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Journal cover: International Journal of Educational Management

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Online from: 1987

Subject Area: Education

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Assessing competency of Pakistani primary school teachers in mathematics, science and pedagogy

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DOI (Permanent URL): 10.1108/09513540210432173

Article citation: Muhammad Saeed, Khalid Mahmood, (2002) "Assessing competency of Pakistani primary school teachers in mathematics, science and pedagogy", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 16 Iss: 4, pp.190 - 195




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The Authors

Muhammad Saeed, Senior Subject Specialist, Directorate of Staff Development, Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

Khalid Mahmood, Senior Subject Specialist, Directorate of Staff Development, Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan


The study is aimed at investigating the competency level of primary school teachers in the disciplines of science, mathematics and pedagogy. The sample comprised 1,800 randomly drawn Primary Teaching Certificate (PMC) teachers working in different state primary and middle/elementary schools of 22 districts of the Punjab province. The competency was determined by developing standardised achievement tests in each of the three subjects. The results show teachers have a low level of competency in all these three areas. On average, their achievement rate remained 30.8 percent in mathematics, 34.1 percent in science and 39.2 percent in pedagogy; even below the minimum set criterion of 40 percent against each subject. Gender was found to be a significant indicator in the study that the competency level of female PTC teachers was lower than their male counterparts’.

Article Type:

Research paper


Teachers; Effectiveness; Education; Pakistan.


International Journal of Educational Management









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The word “competency” is synonymous with the relative terms of quality, efficiency, adequate, suitable or sufficient. Its dictionary meanings are ability, power, skill or talent to do something. Hyland (1995, p. 222) states “competence implies to the satisfaction of basic minimum standards”. Teaching competency is a set of abilities, knowledge and belief which a teacher possesses and also uses for an effective teaching and learning process. In other words, competency is the possession of sufficient skills and understanding to do a certain kind of work satisfactorily. Teaching competency refers to cognitive knowledge of the teachers, which entails effects on student learning. Page et al. (1979, p. 78) use the term competency-based teaching which they describe as “the movement in teacher education which aims to train students in specific classroom skills. It includes the use of teaching methods such as interaction process analysis, microteaching. simulation etc.”

Competence does not equate with excellence, it does imply a level of proficiency that has been judged to be sufficient for the purpose of the activity in question. Whitty and Willmott (1995, p. 209) perceive competence as “the task being clearly defined and the criteria of success being set out alongside this. It encompasses intellectual, cognitive and attitudinal dimensions as well as performance”.

Competency is closely related to “competency or programme-based teacher education” (CBTE or PBTE). Houston (1974, pp. 86-7) describes competencies in the sense of basic requirements for the successful completion of a teacher education programme. He categorizes competencies into five classes:

  1. cognitive-based – which relates to knowledge and intellectual skills and abilities that are expected of the learner;
  2. performance-based – wherein the learner demonstrates that he or she can do something;
  3. consequence-based – to bring change in others;
  4. affective – which defines expected attitudes and values, tend to resist the specificity and are more difficult to assess than the first three types; and
  5. exploratory – which includes activities that promise significant learning, they provide opportunities for students to learn about teaching, but the specific nature of such learning is not defined.

In the educational context, a competency test means a test developed for the purpose of assessing knowledge, skills, values and attitudes of the students and/or teachers. According to Page et al. (1979, p. 78), a competency test is designed to assess which particular skill has been learned.

In Pakistan, the competency of teachers, especially at primary level, has been the subject of hot discussion since independence (1947). This is due to a very low prerequisite entry qualification of ten years’ schooling and a very short pre-service training period of one year called the Primary Teaching Certificate (PTC). The Report of the British Council (1988), and the studies of Farooq (1990) and Saeed (1997) revealed that primary teachers were not competent mainly due to having a very short pre-service training period of one year just after ten years’ schooling. Keeping in view the deteriorating situation, in 1995 the Ministry of Education Islamabad proposed a 10 + 3 model (i.e. three years’ training both in content and pedagogy after ten years’ schooling). The model was introduced on an experimental basis in some Government Colleges for Elementary Teachers (GCETs) of the country in 1998, but due to unavoidable reasons it could not continue. The present government intends to introduce a 14 + 1 model, i.e. graduate teachers will be recruited at primary and middle/elementary level and these teachers will undergo one year training at the GCETs.

How far were PTC teachers competent in the content of primary level subjects? The Government of Punjab, with the financial assistance of World Bank’s Social Action Programme (SAP), planned to conduct a study in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Objectives of the study

The objectives of the study were to:

  • find out the level of competencies of PTC teachers in the areas of mathematics, science and pedagogy;
  • enable the teacher educators to focus their attention and direct their efforts on developing such competencies for primary and elementary school teachers;
  • provide feedback for GCETs to design effective pre-service and in-service training programmes.

Method and procedure


The population comprised all the working primary school teachers of the Punjab province of Pakistan.


The sample comprised 1,800 PTC teachers (900 male and 900 female) working in the state primary and middle/elementary schools drawn at random from 22 districts (out of a total of 34 districts) of the Punjab province.

