There is no denying the fact that our education system has been in a dismal state for a long time. However, we have recently seen a discernible and incontrovertibly impressive change in the elementary and secondary education sector of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The KP government’s initiative to establish the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) to collect data on government schools and keep a close check on their operations has proved to be a good step. The IMU was approved in 2012-2013 and was formally introduced in April 2014.
Monitors, 318 men and 232 women, have been recruited to inspect government schools across the province on a monthly basis. Each district is assigned inspectors in conformity with the number of schools it has.
The duty of the monitors is to conduct surprise visits to three or four schools during school hours. Every monitor has a smartphone that is provided by the government. These devices have a predesigned application form for each school where the relevant data can be inserted. The application is filled and subsequently sent to the IMU Head Office Peshawar.
The data includes information about the attendance of the teaching and non-teaching staff, the actual enrolment of students, the dropout ratio of students, student-teacher ratio and a record of the facilities which are missing from the schools. It also includes details on the school’s physical environment and the condition of the buildings, the distribution of textbooks, the stipends offered to female students and the utilisation of Parent-Teacher Committee funds.
The schools are reshuffled and reallocated to monitors in order to avert the chances of them developing permanent contact with teachers, which could potentially compromise on their work by tweaking data in favour of the school administrations.
The project has so far been successful. No case of corruption and nepotism or instances involving the violation of rules has been reported against any monitor or staff member of the IMU. This is arguably the secret of the project’s success. Even political parties who are in the opposition in the province have lauded this project and have no qualms about its operations.
As per official data, the IMU is doing a good job. The unauthorised absenteeism of teachers has been decreased from five percent in 2014 to two percent in 2017 while their overall absenteeism has been reduced from 14 percent in 2017 from 23 percent in 2014. The gap between the enrollment and attendance of students has been decreased to 22 percent from 48 percent during the same time period.
The number of non-functional schools declined to 48 in 2017 from 441 in 2014 while the number of temporarily closed schools had decreased to 340 from 2,296 during the same period. At the same time, the provision of water, electricity and toilets have also been improved.
Even international observers and education experts have spoken highly of the IMU.
By all counts, it is a commendable move by the KP government. It should never be aborted even though some improvements need to be made to it.
Monitors, especially the female ones, should be facilitated more while conducting their monitoring activities. The concerned department should also provide the administrations and teachers of schools an easy complaint procedure through which they can register their grievances against the monitors. This is necessary because the evaluators have a tendency to bear grudges or have biases.
It should also be made completely certain that the monitors are not allowed to harass teachers for petty mistakes. Such behaviour affects their teaching capabilities further and would make them more inefficient.
Moreover, private schools should also be brought within the ambit of the IMU. Many of these schools are exploiting the pitfalls of the government education system and are in competition with each other to rob the public of its money.
Corporal punishment should also be included within the domain of the monitors. All those public and private schools should be identified where corporal punishment is practiced and administration of such schools should be condemned to justly-deserved penalties forthwith in order to stop this practice once and for all.
Although corporal punishment strictly banned, it is an open secret that students have to confront this cruel practice at most schools in the province and throughout the country. This is akin to the plight of women who face violence and abuse at their homes and offices and choose not to report it as they fear the consequences. If students report corporal punishment at their schools by using the relevant helpline, they stand the risk of being expelled from their schools, receiving a bad-character certificate from the administration and facing emotional harassment at the hands of their teachers and their own families.