The success of a few government schools will speak for the success of a new beginning in the right direction
Millions of donor dollars and billions of taxpayers’ rupees have been spent on improving the education sector. Many grand schemes, both by the government and donors, have been launched with considerable hype and fanfare. Yet government schools in Pakistan — and specifically in Sindh — remain badly managed, the curriculum and textbooks remain out of sync with modern aspirations, and quality of instruction and learning remain embarrassingly low. Ghost schools and ghost teachers abound, as does widespread absenteeism and student enrolment continues to fall. The more that is said to be done, the more everything remains the same, with no direction for change in sight.
It is important to go beyond the cliched wisdom of explaining the failure of government schools by citing corruption. More than corruption, their failure is because there is no road map of change; government policymakers as well as donors and NGOs may be ‘guilty’ of not considering this factor. Without a road map, the obsession with empty rhetoric, the desire to spend large sums of money and launch grand schemes inevitably end in failure. This, perhaps, better explains why change is not happening.
However difficult it may be working with the government — and it is, indeed, difficult — real and large-scale change can only come when government schools, colleges and universities become well-managed and start challenging students intellectually. The state cannot be allowed to abdicate its responsibility; in the absence of political will, all that non-government actors can hope to achieve is to set some definite and sustainable direction for change. Once the way is shown by developing prototypes of good schools, real and sustainable change may follow at the highest level of policymaking.
The initiative of the Bookgroup, as part of the Sindh Education Reform Initiative, starting with three schools in Khairpur which presently benefit more than 3,200 boys and girls, is only the first step in developing the specifications of change in government schools. A road map, perhaps!
In Government Naz Pilot Secondary School, Shah Abdul Latif Girls Primary School and Shah Abdul Latif Boys Primary School (the three pilot schools in Khairpur), a number of new facilities have been added in addition to improvements in the condition of classrooms, toilets and electrical fittings. These include the establishment of a state-of-the-art computer room with 60 stations, a modern library, an audio-visual room, sports facilities, a modern administrative block, a large conference room for the training of teachers, a faculty lounge, a health room and a daycare facility for very small children of teachers and staff. A 70KVA generator has been installed so as to be able to provide uninterrupted power supply to the schools.
On the academic side, more than 60 colourfully illustrated books have been translated into Sindhi while the new programme of studies includes learning modules like taekwondo, rollerblading, art and sports. The curriculum and textbooks are being looked into, and supplementary worksheets are being prepared to modernise the learning environment and to make instruction more child-friendly. A formally structured training programme for teachers will soon be put in place.
None of these changes required any rocket science and all have been done within the existing resources of the government, and with the existing teachers. Clearly, what was required, along with money, was vision, commitment and structures of professional management of the schools.
Notwithstanding the fierce opposition of the teachers’ union in the early days of the intervention, parents of the schoolchildren and the community at large have responded with enthusiasm and support. On their request, computer classes are held after school hours for the young boys and girls from the community as are rollerblading and taekwondo classes. They participate as much in after-school sports as in watching educational films in the AV room.
Since the success of the reform process in these three schools in Khairpur has been demonstrated beyond expectation, and that too within a short period of six months, the Bookgroup has now requested the Department of Education of the government of Sindh, for 18 more large and small schools, in Larkana and Sehwan. This will benefit more than 70,000 students. The request for the additional 18 schools has been pending for approval for the last five months. Annoying as the snail-paced working of the Sindh bureaucracy may be, it is one reality about which nothing can be done and remains a constant in this transition period. Meanwhile, the success of a few government schools will speak for the success of a new beginning in the right direction.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.
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