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Walking the Talk for the Right to Education – A field note on Gilgit Baltistan and its Delivery Lab! by Baela Raza Jamil

The DeliverEd Initiative funded by the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office and lead by the The Education Commission explores the effectiveness of ‘delivery approaches’ that combine functions, such as prioritization and target setting, monitoring, accountability and problem-solving to rapidly improve bureaucrats’ performance and service delivery. DeliverEd studies ‘how’ high stakes reforms in education can be led by champions and key decision makers. DeliverEd has conducted a global mapping and several in country studies to build evidence on delivery approaches in low- and middle-income countries, including in Pakistan. As a co-chair of this work, I have been closely engaged in the research design, findings and its dissemination and am always on the lookout for what this may mean for the acceleration to the SDG 4 amidst mounting education emergencies across the world. Where can one find leaders invested and spearheading ‘deliverology’ as Michael Barber coined the term from a public sector and corporatized perspective?

I spent a week in April 2023 scrutinizing Schools2030, a global reform for 1000 schools in 10 countries including 100 schools in the Northern Areas of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Chitral, in Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP), Pakistan. Pakistan has been very active in making global pledges, designing reforms, policies, laws and sector plans but falls short on action and implementation. The promise of Universal Primary Education in the country is still shortwith only 62% children aged 6-10 enrolled at the primary level and with only 1 in 5 ten-year old children reading with comprehension. In GB, however, I saw schools engaged in holistic academic and non-academic practices, I saw ‘what works and why’. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Mohyuddin Wani, the Chief Secretary (CS) of the GB province, a unique champion of large-scale reforms including in education. His fame had preceded my meeting for spearheading some bold education reforms.

group of students and educators

Karimabad Govt. Girls High School – Hunza- with all Stakeholders

Mr. Mohyuddin Wani, previously served in a senior position at the Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training (MoFE&PT) and was appointed Chief Secretary, the highest administrative civil servant in charge of the province, in April 2022. Having just completed over one year in this position, he is fiercely driven to embed the reforms in the system etched in the imagination of its citizens driving the demand and keeping the supply side on its toes. Committed to the GB Education Reforms Initiative package agreed through a consultative process in June 2022. Mr. Mohyuddin Wani is a reformer to the core whose vision is Excellence in Education and learning, Entitlements through Technology & STEM, and Empowerment through Devolved Governance backed by trust. He is the epitome of ‘bureaucratic will’ driven by evidence, system and outcomes’-based reforms that can be fully leveraged through public private partnerships (PPPs). As a seasoned civil servant, he knows well the possibilities and limits of working within systems, through teams and key stakeholders. He has clarity that vision and targets matter, but teams and implementation actions and actors matter the most. His mission has been to Transforming Education Systems, ensuring that schools are safe and functional; teachers are adequate and supported for active teaching; technology and STEM is an entitlement and all children are healthy, stimulated and confident to learn, matched by progress. Within one year, he has initiated robust reforms designed for scaling up, embedded in the system and budget and keeping in mind a quarter of a million students and almost 1800 schools. Reforms include STEM-Tech; afternoon free coaching; school buildings with sports, IT, library and science facilities; devolving extraordinary powers to cluster Head Teachers; nutrition; and holistic formative assessments.

Courageous and caring to the core, Mr. Mohyuddin Wani reconstructed, almost overnight, a girls’ school that was torched and proceeded as planned with the girls’ winter sports gala when groups threatened dire consequences. These bold actions by the administrative chief of a region are beginning to be etched in people’s imagination across the territory, ‘we are so happy to see serious and relevant reforms in education for the first time in GB’s history; we are witnessing a bright future of our children’. My eyes just popped out when a girl child from grade 7th asked ‘but why can’t our school also have the Learning Management System (LMS) and Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), just like the Higher Secondary School next door where my brother studies?” and many others voiced: ‘the LMS gives us instant feedback if we are on the right track [and] we also have mobile cell phones that can help us!”. Access to simple android cell phones has created revolutionary learning possibilities for boys and girls, youth, families and households in GB. If this can happen in GB so constrained by access to internet, just imagine what can happen in other provinces. Mercifully, work on EdTech is on full speed led by champions of reform in the Ministry Federal Education and Professional Training (MofE&PT).

Lasting reforms must be backed by skills in finance and accountability. Wani knew this well when he issued the notification for all Head Teachers who are Drawing and Disbursement Officers (DDOs) with authority to receive and spend funds to meet needs in their own schools and their cluster. Other provinces of Pakistan have been engaged with clustering for optimized effectiveness in schools, but it is in GB where I witnessed its potential and impact. The reform notified only on March 10, 2023 has empowered the DDOs (senior Principals/Head Teachers) with financial, administrative and performance appraisal responsibilities and with postings and transfers of staff/ teachers (up to grade BPS-18) within clusters and outside through mutual consent. This has instantly reduced noise and stress on the system at the center, by devolving practical and strategic authority to the local level. Reforms on formative and non-academic assessments for grades 5 and 8, life skills, academic calendars and annual School Development Plans (SDPs) are also channeled through a clustered leadership approach. This is a Big Reform to be watched closely and scaled up. Whilst all three DDOs I met in Chuparsun, Karimabad and Immit praised it; one HM was concerned about attention diversion to administrative matters over academics; which could imply that this reform may need more skills and support for Head Teachers.

