Over 90 percent of Pakistan's primary students are 'weak' in math, science – study

Students wearing facemasks attend a class at a school in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 28, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Over 90 percent of Pakistan's primary students are 'weak' in math, science – study

  • The nationwide survey involved over 15,000 students who were asked to take standardized math, science tests
  • The teaching practices of nearly 9 in 10 faculty members were graded weak, and roughly 1 in 10 were graded mediocre

ISLAMABAD: A nationwide study conducted by the faculty at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development revealed on Thursday that more than 90 percent of primary and pre-secondary students in Pakistan have a weak or basic understanding of mathematics and science subjects which they are required to learn.

The research involved over 15,000 students from grades 5, 6 and 8 who were taken from 153 different public and private schools.

The students took standardized tests in math and science as part of the study that was funded by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, the country’s top education authority.

The findings of the research painted a dismal picture, showing an average test score of 27 out of 100 in mathematics and 34 out of 100 in science.

Only one percent of children were able to score more than 80 percent in both subjects, demonstrating “excellent understanding” of the subjects as per researchers. In science, girls slightly outperformed boys while both fared the same in mathematics.

“The average score in private schools was higher than in public schools, but did not exceed 40 in either subject,” says the report, adding: “The average score in Punjab was the highest among the country’s regions but did not exceed 40 in either subject.”

“Science and mathematics education is in dire need of attention from practitioners and policymakers,” said Assistant Professor Nusrat Fatima Rizvi, a study co-principal investigator.

Researchers found that multiple factors significantly correlated with students’ learning outcomes.

“In increasing order of importance, those factors were high-quality teaching practices, a student’s mother having a bachelor’s or master’s degree (a father’s educational attainment was relatively less important), only one language being used in the classroom, attending private school and going to school in Punjab,” the report continued.

“Surprisingly, students tended to learn less from experienced teachers than from those new to the profession. They also tended to learn less from teachers with a degree in education, compared to teachers having no degree in education,” it added.

As part of the study, researchers visited the classrooms of 589 teachers to assess the quality of the education being imparted to students.

“The teaching practices of nearly 9 in 10 were graded weak, and roughly 1 in 10 were graded mediocre,” the study said.

“In most classrooms, teachers spend their time reading and explaining words from the textbook instead of encouraging students to ask questions or participate in activities that bring concepts to life,” said Associate Professor Sadia Bhutta, the study’s principal investigator. “This results in poor understanding of concepts and poor performance on tests.”

Another important finding of the study was that students in monolingual classrooms – where the textbook, teaching and examinations were all in one language – outperformed those in multilingual classrooms.

Teachers also pointed out the need for professional development opportunities to improve both their subject matter knowledge and their ability to reflect on their own teaching.


Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

  • Pakistan hopes to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative
  • The kingdom is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Sajid Hussain Turi met the Saudi envoy in Islamabad on Thursday and discussed job opportunities for Pakistanis in the kingdom's NEOM City Project, a $500 billion flagship business zone aimed at diversifying the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and aims to transform more than 26,500 sq. km in the kingdom’s northwestern Tabuk region. The zero-carbon city is expected to be ready to receive tourists and investors by 2024.

Saudi Arabia is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.

“Federal Minister discussed issues and opportunities for creating jobs for Overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry of overseas Pakistanis said in a statement. “Federal Minister emphasized ensuring the Pakistani quota in the workforce for the development of the futuristic NEOM City Project in Saudi Arabia.”

“As we are a developing country so the criteria for Pakistanis should be more open towards skilled and unskilled labour to accommodate more and more Pakistanis in diverse jobs in the multi-billion project,” the statement read.

Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — am ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on his first foreign trip since assuming the top political office of his country last month, visited Saudi Arabia from April 27 to 29 and discussed enhancing the kingdom's $3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank “through term extension or otherwise.”

Saudi Arabia last year deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank to help support its foreign reserves.


Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

Updated 19 May 2022

Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

  • Two women arrested this week in Balochistan, one described as would-be bomber planning to target Chinese
  • Two weeks ago woman bomber blew herself up on university campus in Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers

ISLAMABAD: Farah Azeem Shah, a spokesperson for the provincial government in Balochistan, on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of a suspected woman suicide bomber from Turbat, a city in the southwestern province, saying the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army was now actively recruiting female attackers.

