The LUMS School of Education (SOE) organized an Education Roundtable with the Punjab Government Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) on 7 July, 2017 at the LUMS campus. This was the first roundtable LUMS SOE held engaging with multiple government organizations. This closed-door event convened researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and donor agencies with the aim of facilitating discussion to better understand the varying perspectives and challenges in Pakistan’s education ecosystem. This greater understanding can enable academics to play a more constructive role in an advisory capacity to assist public sector organizations in impactful policy making.
Representatives from the Programme Monitoring and Implementation Unit (PMIU), Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) and Quaid–e-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED) attended the event. Each organization presented a brief overview of the problem it is striving to solve, the challenges faced, efforts made thus far to solve these problems and how academics and researchers can assist. Each presentation was followed by discussion. This interaction provided insight to how the public sector currently interprets and prioritizes existing academic research and data. The goal of the roundtable was to sharpen focus on conducting research that is mutually useful and generates greater impact in the future.
The discussion was opened by Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary Schools and Education Department (SED), Government of Punjab. He highlighted some of the initiatives undertaken to improve public education in Punjab. These initiatives include the recruitment of 80,000 teachers through a transparent merit-based mechanism and a complete restructuring of the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD). Steps such as these have resulted in improved quality of education. Data of third grade students suggests that these steps resulted in improved quality of education as learning outcomes have improved from 52% to 84%. However, Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik was cognizant of the fact that there is need for further improvement and expressed desire to collaborate with LUMS SOE to jointly work towards improving the delivery of public education.
Programme Monitoring and Implementation Unit (PMIU)
PMIU representatives briefed attendees on the challenges faced and approaches used to address them. They can be characterized into four broad categories:
PMIU’s goal is to ensure 100% enrollment of children of school-going age in Punjab. There are many communities, particularly in Southern Punjab, where a lack of schools is the primary reason behind large numbers of out-of-school children. Recently, PMIU engaged in a mapping exercise aimed at pin-pointing communities where schools are scarce. Following the completion of the mapping exercise, funds and resources will be made available to these communities.
PMIU aims to ensure quality education in all public schools. Teaching quality in public schools has deteriorated significantly in recent years. This has played an instrumental role in the growth of private schools. The challenge in improving education quality in public schools is the inability to consistently monitor teachers. PMIU has taken a number of steps to address these issues. This broad range of measures include targeted interventions to impact teacher performance based on the first ever Teacher Motivation Survey rolled out in 9 districts. Another initiative is the revision of observational tools based on international best practices to monitor improvement in teaching practices. Additionally, a self-monitoring model has been introduced under which over 50,000 tablets have been provided to schools and Assistant Education Officers (AEOs) to further improve data collection along with improvements in survey instruments. These strategies will not only improve quality but also ensure better governance.
The public school system lacks a comprehensive data base that takes into account student results, school profile and teacher profile to aid policy. Such a database would also improve inter-departmental coordination. To address this problem, PMIU is working on integrating different sources of data in the SED onto a single platform. This will be followed by the development of a comprehensive education sector analysis which will help policy makers monitor progress in school education and make informed policy decisions.
Another problem is that of an absence of a community engagement strategy which means citizens are unable to hold the government responsible for inefficient service delivery at their local public schools. Historic data suggests that there are considerable benefits to school governance if the local community becomes actively involved. To address this problem, PMIU is currently in the process of determining a sustainable long-term strategy to effectively engage school councils in school governance.
The goal is to ensure adequate facilities to provide a conducive environment for learning in schools. PMIU has already made considerable progress although there is still a long way to go. Recently, the Punjab Government has allocated even more resources for the provision of basic facilities to schools.
PMIU strongly believes academic research can play a very important role in helping it make informed policies. PMIU plans to collaborate with researchers to jointly devise and test solutions through an iterative approach.
There was general agreement that joint projects and collaborations with the long-term aim of enabling informed policy making is the way forward. Such a collaboration will create space for PhD graduates to conduct research in Pakistan. This will attract new talent to Pakistan as they will find convergence of politicians and institutional willingness to conduct impactful research. Another area where academics can play an integral role is of data quality. Historically, there have been issues with quality of data. It was emphasized that a long term interaction with academics with mutual trust is imperative to resolve these issues.
The discussion concluded with an appreciation of the open spirit with which senior government officials are willing to collaborate and take an evidence based approach.
Punjab Education Foundation (PEF)
PEF is one of the most successful institutions working in public education. This can be qualified from the fact that this organization has grown at a very fast pace in terms of number of schools, number of employees and also in terms of overall budget allocation.
PEF’s growth stems from the fact that there is a genuine demand for what it delivers. PEF’s main target audience are children for whom education is inaccessible due to financial and geographical constraints. The organization is trying to bring these out-of-school children into the classroom.
The root cause of the problems that PEF is trying to solve is poverty. Economic and financial constraints prevent families from sending their children to school. Additionally, there is a lack of schools in these impoverished communities. The existing low cost private schools in these areas do not have adequate facilities because of scarce financial resources at their disposal.
PEF has started a number of programmes to address these issues. These programmes are based on successful models being implemented in other poor nations around the world. These programmes include Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS), the Education Voucher Scheme (EVS), the New Schools Programme (NSP) and the Public School Support Programme (PSSP). All these programmes are focused on provision of free education to the most vulnerable in society.
PEF is also focused on developing capacity building programmes for teachers in PEF schools through the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) model. Annual quality assurance tests administered by the Academic Development Unit (ADU) are also being conducted to monitor the progress of student learning outcomes.
PEF is open to formulation of new policy level interventions for school education. PEF representatives were also open to the idea of making its network of schools available for research projects.
