Imagine a herd of giraffes, a herd of elephants and a pride of lions in a jungle, all of whom need to choose their respective group leaders by putting the candidates through a test.
Sanity would suggest holding group-specific tests devised with relevant criteria for each herd or pride. But if the same rubber-stamp test with similar contents was used for all the groups, wouldn’t this defy logic? It certainly would.
The same absurdity is part of the bureaucratic system of Pakistan. Based on the Annual Confidential Report (ACR), every government official is assessed for their performance and given a promotion.
But the problem is that the ACRs of police, teachers, doctors and other government employees are similar. This means that a policeman and a teacher are evaluated under the same generic criteria, notwithstanding the altogether different nature of their work.
Singer, activist and Zindagi Trust founder Shehzad Roy took up this issue with the Sindh government, and now Sindh is the first province to approve a new teacher performance evaluation format for government primary schoolteachers, including teachers of basic pay scale nine to 15. The nonprofit Zindagi Trust now seeks to get new evaluation formats approved for teachers of secondary schools and colleges.
“Three years ago our team was brainstorming how we could create real incentives for government teachers to adopt practices like lesson planning and positive interaction to improve their teaching,” said Anam Palla, head of programmes at the Zindagi Trust, which led the consultations for this effort.
“We decided to advocate for improvement of a document used to evaluate teachers, which as a school head back then I had found to be limited, outdated and, consequently, largely irrelevant.”
The ACR forms are generally filled by headmasters or headteachers for primary schoolteachers, including classes I to VIII. In the previous ACR, teachers were evaluated even on their typing speed and accuracy.
Other evaluation criteria included very broad and generic concepts like intelligence and mental alertness; judgment and sense of proportion; initiative and drive; power of expression such as writing and speech; ability to plan and supervise work; quality and output of work; perseverance and devotion to duty; capacity to guide and train subordinates; cooperation tact; intellectual, moral and financial integrity; sense of responsibility in general and in financial matters; personality; behaviour with public; observance of security measures; punctuality and reliability.
Forget about teachers, said Roy, this ACR had nothing to do with the police, anyone involved in the power sector or any government department for that matter.
When asked how the Zindagi Trust suggested alternative criteria for evaluation that could be easily measured and were specific for the profession of teaching, he said they had been involved in education reforms since 2006 and had fought big battles.
All these metrics, based on which the teachers were judged, had little to no connection to a modern teacher’s role or scope, he pointed out.
This meant, he said, teachers were not assessed on their pedagogical skills and classroom interaction, leaving no incentive for them to improve in those areas. This performance evaluation system not only suffered from a lack of accountability for underperforming teachers but also did not result in appreciation of exceptional teachers, he added.
The Zindagi Trust, the Sindh Education & Literacy Department and other government representatives held several consultations over the years to replace the ACR with the Performance Evaluation Report (PER).
The new evaluation form has sections on classroom management, planning, instructions and classroom assessments, allowing the teachers to be assessed on their lesson plans, student-centric activities, maintaining regular feedback through assessments, encouraging a positive classroom environment, healthy interaction with parents, regular and accurate checking of students’ work, etc.
A government primary schoolteacher from Hyderabad remarked on the condition of anonymity that the old ACRs were nothing but a formality. “Why would any headteacher or supervisor want to send a bad ACR of their subordinates?” he said, adding that the ACR was of no use, as teachers’ promotions depended on seats fallen vacant after senior teachers’ retirement.
Roy’s response was that the PER would be effective either way, saying that even if there was a promotion based on seniority, it would be done only if the candidate’s PER was good. “At least this is how it should be done according to the law.”
Aziz Rehman Dahot, deputy district education officer and headmaster of the Hyderabad Elementary Education School, said an ACR could affect someone’s promotion. He added that the PER asking for particular details about teachers’ assessment could exert pressure for better performance, provided they were filled in sincerely.
Roy said this has to be an evolving document. “There needs to be research on this every year or two to see how it’s working,” he said, adding that if it did not evolve, it would again go obsolete. The bigger achievement would be when all the departments came up with separate and job-related PERs, he remarked.
He pointed out that the education system needed to be devolved and headmasters needed to be empowered. According to him, even if a headmaster were to evaluate a teacher insincerely, the PER would not fail because it would constantly make teachers think about their performance as per the new criteria.
“Now we have a new PER. The headmaster has to fill it in. It doesn’t matter if there’s corruption. Earlier, there wasn’t any conversation on lesson planning or classroom management.”
In the next step, he said, headmasters need to be empowered and schools need to introduce their own budgets. The efficacy of such an initiative, according to him, will require a comprehensive effort by the government to ensure that teachers and headteachers are aware of what is now expected of them in and outside the classroom. “It would be unrealistic to expect in-service teachers to instantly perform well according to the new metrics if they’re not first trained in understanding and delivering on them.”
A long struggle
The journey to introduce the PER had formally started back in 2017. Roy pointed out that several education ministers and secretaries have changed between then and now, and with each new minister or secretary, they had to start from scratch, “but we persevered”.
To be precise, he said, as many as three education ministers and seven education secretaries had changed since they started working on introducing the PER to replace the ACR.
He said they worked with education secretaries Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, Jamal Mustafa Qazi, Aziz Uqaili, Dr Iqbal Durrani, Ahsan Mangi, Khalid Hyder Shah and Ahmed Bakhsh Narejo. Education ministers Sardar Shah and Saeed Ghani, and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah were very cooperative in getting the PER approved, he added.
“While our team at the Zindagi Trust conceptualised the idea and the initial draft in 2018, and sought feedback from external partners thereafter,” explained Palla, “much of the core work happened over the past year, as technical experts and officials from the education department critically reviewed the form, field-tested it with headteachers and supported its evolution through several iterations to the final form. The ownership taken by education department officials has been heart-warming.”
During this entire process, said Roy, the ministers and secretaries remained very welcoming. Even when they met headteachers from different areas of the province, they appreciated the PER, he added.
“The PER for teaching staff has been developed after a lot of homework, research and consultation with education staff, and concentrates on professionalism,” said School Education Secretary Narejo. He added that the Zindagi Trust had provided assistance and necessary motivation in its development.
Education Minister Ghani said teachers play the most important and integral part in a child’s development. “Linking the PER of teachers to the unique nature of their job, which includes lesson planning, classroom management and other elements, will go a long way in incentivising more effective classroom practices.”
He remarked that transforming the ACR into the PER was a great effort of the Sindh Education Department and the Zindagi Trust. “We will do our best to implement it and make it a dynamic document through annual feedback loops.”
Former Zindagi Trust CEO Abdul Haq, who has extensively worked on the PER, said that over the past decades the ACR had become a mere formality, rather than an instrument of assessment.
“This was a poor reflection on the resolve to nurture merit in the system leading to better governance. To keep pace with the emerging challenges of modern education, the instrument of the ACR never evolved and, thus, lagged far behind. The gulf widened as the time passed, adversely affecting the quality of teachers, hence the standard of education.”
Hameedah Sayani, the current CEO, said performance evaluation specific to teaching practices would play an important role in determining the efficacy of content delivery in the classrooms. She termed the PER development a major step forward in improving the quality of teaching.
“Another first for the Sindh government that I would like to appreciate and thank them for,” said Roy. “We’re now looking forward to implementation and training, and then we can truly celebrate this win for Sindh’s schools. We tried to initiate this process with other provinces as well, and hope they’ll soon follow suit.”