Must the school adopters wait?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

The adopt-a-school programme (ASP) launched by Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) in 1997 is in danger of falling prey to maladministration, misuse, corruption and apathy of the city government.

At present there are 173 government schools which have been adopted by 44 NGOs and individuals in the province. The adopters and some donor agencies have poured Rs 42.8 million into these schools in the last five years.

Admittedly, the programme has not brought about a radical transformation in the public sector school system to create a momentum to sustain itself without the patronage of the SEF. But it has certainly made a difference to the schools which have been adopted. If sustained the programme could produce an impact on a larger number of institutions and thus change the lives of many children.

The brainchild of Prof Anita Ghulam Ali, the managing director of the Sindh Education Foundation, the ASP is designed to improve the quality of public sector schools which have remained neglected for decades.

Lack of funds and absence of good supervision and effective management have resulted in rapid deterioration in these institutions, leading to a fall in enrolment.

Hence the idea behind the ASP was to induct the private sector into a replicable and systematic programme and thus “redefine its traditional role from a sceptical bystander to that of a proactive stakeholder”.

According to the SEF this was also expected to lead to an enhancement of the quality of education by “identifying, revitalizing and evolving systems for efficient service delivery” in educational institutions. There were cynics who questioned the utility of this programme when the entire education sector was in a mess.

Yet, initially the programme got off to a good start with a number of adopters coming forward to act as god-parents to one or the other school in their neighbourhood.

The education department was also pleased because the adopters brought funds with them. As was understandable, they focused on the physical environment in which the students had to spend several hours of their day.

A school which was filthy and in a decrepit state, had no toilets or drinking water and could not provide proper desks and benches to the children could not be expected to attract pupils.

Small wonder the dropout rate was so high. Moreover, these drawbacks were an eye sore and caught everybody’s attention immediately. Hence the first of task the adopters was to clean up and repair the school building and the upgrading of the facilities available.

Some friction set in when the adopters wanted – and rightly so – to look into the management and running of the schools. Many of the headmaster/headmistresses and teachers resented the presence of the adopters. The more serious ones would visit the schools very regularly to check on their working.

Some even appointed a representative to keep an eye on the running of the school. Having been spoilt by decades of “freedom” from supervision and inspection by the education department, the teachers were not always pleased by the intrusion of these “strangers” who demanded more efficiency, punctuality and regularity of attendance from them.

As the adopters’ investment in a school grew so did their interest and involvement in their project. They wanted to send the teachers for training workshops to improve their calibre – though not all teachers were overly keen about such exercises which required greater exertion from them.

Even matters like the administration of the schools, admissions, timings and the academic calendar at times needed adjustments which required the cooperation of the education department.

From the start, the relationship between the adopters, the school and the education authorities was never institutionalized even at the time when Prof Ghulam Ali was the Sindh minister of education in 1999-2002. At best she mediated between the adopters and the department to find ad hoc solutions to the immediate cause of friction.

Now the problems appear to have multiplied as the devolution of power has made the city government responsible for the administration of school education, with policy planning still in the domain of the Sindh government.

It is not just matters like absenteeism, punctuality and performance that are emerging as sore points for the adopters. There have been complaints against the city government which is said to be interfering in the adopted schools in a bid to take advantage of the facilities provided by the adopters.

There is the case of the Nazimabad school adopted by the Helping Hands Trust set up by the late Karrar Haider and now managed by his widow. The computer lab set up by the adopter is under-utilized because the headmaster says he does not have teachers to supervise the class.

But worse still, the city government has taken over the lab since the end of November to prepare the ‘seniority lists’ of teachers, whatever they are. It would be happier still if the adopter also gave it the services of the computer science teacher who was helping the students on a part time basis while working for the Trust.

Mrs Haider is surprised that the city government does not have its own computers and operators to perform this function that must be done as a routine every year. Where have the education department’s computers gone?

In another adopted school, it is said that the playgrounds are being leased out for wedding parties in the night. The residue that is left behind is testimony to the extra-academic activities of those in charge much to the chagrin of the adopter.

What will become of this programme which if allowed to move in the right direction holds the promise of bringing about some positive changes in the schools that come under its purview? Prof Ghulam Ali has written a letter bringing the complaints of the adopters to the notice of the nazim of Karachi. Nothing has come out of it.

The nazim’s adviser when contacted said that a meeting of the adopters and the education department would be called within a week to sort out the problematic issues.

More than ten days have passed and no meeting has been convened so far. Besides at the moment the city nazim would have other matters to keep him occupied, notably the forthcoming local bodies polls. Obviously the handful of adopters will not fetch him an electoral bonus. So education can wait.