Rawalpindi district was ranked third and among one of the top five performing districts in Punjab earlier this year – but lost it and went down to number nine in the current quarter.
Given Rawalpindi’s proximity to Islamabad, the assumption is that it performs relatively better in sectors like health and education than the poorer districts in Punjab. But according to the Punjab education department’s rankings, Rawalpindi division consistently ranks second or third last among the six division of Punjab.
Under the education sector reforms of Punjab government, the performance of schools of every district is documented by the Punjab Monitoring and Implementation Unit (PMIU) every quarter from primary level to higher secondary. If a district fails to meet the targets set for it, its administration is grilled by a committee of the provincial government.
To get good ranking, each district has to meet targets set in 18 indicators. The indicators include variables like teacher and student attendance, examination results, provision of facilities in schools and distribution of free textbooks among the students.
But regardless of whether this data is being measured or not, the problems that Rawalpindi district faces will not go away.
The district has a total of 2,234 primary, middle and higher secondary schools. And these are overburdened with an ever increasing population and a lack of resources.
“Opening new government primary school requires a community or a philanthropist to donate land measuring two kanals at least in an urban area if no other government school exists for a radius of two kilometres,” explained Executive District Officer Education Qazi Zahoorul Haq.
Similarly, upgradation of schools, he said, requires that there should be more than a 100 students in a primary school (for upgradation to the middle level), and at least three or four kanals of land available.
But given the high price of land in the densely populated Rawalpindi, such land is hard to come by and public schools find it difficult to expand or open up new ones when the population requires it.
Larger cities like Rawalpindi also face low rankings because teachers are often distracted by other official duties. “The monitoring team considers teachers absent even when they are on medical leave or are on official duty conducting polio campaigns or helping in the census or verification of voter lists,” he said.
Similarly, he explained that students in rural areas are absent during the harvesting seasons when they are needed in the fields and that puts Rawalpindi division behind as well. This especially applies to the areas of Jhelum, Chakwal and Attock in the division, the EDO’s argument being that otherwise “Rawalpindi district is performing quite well in education.”
The EDO’s explanations both represent the efforts being made to bring education up-to-date and the pressure of meeting targets that district governments are facing under the reform plan.
One requirement under this plan is to ensure that schools have good facilities in functional condition.
“The provincial government has provided funds to fix missing facilities in schools during the last four years and facilities have improved to a score of 66 percent as opposed to the 30 percent score it got last year,” added the EDO.
But while there is very active effort in terms of fulfilling indicator requirements, teachers feel that some of the efforts are misdirected. Punjab Teachers Association (PTU) Rawalpindi district president Chaudhry Sagheer Alam said if the provincial government did not involve teachers in other activities, the teachers can focus better on their primary job.
“The fact is that the provincial government is not interested in improving educational institutions and 14 schools in Kalar Syedan and Kahuta have been simply closed for several months,” he said.
Part of the problem is a severe lack of teaching staff, as Mr Alam explained: “These schools were being run by one teacher per school and when they were transferred to other schools, the 14 schools closed.”
But the district administration is adamant that the ranking system forces them to focus on what the provincial government thinks is important instead of what needs to be done. District Coordination Officer (DCO) Saqib Zafar explained that given the ranking system, it was not possible to maintain the first three positions.
For example, he said that during the last quarter, Rawalpindi was able to score the third highest position because he had imposed a ban on teachers from taking leaves.
“But the ban created unrest among the teachers and the issue was brought to the provincial assembly so the ban was lifted and since then teacher absence has become more common,” he said.
The DCO also pointed out the variations in the scoring system of the monitoring team and pointed out that monitoring in urban areas is a lot stricter in comparison to rural, “The monitoring team will give a zero if a working water supply does not exist at a school in an urban area but in rural areas, they’ll be more forgiving,” he said.
Perhaps such small differences exist for a reason but they point to a fundamental flaw in the way the system is set up. Right now, the administration is being done by teaching staff who are not necessarily strong administrators.
The DCO suggested that it would be easier to improve the education system if the government separated the administration and teaching cadres, “Right now senior teachers have been elevated to the posts of district officers and executive district officers who are not that adept at running educational institutions effectively.”
“Teachers should perform duties to impart education and administrative affairs should be run by other staff. When they are given administration, their attention is diverted from their primary job of teaching and that affects the performance of the system,” he concluded.