For a very long time, the Pakistani education system operated in a bifurcated environment, where those who could afford opted for the best schools and the less privileged opted for the most economically viable option. This system has made education a source of internal division rather than a force that can move Pakistan forward. Punjab, one of the largest provinces in Pakistan, with over 40% of its population under the age of sixteen, has enormous potential as talents are supported to make their demographic choices, including education .
We have economic constraints and therefore innovative solutions are needed to ensure that every child receives a quality education, which is a fundamental constitutional right. In Punjab, we launched the Insaf Afternoon School Program (IASP) to address the problem of access, which reduces the transition to elementary grades, especially for girls. IASP’s goal is to improve access to free quality education for every child in the province. Improving access, learning and governance are the main objectives set by our government to revamp the delivery of quality education. Officially launched by the Chief Minister of Punjab in April 2021, after the success of its pilot project, the IASP is an example of value for money. This pioneering idea reduces infrastructure costs to zero. Without spending a penny on this front, in the first phase alone, the School Education Department (SED) was able to open 7,008 schools.
The way I was able to not only meet but exceed the goal was to capitalize on the infrastructure and human resources at hand and put in place a system that uses them effectively. Primary schools have been transformed into elementary schools and elementary schools will be transformed into secondary schools in the afternoon shifts. Statistics show that this initiative has helped us enormously in solving the problem of high dropout rate after primary school, especially among girls. Due to distance and travel, parents prefer not to send their daughters to distant elementary schools. In areas where there are private schools, marginalized and low-income families cannot afford to send their children to private schools to continue their education beyond primary school. With the IASP, both of these concerns have been resolved. So far, more than 170,000 children (both boys and girls) have been enrolled across Punjab and this number is expected to increase through a rigorous enrollment drive at the start of the new school year in August 2022. If I m were focused on building new schools to accommodate this number of students, our government would have had to spend over PKR 240 billion. It is a well-established fact that technology is the need of the new era in which we live and, therefore, it is the need of the hour to integrate it into our governance. In my department, we have thus achieved two essential things: to make the system more accessible to the population and to increase transparency, which eliminates the seeds of corruption and extortion, the key mandate of our PTI government.
In 2018, I found a department digitally paralyzed, both in terms of processes and infrastructure, so I took the initiative for a deep digitization, first of all of the HR systems of the SED. This implies that all key aspects, including transfers, promotions, performance reviews, retirements and even the registration of private schools, have been transferred to a human resource management information system (HRMIS) without paper. Transfers and promotions in the department were the hotbed of corruption before our government. This has been nipped in the bud as now all teacher transfers and promotions are done electronically through a specified system on a clearly defined criterion. According to the data, to date, 162,341 e-transfer requests have been received and 81,577 orders have been issued. As a result of transparent transfer and promotion, 20,000 understaffed schools were allocated the required number of teachers while avoiding approximately PKR 3 billion in corruption per year.
In addition to this, an online portal for hassle-free registration of private schools has also been set up. So far we have received 74,352 applications and after due diligence, 44,770 e-licenses have been issued. This system has generated more than 80 million PKR in revenue. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shaken education systems around the world. This period has required us to show an agility of a level never reached before. The integration of technology is what education departments have turned to around the world. The fragility of our system has been further exposed and to counter this, my ministry has developed programs to close the gap. We immediately developed electronic modules for teacher training, launched a satellite channel, Talem Ghar, to continue the learning process. The channel was also accessible through YouTube and smart apps, which feature animated videos of lesson material being taught in schools. We will continue to launch extensive online learning platforms for both teachers and students in the current year and we are also increasing the quality of our existing Ed-Tech interventions. These initiatives are just a few examples of what the combination of a progressive mindset and real intentions can accomplish in a short time. Under my leadership, my team is currently working to establish a tier four data center to house all applications; HRMIS, Insaf Academy and all other Ed-tech initiatives in the department that will cement our education system’s path to a better future.