Research instruments – competency tests

Preliminary preparation and try out

Prior to developing the competency tests in three subjects – mathematics, science and pedagogy, a one-week workshop was organised in January 1999 at the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD), Punjab, Lahore, wherein the teacher educators from DSD, PITE Punjab, GCETs and government high/higher secondary schools of the province participated. As an outcome of this workshop, a single test comprising three sections, i.e. mathematics (25 items), science (25 items) and pedagogy (13 items), was developed. The questions developed were either objective-type (multiple choice and matching) or semi-objective-type (short answer).

The test was tried out on ten primary and middle/elementary schools (five male and five female) on PTC teachers of Lahore District.

Improvement of competency test and re-piloting

In the light of the pilots, sufficient improvements were made to the test in terms of language, format/style, and content. Now three separate tests were developed – one for each subject area. The number of questions increased to 100 in mathematics and science, and 55 in pedagogy.

The improved tests were piloted in November 1999 on 200 PTC teachers drawn at random from the Gujranwala Division of the Punjab province. These tests were analysed and the test items were selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Difficulty level – 20 percent < D1 > 87 percent item was discarded.
  • Discriminating value – DV < 0.25 item was discarded.

In the light of the analysis. the items of each test were either replaced or improved in terms of language, style/format and content before administering it on a large scale. The following two major modifications were made in this regard:

  1. more emphasis was given to multiple choice questions;
  2. tables of specifications for each subject were scientifically designed.

Administration of competency tests on a large scale

The three tests were administered in the field on a sample 1,800 PTC teachers covering 22 districts of all the eight civil divisions of the province. Each improved test contained the type and number of questions shown in Table I.

Collection of data

The three competency tests were administered in the field between March and May 2000 on the sampled 1,800 PTC teachers through personal visits of DSD faculty. The teachers were informed about the tests a few weeks prior to conducting them through their respective district/deputy district education officers (male/female).

The response rates were encouraging in all the three subjects – 89.2 percent in mathematics, 87.2 percent in science and 87.7 percent in pedagogy. There was little difference in the response rate of male and female teachers in the tests of mathematics and science, in the test of pedagogy and the male-female response rate was the same (Table II).

Analysis of data

When item analysis of the 27 percent highest achievers and 27 percent lowest achievers in each of the three subjects was done with the help of a computer, it was found that on average the competence level of PTC teachers remained in all three areas. The teachers could not reach even the benchmark 40 percent of the total score. Generally the performance of female teachers was poorer than their male counterparts’. Subject-wise details of the tests are as follows.


The average percentage score of PTC teachers in mathematics was 30.8 percent, with the male and female break-up of 38.9 percent and 23.1 percent respectively. Although the achievement level was low both in male and female teachers, female teachers lagged behind the male teachers by about 15 percent The relatively poorer performance of female teachers might be due to inadequate facilities in their inslitutions like classrooms, teaching staff, library books, laboratory equipment, etc.

Concept-wise teachers were found relatively better in attempting the questions in the area of knowledge within the cognitive domain than comprehension/understanding and application (Table III).

The concept of the number system and binary operations ranked at the top with respect to understanding. The male teachers possess 63 percent knowledge and 24 percent comprehension level of the concept. Among these teachers, the application of this knowledge was 17 percent. The female teachers have about 45 percent of the concept and have about 25 percent comprehension of the concept. They could apply this knowledge up to 15 percent.

After the number system and binary operations, PTC teachers were found relatively better in having good knowledge about the concept of unitary method and fundamental concepts of geometry.

Both male and female teachers were found very weak in the different aspects relating to practical geometry. Male teachers had only 0.47 percent, of this concept while their counterpart female teachers had no concept at all. On the concept of measurement of time, both male and female teachers had an understanding of 15 percent and 8 percent respectively.

The understanding level of teachers in the concepts of basic concepts of geometry, fractions, perimeter, number systems and unitary method were relatively high as compared to the remaining mathematical concepts at primary level. Most probably it was for the reason that these concepts were included in the contents of training workshops organised for 36,000 PTC teachers of Punjab under Teacher Training Project (TTP) between the years 1995-1998 (Mahmood, 1999).


The average percentage score of PTC teachers in the subject of science was 34.1 percent with the male and female break-up of 38.3 percent and 29.7 percent respectively. Hence, as with mathematics, the competency level of female teachers in science also remained lower than their male counterparts’.

The analysis further revealed that both male and female teachers were relatively better in the concept of machines. Males have 61 percent knowledge and 26 percent comprehension of this concept. They could apply this concept up to 6 percent. Their counterparts possessed relatively more knowledge (69 percent) but their comprehension level was just 16 percent in comparison with 25.9 percent for the male teachers. The level of application of this concept among female teachers was quite low (1 percent) (Table IV).

The competency level of both male and female teachers in growth and reproduction, and food was almost the same and ranked as the second best of all the 13 concepts.

