Government’s education sector reforms deemed insufficient

Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government came to power claiming that it would bring reforms in the system in addition to revolutionizing the education and health sectors. Not to mention the civil service reforms, nothing special happened in the education system, except for the transfer of administrative departments from the Civil Secretariat.

According to the documents, the Punjab government has decided to relocate the two departments of education – higher education and school education – from the main secretariat to Lawrence Road. An esplanade was purchased to house these offices. According to an official letter addressed to the two Secretaries of Education, the Chief Secretary ordered them to move there. The HED would be on the first, second, and third floors while the SED would be on the basement, ground, fourth, and fifth floors.

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The Higher Education Department (HED) is located at the Main Secretariat while the School Education Department (SED) is located in the former Planning and Development Building. Previously, two health departments namely Primary and Secondary Health Care and Specialist Health Care were also moved from the Secretariat to Birdwood Road and Lawrence Road respectively.

The PTI government had affirmed that there would be a single, universal education policy. Additionally, he also formed a task force to bring about massive reforms in the age-old colonial civil service. However, he could add no feather to his hat other than introducing the unique curriculum. It was a good step towards unity and nationalism.

In the health sector, health insurance cards have been issued throughout the province. The government claimed that this initiative was another of its achievements. When we discuss the side of education, there is no universal education policy that could revolutionize ignored public sector institutions. All colleges and universities run education in the traditional way.

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The private sector, relative to the public sector, leads in all sectors, including education. Education has never been a priority area for governments, whether dictatorial or democratic. A former SED secretary told this scribe that for more than three years in power, the PTI could not bring sustained policies to the ignored education sector.

Although the government did not change ministers for the HED and SED, secretaries were frequently transferred. Sometimes the departments operated under a provisional arrangement.

Take the example of the current HED secretary, Syed Javed Iqbal Bukhari. When he reached the retirement pension, instead of assigning a full-time secretary, the head of the food department was given an additional charge from the HED office. From Imran Sikandar to Ghulam Farid, many secretaries were transferred to the SED. The same was true for the HED.

Nazira’s education was another initiative. Although the government wanted to teach the Holy Quran through the existing teaching staff, the court ordered the recruitment of separate Qaris for this purpose. The provincial government lacked science, math and information technology teachers. It also lacked fully equipped science laboratories and classrooms for early childhood education.

Moreover, when this newspaper spoke with a seasoned teacher, Shahbaz Ali, he opined that the government recruited “civil servants”, not teachers. They carry out their duties like other government employees and leave the premises. He said there should be a mechanism to drive out true teachers among the highly educated lot and there should be different merit for teachers.

When recruiting teachers, psychologists must advise recruiting committees whether or not a candidate is fit to practice the profession. Moreover, he felt that the teachers were depressed. He said they were an ignored segment of society and they themselves were also responsible for the sad state of the education system.

Iftikhar Ahmad, another teacher, said that the main job of the teacher is to motivate students, but now we see that despite all the efforts, enrollment in public schools has been declining. An educationally conducive and productive environment in publicly funded institutions must be ensured. He said government teachers are comparatively better paid than teachers in the private sector. But, he said they themselves were deeply unmotivated. They compare themselves to other segments like engineers, doctors and civil servants and are victims of inferiority complex.

In addition, governments hire teachers for extra-curricular activities like census, electoral duties, voter registration, exam duties and much more. There is no incentive for real teachers who really promote talent and motivate their students. They don’t just pass the time, rather they prepare students to be a good generation.

Tahira, an overseas-educated teacher, said some teachers prefer to get involved in politics. These days, teachers are on the road to demand an increase in their salaries, a disparity allowance in addition to the regularization of their services, and much more. Wasn’t it a crime for teachers to be absent from their lessons, she wondered. The loss of students didn’t bother them, she said.

In addition, the government should enforce the newly notified delisting policy on dead wood present in the community. Those who prefer politics to performance in schools should also receive show cause notices, she demanded. The need she suggested is to introduce a system of conductive education, developed in Hungary by András Petö. In this system, teachers or conductors teach children and adults with motor impairments to function independently. They guide them to achieve their goals in their own way.

During the period of former Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, education authorities were constituted at the district level. Even after many years, these authorities did not have a significant impact as education remained centralized. Decision-making should be delegated to district education authorities. They should have prepared their own education plans, but the school education department remained in charge.

Babar Ali, a factory manager, said teachers were on the road.

“They announced that they were organizing protest demonstrations in front of the civil secretariat. There is, it seems, no difference between clerics and teachers because the mode of claims is the same. Both are chanting slogans, hanging banners and boycotting their workplaces,” he said. He added that teachers should perform first and then demand.

Ejaz Hussain, Deputy Headmaster of Dar-e-Arqam School, said there should be very strict mechanism and criteria for enrolment, training, regularization and promotion of teachers. He added that the government should also carry out a survey of the children of government teachers, whether they are enrolled in public sector schools or in the private sector.

Surprisingly, he argued, the teaching community did not like enrolling their own children in public schools. “How can they motivate other parents to send their children to public sector schools,” Hussain was asked. The government should surrender to the protesters, he predicted.

The government should, at a minimum, notify a policy for the education sector and the teaching community that serves in the government sector. To revolutionize the education sector, there can be a separate education group in higher departments like customs, police, etc. Moreover, the government should also organize their training, refresher courses and engage them in research-related activities. Otherwise, the billions of rupees spent in the education sector would remain counterproductive and the state-funded system would lag far behind the commercialized private sector.

About the Author

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the government of Punjab with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He uncovered a number of mega-scams while working with mainstream media. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at [email protected]

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