REFORMS THROUGH ADOPT A SCHOOL

NUSRAT KHURSHEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr 23 - 29, 20
12

Pakistan has one of the Asia's worst systems of government-sponsored education. The United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization has recommended that the governments of low-income countries spend four percent of their gross national product on education. However, still passing 64 years Pakistan fell far short of that figure. The numbers ranged form 0.88 percent of GNP in the first plan (1955-1960) to less than three till today. Low as they are, the budget figures are misleading because they refer to planned expenditures rather than to what actually spent.

Pakistan's five years plans show that the government has been aware of the costs of low literacy and enrolment, but that it has provided neither the leadership nor the resources to deal with these issues.

The experience of many countries including Indonesia in the 1970s and Bangladesh in the 1990s supports a more optimistic view of government initiatives.

In the 1970s, Indonesia, with strong leadership from President Suharto, undertook a massive expansion of opportunities for children to attend primary schools. Two key elements in this policy were the construction of new government school buildings across the country and the reconstruction of buildings used by Islamic schools. With adequate funding from the government's own budget and strong backing by Suharto, that reform led to a substantial increase in primary school enrolment. This experience and that of other Asian countries experience shows that governments can lead rather than just follow economic, social ad cultural change.

Active leadership by the government can change not only the chances for children to enrol in schools but public attitudes towards education. If every government in Pakistan had made a strong commitment to primary education and provided the resources necessary for schools to be built and teachers to be hired, its current record would have been far better. When governments truly want to improve the literacy and education opportunities of their citizens, they can take the lead in overcoming adverse conditions rather than waiting for changes in those conditions to push them into action.

If Pakistan wants a successful school system, it would have to achieve two objectives: firstly to provide opportunities for children to learn and secondly ensure that opportunity to learn is not conditioned by the school background or gender of the student.

Providing learning opportunities requires some conditions. The first is access. Schools would have to be available to all children and located close enough to their homes so that they could walk to school. Access is now limited because schools are not available in many areas. Second, eligible students would have to enrol in school. Having a school nearby does little good unless children become students and attend its classes.

Third, older teachers, more educated teachers, and head teachers are all paid more but are also more frequently absent; contract teachers are paid much less than regular teachers but have similar absent rates. Teacher absence is more correlated with daily incentives to attend work. Teachers are less likely to be absent at schools that have been inspected recently, that have better infrastructure, and that are closer to a paved road. We find little evidence that attempting to strengthen local community ties will reduce absence. Teachers from the local area have similar absent rates as teachers from outside the community. There is a need to make sure that teachers absent ratio decreases.

Fourth, attendance or presence of teachers are not sufficient. Schools must have capable teachers and the material necessary to promote learning. Teachers with only primary or middle schooling will be less prepared to handle subjects such as mathematics than those holding university degrees. And, unless they have textbooks for their students, blackboards and chalk, they will find it very hard to teach.

Fifth, students enrolled in school should learn the material taught in its classes. As later chapters will show, learning depends on many conditions, such as the general education and gender of the teacher and whether the school is in a city or in a village. Students learning can be assessed in several ways such as through performance on daily assignments and on achievements in specific subjects. And finally, students must stay in school long enough so that they can read, write and work with numbers. If they drop out of school after one or two years, they will usually not have those skills.

In terms of infrastructure, one survey depicts a pathetic condition of the government schools. According to the survey, 70 per cent of the schools in Pakistan have no toilets, 68 per cent no drinking water, 92 per cent no playground while 16 per cent are even without a building.

Pakistan's national leaders have never made education a top priority. It can be seen only on documents. Presidents and prime ministers have all come with cogent rhetoric about the need for more and better education, but they rarely provided the leadership and budgets necessary to improve schools across the country.

Unlike Indonesia where President Suharto proposed the reform of education and held government officials accountable for carrying it out, Pakistan has long been content to issue far-reaching plans followed by little action. Governments have persisted in the formulation of objectives that are clearly unreachable within the plan's horizon.

In this condition, it seems necessary that government should start a programme like "Adopt-a-school" and privatization of government schools on contract basis. By this, philanthropists will be able to give their due attention to educational institutions, particularly at the level of schools, for their up gradation.

This innovative idea of offering government schools to those willing to adopt one was floated through an analysis, basic education in Sindh, by Prof Anita Ghulam Ali, in 1990 for UNICEF. The analysis had highlighted poor performance and infrastructure of government schools in Sindh.

The adopt-a-school programme was officially launched in 1997. There was a special purpose behind naming the programme as adopt-a-school. Adoption required nurturing of schools by not just matching its physical needs, but going a step further with the needs that would make a school self-sufficient.

The motivation behind the adoption of schools was to ensure sustained improvement in government schools, effective school managements, physical uplift, improved quality of education with increased involvement of parents and communities, regular monitoring of schools and feedback, head-teachers' and teachers' training, co-curricular activities and increased/improved school facilities.

An adopter would work for upgrading the standard of school with the cooperation, assistance, collaboration of government/SMC/school staff. The adopter would act as monitor and caretaker.

Prior to the launching of the adopt-a-school programme, these schools were neglected by public due to scarcity of funds, laboratory equipments, and other essential facilities and environment.

After implementation of the programme, government schools have been benefited which is visible from the attention received from public and teaching/non-teaching staff employed by the adopters.

Change is possible and that we may be able to see results within two years by sticking to the "determined education reform".