The audience suggested potential areas of collaboration. One key area could be to improve the criteria of gauging PEF’s performance. The organization has been well known for its above average performance relative to other public education delivery units but the parameters used to make this comparison largely remain unknown.
Another recommendation was that PEF schools could potentially be used as lab space. The PEF system is an ideal platform to conduct experiments to determine the impact of policy. It is worth exploring the effect of reducing regulations, monitoring and checks on grants given to schools. However, the SED has already experimented in the past with providing grants to schools with no strings attached having only resulted in incurring bad debt.
PEF’s overall approach could also be scrutinized to identify areas of improvement. Researchers in the audience were interested in PEF’s long-term strategy as these projects are funded by the government and are not self-sustaining models. Researchers proposed assistance in making the model self-sustainable so that it is no longer a financial burden on the government.
Improvements on PEF’s selection criteria were suggested. Although PEF has a well-defined criteria to induct students and third party evaluations suggest 96% accuracy in identifying the right target audience of students from low-income families, academics were optimistic that they can suggest further improvements if given an opportunity to engage closely with PEF.
Quaid –E-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED)
QAED is primarily working to ensure better quality of education in public schools. The approach this organization has taken to improve quality is to conduct teacher training using the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) model.
There are multiple factors which contribute to the challenges faced by QAED. There are no incentives for teachers to acquire training, poor quality of teachers, poor quality of training content, an inefficient centralized approach with suboptimal facilities at the district level and no effective monitoring mechanism. For the majority of teachers, training is not given any weightage when it comes to promotions. The government is well aware of the short-comings of this department and has recently undertaken the initiative to completely reform the model.
Decentralization is a much needed reform strategy where higher degree of power needs to be disseminated to the very lowest cluster level. At this level, input from the teacher will be sought and incorporated in to training material. Through this iterative approach, the system will correct itself. As part of this strategy, better quality AEOs, teachers and trainers will be hired, training facilities will be upgraded and the CPD model will be improved.
To ensure success in the reformation process, QAED is looking forward to collaborations and assistance from academics and researchers. The organization needs assistance in developing a comprehensive evaluation and feedback mechanism. To gauge teacher performance after training, a teacher education management information system needs to be developed for which QAED needs technical and content experts. The prospect of jointly developing training content can also be explored. QAED is open to collaborate with local and international partners.
The discussion was centered on how the reform process can be made more effective. Some academics were already closely involved with the reform process and were well aware of the challenges associated with decentralization. Decentralization can be achieved effectively if an evidence based approach is adopted during implementation of policies.
The importance of a well-defined criteria to gauge performance was also discussed in detail. Currently, PEC exams and PMIU data are the main sources of information through which poor performing schools and teachers are identified. This is also the basis on which QAED will reward good teachers i.e. examination results will be used to identify positive learning outcomes and teachers will be rewarded accordingly. However, a criticism of this approach was highlighted. PEC assessment methods have found to encourage rote learning as teachers “teach to the test”. Therefore, PEC examination results are not an accurate measure of student learning. Previous studies and experiments conducted by Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) have provided evidence of teachers changing their teaching strategy according to the method of assessment. The effect of changing the method of assessment of PEC examinations could be tremendous on teacher behavior and education quality. Another problem with existing mechanisms of measuring performance is associated with accuracy of data. Teachers generally do not provide accurate data when they know their performance is based on that information.
The need to conduct randomized controlled trials (RCTs) was also stressed. Do these teachers teach better after receiving training or are there other factors involved as well? Evidence has suggested that community pressure is one of the most important factors when it comes to public school performance. The challenge is to identify ways of mobilizing the community so that they contribute to the running of the school in their community. This higher level of engagement can empower marginalized communities.
Dr. Tahir Andrabi, Dean SOE concluded the discussion by emphasizing the need for sharing data. He emphasized that reliable, current and quality data needs to be made easily accessible in order to make evidence-driven policies aimed at improving the education ecosystem in Pakistan.
Dr. Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the Department of International Development (DFID) stressed the need for greater level of trust between the public sector and academics which would lead to higher level of collaboration and data sharing.
Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary Schools and Education (SED), was optimistic about greater level of collaboration between LUMS SOE and Government of Punjab’s education departments. He expressed satisfaction on future prospects of public education in Punjab since the push was now coming from the highest level of Provincial Government and greater resources are being allocated to public education.
List of Participants: Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik (Secretary School Education Dept.), Rana Hasan Akhtar (Special Secretary SED), Abdul Rehman Shah (Additional Secretary SED), Syed Sajid (Additional Secretary SED), Muhammad Akhtar (Additional Secretary SED), Dr. Asim Khwaja (Harvard University), Dr. Jishnu Das (World Bank), Dr. Stefan Dercon (DFiD) Dr. Rachel Glennerster (MIT), Alice Dana (World Bank), Ali Inam (PIMU),Tahir Rauf (PMIU), Omar Bodla (PMIU), Mubashir Hunain (QAED), Nadeem Asghar (QAED), Qamar-ul-Aslam Raga (Chairman PEF), Tariq Mahmood (PEF), Muhammad Imran Yaqoob (PEF), Fatima Zaidi (Head SMU) Akbar Malik (SMU), Rai Mustafa (SMU), Dr. Suleman Shahid (LUMS), Dr. Faisal Bari (LUMS), Dr. Sohail Naqvi (LUMS), Dr. Tahir Andrabi (LUMS), Dr. Mariam Chughtai (LUMS), Dr. Yasira Waqar (UMT), Amna Ansari (Education Specialist PMIU), Surayya Masood (CERP), Gwyneth Miner (CERP), Isabel Harbaugh (CERP), Ahmed Raza (CERP), Aisha Nauman (CERP), Sidra Saleem (CERP), Muhammad Zohaib (CERP), Ravale Mohyudin (CERP), Zainab Qureshi (CERP).