-practitioner in Pakistan, working with teachers who appear more comfortable with didactic approaches and who give less regard to their personal backgrounds, emerging needs, experiences, and interactions with contexts and other professionals to inform their PD. Davies and Iqbal (1997: 254) in their case study of a co-educational teacher training college in Pakistan also observed teaching methods that were predominantly lecture-based and which did not encourage an enquiry-based teacher training culture aimed at developing 'autonomous learners' or 'reflective practitioners' (Davies and Iqbal, 1997: 262). Further literature on teacher education in Pakistan also echoes my experiences, suggesting that teacher education is strongly influenced by a transmission approach (Takbir, 2011; Siddiqui, 2010; Rizvi and Elliott, 2007; Ashraf et al., 2005; ICG, 2004; Mohammad, 2004; Siddiqui, 2007; Government of Punjab, 1999; Davies and Iqbal, 1997; Kanu, 1996; Farooq, 1994). In light of this experience, I would like to create more empowering relations in my interactions with the teachers with whom I work (Rogers, 1969; Knowles, 1984). I believe that efforts taken to promote self-directed learning will give me more insight into ‘autonomous learning’ in Pakistan and a better appreciation of the efficacy of my preferred approach to teacher education in this context.

Using self-direction as an approach to teachers’ PD in Pakistan

In my work as a teacher-educator in Pakistan I have searched for approaches that facilitate teachers’ in finding their own solutions to practical problems they face in their daily work contexts – where they may be working in isolation and with little organisational support. The work on self-direction of Brockett and Hiemstra (1997) and others has been significant for me in this regard as it addresses the issue of how learners can “…become expert without formal training” (Gibbons, et al., 1980: 44). My desire to ascertain whether self-directed learning is a meaningful approach to teachers’ professional development in Pakistan provides the foundation for this research study.


As the teacher-educator in this study I am effectively an ‘insider’, working alongside the research participants and being in a similar role to participants in the research. I came to this research, therefore, as both an ‘outsider’ and an ‘insider’. Usher, R (1996) and Sayer (1992) argue that it is not possible for the researcher to stand outside the research and indeed, I brought my experiences, values and interpretations to this study. Additionally, I acknowledge that my background, my philosophical approach and biography are ‘essential to understanding the type of data that are collected’ (Scott and Usher 1999: 116) in the context of this study, namely the application of a self-directed approach to teachers’ professional development in Pakistan. Consequently, highlighted here are the challenges and issues facing facilitators of self-direction and teacher-educators facilitating professional development.

Added to this, as evident in the literature, an over-emphasis on the structural and organisational issues of education in Pakistan means PD focuses on the technical aspect of teaching, namely the acquisition and transfer to students of subject knowledge. However, narratives from the international context of teaching which form the background for my own experiences working with teachers emphasise the need for teachers’ developing in the intellectual, personal, social, and moral dimensions of their roles (USAID, 2004; UNESCO, 2006, 2008). Such narratives view teachers as critical agents for educational change, focusing teachers‘ PD beyond the technicalities of classroom practice. These narratives suggest that teacher development may not be confined to PD programmes. Whilst teachers’ learning can originate from both informal and self-directed situations, the discourse in the Pakistani context emphasises formal approaches to teachers‘ PD. Furthermore, numerous biographical studies suggest that memories of past teachers and ways of learning in school strongly influence teachers‘ classroom practices and expectations of PD (Goodson, 1992; Halai, 2001) which suggests that teachers’ ability to be ‘critical agents for educational change’ will be affected by their own learning experiences.

Currently, research is not focused on gaining a better understanding of the issues and opportunities for teacher PD in Pakistan, being focused on quantitative aspects of PD rather than an in-depth understanding of various aspects of PD from a qualitative viewpoint (Khan, 2004). The international perspectives combined with my experience from the Pakistani context suggest that concepts such as reflective practice, action research, and self-direction need to be investigated as potential sources for changes in teachers‘ development and work. Therefore it is worthwhile exploring teachers' perceptions of particular approaches undertaken in their on-going contexts.