In all schools I visited there had been timely actions to support teacher adequacy which was appreciated by students and HMs. The addition of a “Tech Fellow’ (TF) for building skills in IT, STEM, Coding/Scratch and Enterprise for grades 6-8 has been particularly celebrated for making students live in the 21st century. One young capable TF is shared across 2 schools in close proximity spending three days in each school. This innovative addition has revolutionized school learning culture with students empowered and eager to learn what is most relevant to their present lives and for tomorrow’s workforce. The TF began with merely 100 for 200 schools across GB, but just within a year TFs now account for 1000. The TF could be effective only in well-functioning learning labs which were also part of the package. Each DDO as the Head Teacher was provided the funds to directly purchase the necessary items and this has been done brilliantly and on time; moving away from centralized procurement and building trust above all.

Infrastructure improvement, facilities and activities for sports, active libraries, was already underway in some of the schools visited. Afternoon free academies through PPPs for boosting learning prior to high stakes board examinations have unleashed confidence in children who feel ‘somebody cares’. GB is all set to celebrate with Summer Schools/Fiestas in 2023, optimizing learning through expression and performance. In addition to these reforms, a comprehensive policy handbook for schools has been approved in order to ensure everything at school will function as planned within local contexts. The students chimed in to say, ‘we just love our schools; our cousins have shifted from fancy private to our govt. school too!’ I witnessed hope and delight even more so through conversations with parents and grandparents who felt that finally their new generations will have opportunities to bloom; some shared great stories of positive mindsets and behavior change in their children already.

students

All Children in School and Learning for GB’s 1.5 million population is the Chief Secretary’s motto. Mr. Wani, has the state machinery buzzing gathering evidence on enrolment increases in the districts. He is mindful of net enrolment increase on the dashboard, not merely shifts from private to public schools, which is a testimonial to what Anita Ghulam Ali would call a huge success marker for Education becoming a Public Good. The CShas put together a dedicated team of civil servants who are graduates of Standford, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National University of Science & Technology (NUST) and Aga Khan University (AKU). They work somehow as a delivery unit but within the formal government structure.

What does it really take to make Education an Equalizer for All in 21st century Pakistan? A skilled visionary champion, a team, data driven systems and embedded shifts, students and citizens who validate the experienced reforms in near and distant schools. GB is not only scaling but adding new heights for Accelerated Education Performance in Pakistan as a comprehensive Learning and Delivery Laboratory. What is needed is a heart and mind that works in tandem with teams at the center and the district level all pulling for outcomes that can be measured and tracked. However, the CS is unlikely to stay for long on account of the upcoming elections. The citizens of GB will be waiting for Champions like Wani who know how to make the machinery work and ensure continuity of what is working well; the Delivery Lab must go on, more structured, always visible to the public for outcomes and longer lasting. A toolkit for the Senior Chief successors may be helpful.

The scope of reforms spans both backward foundational linkages and forward ones too. The CS is committed to making early childhood care and education come alive in GB as the most precious investment for sustained foundational learning. He is also working actively and simultaneously to boost post-secondary/tertiary education, technology, enterprise and livelihoods too for all genders in GB. Within less than 12 months he has established partnerships with universities like the National College of Arts (NCA) and NUST for promoting arts, heritage and music conservation, technology and AI. He did not stop at this alone, but has also established Software Tech Parks (3 locations) for software and entrepreneurship attracting businesses and startups to establish themselves through shared workspaces, free for one year in reliable facilities with electricity and connectivity. Student and enterprise loans are also being extended. If this was not sufficient forward thinking, Mr. Wani and team have established in collaboration with the Dept. of Social Welfare upscaled skills and enterprise centers for women of GB to be certified in courses on garments production, tech enabled enterprise skills and catering/hospitality courses. The facilities come with day care and physical fitness and mental health services too so that women can learn, aspire and be fulfilled impacting not just themselves but generations. He is working actively on many fronts including scaling up nutrition in schools, addressing the challenge of mental health in schools, colleges and society that has taken a huge toll among the youth of GB.

Baela Jamil CEO -Idara-e-Taleem-o- Aagahi (ITA)
Founder Pakistan Learning Fesival (PLF) Email: baela.jamil@itacec.org

One year on, the land endowed with the glorious peaks of K-2. Nanga Parbat, Mashambrum, RakaPoshi and 7000 glaciers determined to scale new heights through holistic education reforms that are not mere intentions but are happening even in the most rugged last mile landscapes of Gilgit Baltistan.

mountains
Photo credits: Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development Pakistan, Mountain Experience Expeditions