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August 15, 2015

With ‘Ilmi’, education department hopes to bring all stakeholders together


August 15, 2015

The Sindh government has the credit of setting another precedent in forwarding the cause of education. But this time, it is aimed at correcting its past mistakes.
The department of education and literacy chose Independence Day to mark the launch of an SMS complaint and help service called “Ilmi” for everyone connected with education - be it students, teachers, headmasters, parents or taluka or district officers. Though the service has been active for the past couple of months, its official launch was saved for the Independence Day.
Anyone can now send a text message to 8398 to complain, ask for resources and facilities in schools, help in home work, planning lessons and they will receive a customised reply from Ilmi.
“We, including the education department, have made a lot of mistakes. With Ilmi, which will connect us with all the relevant stakeholders, we hope to address each problem as it comes,” said education secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho while speaking at the launch of Ilmi at the Arts Council on Friday.
Though the budget for education in Sindh has increased consistently over the past several years, most of it is consumed in salaries while the meagre development budget needs serious management.
The secretary too admitted this candidly while expressing the hope that the complaints received through Ilmi - all of which are displayed on a large monitor in his office – would help improve asset management on part of the education department.
“Many schools are without boundary walls, toilets, drinking water and even teachers and complaints filed from stakeholders on the ground can help us resolve their issues one by one,” he said. “The service can also help us track the performances of district officers and taluka officers since the feedback from teachers and students in areas under their jurisdiction will be able to provide some source of accountability.”
There are 46,724 schools in Sindh, according to the

education department’s records for which the government allocated Rs157.5 billion this year, the highest share of the budget pie and 10 percent more than the past financial year.
However, this year too, development funds comprise a meagre portion of the total budget and those too need to be streamlined and managed adequately.
According to data provided by the Sindh Information Monitoring System, 7,461 of the 46,724 schools in the province are without buildings, 23,241 lack electricity, 20,212 are without toilets and 23,047 schools have no drinking water.
Better accountability
On one hand, the SMS application will bridge the communication gap between officials on the ground and education secretariat through instant communication, and on the other, the feedback provided by parents, teachers, headmasters and district education officers will keep the education department on its toes for the resolution of their problems, said Ilmi’s programme manager, Faisal Uqaili, while talking to The News.
The education department has repeatedly been criticised for taking decisions in isolation and ignoring the ground realities.
Besides the obvious brick-and-mortar problems, the education system in Sindh has also been marred with poor coordination between departments and ineffective utilisation of the budget. When all of these problems are combined they result in the zero progress sin learning outcomes of the children enrolled in government schools.
Eminent educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who is also the president of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist), commented that educational policies made at the national or the provincial levels were detached from ground realities.
Talking to The New, she said the key to streamlining all problems pertaining to education, be it policymaking or funelling resources and data, was good management.
“This is just what the Ilmi hopes to achieve,” said Uqaili. “Through this system the department can address the problems timely.”
He explained that a focal person in each section of the department had been assigned to deal with and sort out the complaints and feedback. If they were not addressed within a specific period of time, then the feedback in the system itself will reflect it since the unresolved problem will keep showing up in the application. “This way the performance of district and taluka education officers can also be monitored,” he said.
However, it has often been government officers who have also sought help for schools in their jurisdictions.
“The taluka officer of Sakrand, Mohammad Aslam Bhanbro, had messaged us from Nawabshah about a school with 200 students but a single teacher. The problem was received and transfers of teachers to the school are being arranged,” he said.
“The principal of the Haji Nasir School in Nawabshah had also messaged us about the problems in the computer lab in his school and it is also being looked into.”
Dr Pechuho said Ilmi had been in action for slightly more than two months and so far most of the complaints received have been regarding poor governance.
He added that around half of the people who messaged Ilmi were parents and most of them were from Nawabshah.

Future targets
The department hopes to eventually link the SMS application to the performance of teachers and expenditure of funds by school management committees.
“We have developed a whole database to support the system and it will eventually be expanded and linked to individual schools and district offices through which we will be able to track their performances and results and also monitor their problems,” said Uqaili.
The education secretary said Ilmi would soon be used to track the payment of girls’ stipends and ensure if they were being received or not.
Moreover, he added, with the department now recruiting teachers after having their aptitudes tested by independent organisations such as the British Council and the National Testing Service, Ilmi would also be used to ascertain which teachers were trainable and were able to teach something to their students.
“We also plan to use to monitor the quality and training of teachers after linking the ongoing biometric verification to this application,” he said. “My father was a school teacher and I used to travel four to five kilometres with him when he went to work every day. There are teachers who are diligent and we are going to siphon them from the ones giving a bad name to the department.”

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