By Shajia Sarfraz, EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator
What should a school of education in Pakistan look like? What problems should it address? What should be its goals, and what kind of products should it produce twenty years into the future? These were some of the questions that were raised and addressed at the Education Roundtable that was convened on May 6th 2016 at the Harvard South Asia Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended by scholars, administrators, and leaders in the field of education from across the US and Pakistan.
A thread which weaved through the entire discussion was a tension between a top-down versus bottom-up approach to delivering impact. This dichotomy manifested itself numerous times. For instance, when contemplating the school’s theory of change, the discussion delved deep into whether the mandate of the school of education should be focused on policy-level decision making, or whether it should be more involved in issues of practice. Many discussants felt that change happens at the bottom, not at the top. Specifically, it happens at the level of the educator. If that is the case, how should the school of education identify domestic needs of practice and address them?
One of the major challenges Pakistan’s education sector faces is a lack of leadership. What kind of interventions can come through the school of education in order to address this gap? Participants felt that when inequity in the education space is paired with a clear demand for quality education, it is essential for a school of education to address this gap by engaging with local practitioners and educators.
What kind of education should a school of education be imparting? This question was met with a variety of responses. Many participants felt, for instance, that the school should have the capacity to reimagine itself, just like it strives to reimagine the education sector in Pakistan. This could be achieved by teaching disciplines such as the philosophy of education, religion, and history, and having an overt emphasis on topics of diversity and equity.
Whether the school of education should tread the path less taken, such as having a distinct focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, or if it should follow a more traditional agenda, was a question that sparked debate. Some participants were of the opinion that the school should not have a traditional agenda. They noted that there have been fundamental changes in adaptable and personalized learning. The school of education should embrace these changes and have a significant commitment to the use of technology, not just within itself, but also as a means of collaborating with other professional schools in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) network.
On the contrary, other participants felt that in order for Pakistan to improve its education sector, the country does not have to reimagine education. There is a desperate need in the Pakistani context to create an evolutionary eco-system in education. Unfortunately, in a quest for constantly trying to find “magic bullets,” education leaders often miss the “big picture,” which requires creating systems and structures that function. Education schools can provide this structure. They can be places where people can come together and reimagine the path forward for the education field in Pakistan.
Creating a school of education that makes addresses the deep education inequities in Pakistan is a daunting, yet invigorating idea. In order for Pakistan to guide the local and international discourse on education, it is essential that leaders articulate the challenges faced by the sector, and aim to address them through an academic institution that provides leadership in this arena.