Islamabad - Alif Ailaan launched a campaign to highlight the changes to the level of coverage of education issues in Pakistan since 2013. “Education: The Inescapable Pakistani Conversation” is the summary of an ongoing study by researchers at the MIT Media Lab and Alif Ailaan.

The findings of the study offered a remarkable lens into the growing importance of education in the national discourse, as the average weekly number of stories on education in the national press has grown from 29 in February 2013, to 41 by the end of 2013 and to 117 as of January 2015.

“It is difficult to establish concrete and specific correlations between the media discourse and the actualities on the state of education in Pakistan but nevertheless important to see the media discourse as an indicator of these actualities,” said Ali Hashmi, research fellow. “This study will serve as a baseline to understand what issues dominate education reporting,” he added. The study analyses patterns of representation around the topic of “education” published in national and regional newspapers from February 2013 to January 2015, a period of 24 months, or two years. The trends in the report indicate that the education conversation manifests itself differently at the regional and national levels. While the national conversation about education appears to be focused on issues with a broad, global appeal and accessibility, the regional newspapers highlighted issues that are relevant to specific communities, either at the tehsil/taluka level, or at the district level.

The study shows that the terms of ‘Malala’ and ‘Peshawar attack’ generate the highest impact on coverage as compared to any other topic in education, and both events have been disruptive in terms of the ongoing narrative of education in Pakistan.

In 2014, education stories in Sindhi language newspapers focused on issues faced by communicates related to ghost schools and ghost teachers. In the Urdu press, security of educational institutions surfaced as a key theme. Education stories in English-language newspapers maintained a focus on educational policies and issues, such as enrolment and teaching.

Of the education-related news stories that were analysed for this study, the report shows that 33 percent were based on national issues, 30 percent on Punjab, 18 percent on Sindh, 8 percent on KP and Balochistan each and 3 percent on AJK, GB and FATA.

“Quality lies at the heart of Pakistan’s education crisis,” said Saman Naz, Alif Ailaan data and evidence manager and co-author of the report. “However, there is a large vacuum in the discourse on quality and learning outcomes. Tentatively, this indicates that a focus on quality has a lower priority over other issues in education. This has far reaching and worrying implications for our future,” she said.

The report concludes that while there has been a significant improvement in the richness and coverage of education content in the national discourse, it is worrying that there is very little evidence that learning outcomes, teaching quality and overall quality of education has received any significant uptake.  

“Pakistan is facing an education crisis,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, Alif Ailaan campaign director. “The overall increase in education coverage is hardly a matter to celebrate given that within the broad issue of education, we’re not even scratching the surface of really important issues like nutrition, maternal learning, mathematics and science scores across the country and the abdication of responsibility by the state, that has led to a calamitous situation for poor families that cannot afford expensive private schools,” he said.