Shah’s statement comes days after the arrest of two women in Balochistan, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens.

The arrests came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers. The woman belonged to the militant separatist group the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has waged a violent secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, and targeted Chinese interests in the region.

“The arrested woman has made revelations regarding the BLA activities and the wife of one Aslam alias Uccho was training women to become terrorists,” Shah told reporters. “Aslam alias Uccho has already been killed and now his wife Yasmeen is training women to become terrorists.”

Shah said a suicide vest, a Kalashnikov, nine kilograms (kgs) of explosive material and six grenades were recovered from the female suspect who was arrested in a raid carried out on May 16. The suspect had confessed during interrogation that she was being financed from “abroad,” Shah added.

She said the names of another three women suspects had surfaced during the investigation.

“Those who care for the cause of Balochistan should return home to truly serve the people here,” Shah said. “Real Baloch cannot use their women for terror attacks.”

Demonstrators this week blocked a highway in Hoshab in Balochistan to protest the arrests of the two local women. The highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

China, a close Pakistan ally, plans to invest over $65 billion in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world.

Beijing is also developing the Gwadar deep-water port and other projects in Balochistan.

Rights activists and locals have long accused security forces of extrajudicial abductions and killings in Balochistan. Security officials deny the charges.


Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

  • Court’s action comes after reports FIA was withdrawing high-profile money laundering case against PM Shehbaz Sharif
  • Supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in law that allow court to open cases on its own initiative

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial late on Wednesday night took "suo motu" notice over perceived fears "persons in authority" could undermine the criminal justice system, days after media reports suggested a high-profile money laundering case against the prime minister would be dropped by a federal investigation agency.

Hearings in the case will commence today, Thursday.

Pakistan’s supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in Pakistani law that allow the court to open cases on its own initiative to set its stamp on wide swathes of public life and denounce the failure of public institutions. It has ordered inquiries into issues ranging from payments to farmers by powerful sugar mills to milk prices, city water supplies and corruption allegations against managers of the railways and national airline PIA.

In a press release, the top court said the CJP had taken notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government.”

The CJP had taken suo motu notice on the recommendations of a judge of the Supreme Court, the statement said.

The court said “perceived interferences” could influence the prosecution of cases and lead to the tampering with or disappearance of evidence in courts or in the possession of prosecuting agencies, as well as the transfer and postings of officers on key posts.

"Such actions, along with media reports to modify accountability laws, are likely to undermine the functioning of the criminal justice system in the country and that tantamounts to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country," the statement said.

The Supreme Court’s action comes a week after Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) denied media reports it was withdrawing a high-profile money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

According to news reports based on court documents, the country’s top investigation agency had said last week it did not want to pursue a Rs16 billion money laundering case against Sharif and his two sons three days before a special court in Lahore was scheduled to frame charges against them.

Sharif, who became prime minister last month after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament, is the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

Sharif, his sons Hamza, who is the chief minister of Punjab province, and Suleman, who resides in London, were booked by FIA in November 2020 under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Anti Money Laundering Act.

According to a written application submitted in court on April 11, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the “accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab.”

“A fake news is circulating in media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore,” the FIA said in a statement. “The case has not been withdrawn. Proceedings are continuing in the Court.”

The statement said the prosecutor of the case submitted his “opinion-based application” in the court after he was instructed not to appear on behalf of the prosecution.

“It was not a withdrawal application,” the FIA said, adding that the document was submitted on April 11 when the new prime minister had not even taken oath.

The Sharifs have always said the cases against them are politically motivated and driven by now ex-PM Khan who won power in 2018 vowing to root out corruption among what he cast as a venal political elite.

While few dispute the need to clean up Pakistani politics, the anti-graft campaign by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the last three and a half years has become a topic of fierce political debate, with many saying its focus was just on the government’s political foes.

The Khan government denied targeting political opponents.

This week, PM Sharif's cabinet approved setting up a committee to amend NAB laws.


‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

Updated 19 May 2022

‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

  • Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders operate from safe havens in Afghanistan
  • Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said it would not let militant groups use its soil

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said it was an “encouraging sign” that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had mediated a ceasefire deal between Islamabad and Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), saying he hoped Kabul would live up to its promise not to allow Afghan soil to be used to launch terror attacks against other nations.

The TTP, which are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan Army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies. There has since been a surge in militant attacks, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders were operating out of safe havens in Afghanistan. The new Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said, however, that it would not let any group use its soil for militancy.

On Wednesday, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Kabul had mediated talks between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban movement in Pakistan and they had agreed on a ceasefire until May 30.

“Pakistan has been worried about the increase in terrorist activity and we are looking to the regime in Afghanistan to play their role in discouraging increase of terrorist activity,” Bhutto-Zardari said in an interview with CNN, broadcast on Wednesday night.

“And this is indeed an encouraging sign,” he said about the Afghan Taliban mediating talks with the TTP. “We continue to not only monitor this situation, but work on our side to ensure that we can try to tackle the threat of terrorism and hope that the regime in Afghanistan lives up to their international commitment to not allow their soil to be used for terrorism.”

When asked what it would take for Pakistan to recognize the new government in Kabul, the foreign minister said Islamabad would take that decision “in line with the international community.”

“At the same time, we continue to advocate for engagement, and particularly in light of the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan …So we're emphasizing increased humanitarian efforts and also underscoring the importance of ensuring that there isn't a complete collapse of the Afghan economy,” Bhutto-Zardari said.

“Simultaneously,  we, in the international community, are emphasizing the importance to the new regime in Afghanistan, that they live up to international commitments, be it vis-à-vis  terrorism, or, more specifically, their commitments to women's education and the education of girls in Afghanistan and we feel if they live up to international commitments, it would be easier for us and others to fight the case for increased support for humanitarian efforts and stabilization of the Afghan economy.”


Pakistan’s foreign minister meets US state secretary, seeks stronger relations

Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistan’s foreign minister meets US state secretary, seeks stronger relations

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is currently visiting New York to attend UN food security conference
  • Secretary Blinken says Washington wants to strengthen economic and commercial ties with Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and expressed his desire to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Pakistani foreign minister is currently visiting New York to attend United Nations global food security conference which has brought together top diplomats from several other countries.

His visit to the US comes at a time when Pakistan’s fragile relations with Washington hit a new low after former prime minister Imran Khan accused the American administration of bringing down his government.

Khan said that Washington supported his ouster from power since he was pursuing “independent foreign policy” while trying to build closer relations with China and Russia. US officials have denied the allegations repeatedly.

“I ... look forward to the opportunity to increasing engagement between Pakistan and the United States, working with yourself and your administration to improve trade relations between Pakistan and the United States and create opportunities for American investors and Pakistani investors and Pakistani businessmen and American entrepreneurs to work together,” Bhutto-Zardari said during his meeting with Blinken that lasted for about 45 minutes.

The Pakistani foreign minister, who was invited to the conference by the US state secretary, said countries like Pakistan had been “facing challenges in food security, water security, energy security because of a whole host of issues ranging from climate change to issues in our neighborhood.”

Earlier, during his remarks to welcome Bhutto-Zardari, Blinken said the visit offered “an important opportunity for us to talk about the many issues we’re working together.”

“We want to focus on the work we’re doing to strengthen economic and commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan, of course, focused on regional security,” he added.

A statement issued by the US Department of State said Blinken met the Pakistani foreign minister “to affirm the shared desire for a strong and prosperous bilateral relationship.”

It added that the two officials discussed expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade, and health as well as people-to-people ties.

“They underscored the importance of US-Pakistan cooperation on regional peace, counterterrorism, Afghan stability, support for Ukraine, and democratic principles,” the statement continued. “The Secretary welcomed Pakistan’s Chairmanship of the G77 and committed to advancing climate action and global food security.”

Pakistan’s foreign office also confirmed the two officials discussed several issues of mutual interest.

“During the meeting, a wide range of bilateral, regional and international issues came under discussion,” it said in a Twitter post.

It added the Pakistani foreign minister underscored long standing and broad-based US-Pakistan relations based on mutual trust and respect.