Friday July 12, 2024

Massive school reforms in the offing

By Jamila Achakzai
April 28, 2024
Secretary of Federal Education and Professional Training, Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani. — Website/Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training
Secretary of Federal Education and Professional Training, Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani. — Website/Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training

Islamabad: The education ministry has planned sweeping school reforms in Islamabad Capital Territory, insisting the initiative is meant to create better teaching and learning environments.

The reforms include the introduction of smart learning in the capital's all 432 public sector schools using digital tools, the opening of schools for underprivileged children, enrolment drives, the launch of an online learning platform, the start of a skill development programme in schools, the improvement of students' physical and mental well-being, and the hiring and training of teachers, according to newly-appointed education secretary Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani.

He told 'The News' that the ministry would turn all 432 schools in Islamabad into smart schools with modern, technology-based teaching methods and solarise them, especially in remote areas, to ensure uninterrupted power supply. "Plans are also in the works to launch a 21st century state-of-the-art school in ICT and an e-Taleem portal for online learning resources, as well as the replication of Punjab's Daanish School System in the region for the provision of free education to underprivileged children. IT labs and digital hubs for skill development will be established with students undergoing assessments by a third party for certification."

Mr. Wani said a national conference on out-of-school children would be held with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the chair, while the ministry would collaborate with provincial governments to identify such children and carry out targeted enrolment and awareness campaigns.

"We'll identify incentives for families to send their children to school and provide nutritious meals to all primary students during school hours with the help of local NGOs and charities," he said.

The secretary said after matriculation, the schoolchildren would undergo an IT aptitude assessment for government-funded higher education in IT—a move to cultivate skilled professionals for national technological advancement to increase their competitiveness in the modern, fast-changing employment market.

Going forward, the ministry also intends to introduce a financial literacy curriculum in all government schools to equip students with essential money management skills and collaborate with financial institutions and experts to develop age-appropriate educational material. There are also plans to connect federal government schools and colleges in Islamabad with high-speed fibre optics for students' access to online knowledge resources and convert 16 degree colleges into IT institutes, while IT parks will be inaugurated in five model colleges to promote collaboration with tech industry partners.

At a time when artificial intelligence is making inroads in almost every field, the ministry wants to employ that technology, which enables computers and machines to stimulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities, to improve the recruitment and examination systems. "We'll introduce an Al-based assessment system in the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education to streamline examination processes and improve efficiency. Also, the Federal Public Service Commission will be utilised to fast-track the hiring of 1,000 teachers using Al-based selection processes," Mr. Wani said, adding that teacher training programmes for effective tech integration are also on the agenda.

While "striving to alleviate poverty by nesting education," the ministry has already rebranded the National Endowment Scholarship for Talent as the Pakistan Education Endowment Fund with Dr. Amjad Saqib, the founder of Akhuwat Akhuwat, the world's largest interest-free microfinance programme, at the helm, and intends to arrange Rs4,000 million in addition to the existing Fund, according to him. If things go as planned, Rs1,000 million will be provided for 3500 need-cum-merit-based scholarships to be offered in nursing and undergraduate programmes, 1,635 in the field of nursing arts and culture, and 200 in the fields of engineering and technology, business education, and agroscience.

The provision of education vouchers of Rs5,000 each and uniforms to marginalised students for books and admission of 15 percent of the high-performing, needy students to high-end private schools in Islamabad are also on the cards. The fee and other expenses, including those for boarding and lodging, will be paid by the government through the Pakistan Education Endowment Fund.

The ministry will collaborate with the capital's leading private educational institutions and develop a collaborative framework for the initiative. Besides the launch of "Pink Buses" for girl students on different routes in Islamabad within three months, Mr. Wani said the provision of 100,000 hygiene kits as well as awareness material to schoolchildren, the start of cleanliness weeks in schools, and specialised personal hygiene training for female teachers and students are also planned. A free helpline will also be set up for students to speak to counsellors about their mental health issues. After Punjab, Daanish schools will be opened in Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Balochistan, while groundbreaking ceremonies will be held in hospitals alongside those educational institutions in GB, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Balochistan.

The secretary also disclosed that the ministry would hold national career and skills expos in the federal and provincial capitals and facilitate the launch of sub-campuses of major national universities, including NUST, NUTECH, NUML, Comsats, NSU, QAU, and HUI, in GB, AJK, and Balochistan for IT courses and the groundbreaking for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology in Islamabad. He said the underutilised infrastructure in AJK, GB, and other parts of the country would be utilised for the start of short courses in artificial intelligence, blockchain, data science, and game development.

"The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission will collaborate with the relevant departments to impart six-month vocational training to students in GB, AJK, and Balochistan to enhance their employability. Details of skills and necessary resources will be finalised in consultation with stakeholders," he said.