Adopting schools

Published May 31, 2015
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

THE Sindh government hasn’t been able to run its schools. Affordable private or subsidised NGO-run schools can’t pick up the slack entirely simply on account of scale. That is why the government school adoption programme conceived by late Prof Anita Ghulam Ali in the 1990s was and still is a great solution. Now the question is how to make it work successfully.

Here’s the picture: in rural Sindh, there are 727 government schools in 703 villages, according to Annual Status of Education Report 2014. Of these, less than half have usable toilets and just 59pc have access to water. Perhaps worse, 69pc of children in class five cannot do a two-digit division and 41pc of them can’t read a class two-level story in their native language. This data showcases two types of problems: the crumbling physical state of schools and the poor learning outcomes.

In Sindh, there were just 165 adopted schools as of 2010, most of them in Karachi. In 2011, when Naheed Durrani, who currently heads the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), was posted in the education department, she took the vital step of drafting an adopt-a-school policy document that formalised the responsibilities of all stakeholders. Even though the implementation of this document is still weak, a strong framework has been provided. Today, over 485 schools in rural and urban areas have been adopted. Ms Durrani’s personal attention to the adoption process is making completing an adoption much easier; cases are handled in weeks rather than the several months it used to take earlier.

Adopters should focus attention on the learning environment.

To make adoption a success, all three parties involved need to do a lot more. The education department needs to welcome adopters and cooperate with them at all levels rather than viewing them as adversaries interfering in government authority. Indeed, they should be relieved that their responsibility is being shouldered by someone else.

At all levels within the district, education officers and school principals should be given school adoption training, possibly by the SEF, so that they are open rather than resistant to the administrative efforts by adopters to improve the running of the school. This way they will also be more tolerant when adopters introduce monitoring and evaluation; a step vehemently opposed by government teachers. The education department should also be instructed to post local teachers to adopted schools; this will give the adopter far more influence over them to ensure an end to tardiness and lack of interest.

The SEF which approves the adoptions and acts as a coordinating body, should develop deeper ties with government departments to help get issues resolved and should also ensure more active and regular on-site monitoring of adopted schools; with an approach that is friendly and encouraging to adopters. They should also be available to advise adopters when problems crop up, bring them together once in a while to share experiences and document their efforts to improve schools.

The adopter should only take on a school when they are able to commit time and energy to the project and work closely on a daily basis with the community to improve the school. This should not be a fashionable involvement that includes little more than the occasional visit to monitor cleanliness or distribute gifts to children.

Ms Durrani rightly says adopters should focus less attention on improving the physical structure and more on the learning environment. True, basic amenities and attractive classrooms help. But given the extent of our education crisis, these are not vital; adopters would better spend resources on introducing activity-based teaching methods rather than rote learning, monitoring classroom environment and teacher-student interaction, providing teacher training and putting in simple facilities such as libraries, constructive games, art supplies and science equipment.

Most importantly, adopters must mobilise the communities in which their schools are located, involve parents in school affairs and create public ownership. This will ensure three things. Physical infrastructure won’t crumble altogether if communities help preserve it, prevent vandalism such as theft of furniture and electrical fittings, and carry out small repairs. Second, it will create pressure on government teachers to attend in a timely way. Third, it will increase student attendance and become a force for monitoring learning outcomes.

The capacity of the education department to run its schools effectively is already known. Waiting for the government to overhaul its system and introduce accountability at all levels is pointless. In this environment, adoption is one solid way of creating a solution; if the partnership between the authorities and the adopter is improved, community leaders come forward to adopt more schools and adopters take the lead in fighting the system and remain committed to their students, there’s no reason we can’t ensure better schools for Sindh’s children.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2015

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