A true agent for change

June 12, 2022

In his last book, Amjad Noorani took a deep dive into the systemic challenges for the education system in Pakistan

A true agent for change


ver the course of our short lives, we meet many individuals, but only a few influence other people’s vision and passion. I had the pleasure of being acquainted with the late Amjad Noorani, one of the authors of the book Agents of Change: The Problematic Landscape of Pakistans K-12 Education and the People Leading the Change almost a year ago, as we connected over our shared purpose to re-envision the education landscape in Pakistan.

In our first conversation, Noorani inquired about my thoughts on the current education system in the country. My immediate response - generic, naive and not nuanced - was: “it’s broken.’’ He urged me, as a student of policy-making, to think deeper and define what constituted ‘broken’ and underline the attributes that can be transformed into a better system. He sent me a copy of his book, Agents of change that takes a deep dive into the challenges the education system in Pakistan faces and outlines opportunities to advocate and initiate reform, by taking on the form of an ‘agent’ for change.

As the saying goes, readers must not judge a book by its cover and assume that this is just one more deck rambling on the problems of the education landscape. Amjad Noorani and Nadeem Hussain draw a colourful and interactive depiction of different segments of the schooling architecture, teaching body and curriculum.

The book begins by uncovering the fallacies of the K-12 education system in the country, being subject to poor vision vis-a-vis budgeting and accountability. Of many challenges, the authors highlight weak implementation that first and foremost has compromised the constitutional requirement for free education. While national policy dictates the importance of mother-tongue and play-based learning for kachi (ECE) grades, little of it is implemented in classrooms. The dichotomy between English and Urdu medium schools further erodes the fabric of an already socio-economically divided society. The lack of standardised training facilities creates a scarcity of high-capacity teachers. Poor education quality compromises the development of essential knowledge and 21st Century skills, leading to unemployable human capital regressing youth development, and stunting the progress of the entire nation.

However, the authors are not just critical of the situation. They paint an elaborate picture of a re-envisioned equitable and liberating education system. Where problems are defined, the authors also draw on lived experiences and best practices of the public, private and NGO sectors that can be adopted to design a better education system.

Over the past 26 years, The Citizens Foundation (TCF) – one of the leading education non-profits in Pakistan – has educated a generation of young ‘agents’ belonging to the lowest-income strata of society. The TCF is depicted as a living example of being able to develop quality curriculum content, train an all-female teaching team on progressive student-centred pedagogical tools and manifest management expertise that has addressed the challenges and gained quantifiable impact. However, we should not forget that non-profits like the TCF cannot meet national demand on their own. Impactful change for state schools must be led by the government.

“In order to reduce inequities in education and promote policies that will even the playing field, we must also address the critical area of quality education, which incorporates academic quality in schools as well as management efficiencies of the school systems.”

The authors have carefully researched and recommended actionable policies and programmes that are inspired by the needs of community members from diverse localities and backgrounds across the country. For example, the story of the Saleem Family from Ibrahim Goth in Chapter 3 dives into the struggles of socio-economically marginalised communities to reduce the gaps in gender and education disparity. The narration employs an interactive interview medium, with important stakeholders, for example, Dr Ishrat Hussain and Dr Anjum Altaf in the conversation surrounding the macro-level policies and education climate in the country.

Agents of Change is unique in its approach. It does not just inform the readers about the challenges and solutions but ends with a call to action. Amjad Noorani leaves us with a formative and fundamental take away: at the end of the day, the power lies within us as a community to influence reform and embody public service. The ‘agents of change’ including parents, teachers and administrators must understand the rights-based goals and philosophies that are the basis for inclusive education. The much-needed fixing of the broken system has to originate with the citizens residing within the country and the Diaspora who have the intellectual capacity, the right form of power and an innate desire to ensure that the right to education is given to all members of the country.

I would like here to pay a tribute to a great ‘agent of change’, Amjad Noorani, who passed away on June 3. He served for more than 20 years as a director on the board of TCF-USA. In his ‘Call to Action’ in the postscript of Agents of Change, Noorani proposed the creation of an International Coalition for Education Reform in Pakistan (ICERP) – a non-partisan platform committed to the cause of changes in policy and practices to advance education reform. We hope to keep alive his mission, and passion for education reform and become the agents of change he envisioned for a prosperous Pakistan.

A true agent for change

Agents of Change

The Problematic Landscape of Pakistans K-12 Education and the People Leading the Change

Author: Amjad Noorani, Nadeem Hussain

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 268

Price: Rs 895

The reviewer is currently doing her Master’s in Public Administration at SIPA,  Columbia University. She formerly worked for three years as an Early ­Childhood   Education manager at The Citizens Foundation   

A true agent for change