The lowest level of competence was observed in the concept of rest and motion. Female and male teachers had only 3.7 percent and 8.8 percent comprehension of this concept.

There were three concepts in which there was a remarkable difference between the male and female teachers. These included: living and non-living things (male 36 percent vs female 7.9 percent); growth and reproduction (male 75.7 percent vs female 51.1 percent); and matter (male 45.1 percent vs female 29.2 percent).

It was observed that the concepts of science that were emphasised in TTP training were relatively clearer to the PTC teachers. These included: machines, growth and reproduction, food, air and water, and electricity and magnetism.


The overall percentage score of PTC teachers in different pedagogical aspects was 39.2 percent with the male and female break-up of 43.1 percent and 35.1 percent, respectively. The average score was a bit higher than mathematics and science which shows that teachers were relatively better in pedagogical skills. Almost similar results were obtained from another recent study conducted in early 2000 wherein PTC teachers’ competency was assessed through making observations in the real classroom situation and conducting achievement test (Saced, 2000).

A remarkable majority of the male teachers had good knowledge (75.6 percent) and comprehension (43.0 percent) in lesson planning and presentation. Regarding knowledge in the use and development of audio-visual aids, the female teachers ranked higher (68.5 percent) than their male counterparts (Table V).

The female teachers were weak in comprehension (7.5 percent) regarding the aspects of school and community relationships, whereas their counterpart male teachers had very little knowledge of literacy and dropout.

The analysis of data further discloses that the PTC teachers had more knowledge regarding lesson planning and presentation, classroom management, and audio-visual aids. It is notable that these aspects were relatively more emphasised in the TTP training imparted to PTC teachers between 1995-1998.


It is a matter of great concern that the competency level of primary teachers has been found very low. The teachers could not reach even the minimum competency level of 40 percent in any of the three areas – mathematics, science and pedagogical skills. The situation of female primary teachers is relatively more alarming than their male counterparts. Considering the concepts in terms of cognitive abilities, teachers possess adequate knowledge of some concepts, but most of them are weak in the comprehension and application of this knowledge. This may be due to poor reading habits and more emphasis on theory in the curricula of science and mathematics.

No doubt multifarious factors affect teachers’ competencies, but some of the important ones highlighted in the study are discussed here.

The foremost factor affecting teachers’ competency is their poor background in primary grade science and mathematics. Generally teaching at primary level is the last choice of government service. Therefore, average and below average candidates from a low socio-economic background seek to join the teaching profession. The candidates just having matriculation (ten years’ schooling) are not even mature.

Second, the pre-service training period of hardly one year is not sufficient to finish the PTC syllabi by employing modern techniques of teaching. Lack and/or inappropriate utilization of human and economic resources hinders the smooth running of the pre-service training. For instance, in some GCETs there is a shortage of teaching staff while others are over-loaded with staff. In some geographical regions there are a number of GCETs while others are totally lacking this facility.

Third, all the working teachers do not get ample opportunities of in-service training. Some repeatedly undergo training while others either do not want or cannot find such opportunities in their whole life career. Furthermore, problems exist at various stages of in-service training right from the preliminary preparation of planning and formulating objectives of training courses to the evaluation and feedback stage. In spite of these weaknesses, it is clear from the findings of the study that PTC teachers had relatively better knowledge and understanding in those concepts which were discussed among the teachers in the four-week in-service training courses organised at 74 different training centres of Punjab under TTP. In these courses activity/participatory approach was employed. It is a healthy sign of the effectiveness of in-service training.

Other possible factors inhibiting competency of teachers at primary level include low social status, less monetary reward and other fringe benefits, poor working conditions, no promotion structure or upward mobility, etc.

In the light of the above discussion, it would be essential to make some recommendations for enhancing the competency level of our working primary teachers. The policy makers and personnel with higher esteem on the educational ladder may consider the following measures to improve the situation in this regard:

  • The prerequisite qualification of candidates to be enrolled for primary school teachers should at least be enhanced by two years.
  • The existing duration (two to four weeks) of INSET courses, especially designed in the subjects of science and mathematics for primary school teachers, should be increased to eight to ten weeks.
  • The school managers and supervisors should closely monitor the training courses/workshops and provide necessary guidelines and professional input to the trainees and trainers.
  • All the primary and elementary schools may be provided with the training materials on the pattern of Teachers’ Guides (Rahnuma-e-Asatiza). These materials should also be available at the resource centres so that the head teachers as well as the master trainers may get benefit from them when needed.
  • All primary and elementary schools may be provided with a primary teaching kit, so that teachers may improve their classroom teaching.

ImageType and number of questions by subject
Table IType and number of questions by subject

ImageMale and female teachers sampled and responded
Table IIMale and female teachers sampled and responded

ImageTable of specification of competency test in mathematics at primary level
Table IIITable of specification of competency test in mathematics at primary level

ImageTable of specification of competency test in science at primary level
Table IVTable of specification of competency test in science at primary level

ImageTable of specification of competency test in pedagogy at primary level
Table VTable of specification of competency test in pedagogy at primary level


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