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Karachi SSC examination fiasco and beyond

sharp declining standard of education under BSEK
SSC examination Karachi, April: The fracas that was unleashed on March 27 on account of postponement of an SSC examination paper must be taken as the final warning bell. A whispering campaign about the sharp declining standard of education under the Board of Secondary Education Karachi's (BSEK) supervised structure is already ripe
. And the conduct of examination is the ultimate test for the credibility of this fast crumbling educational edifice.

Whereas damage control actions by the Governor of Sindh were useful, the full remedy desires a sustained action with professional skill and administrative acumen.

The penetration of elements belonging to scattered pressure groups and their affiliates in the educational sector cannot be ignored. The trend germinated during the 1970s and after.

The rise of populist politics and several vested interest groups under its influence; mushrooming growth of private schools with little follow up of the basic school management guidelines; landslide fall in the status, efficiency and performance of government schools; widespread de-motivation amongst school teachers apparently due to very low emoluments and benefits, low status in the society and insecurity of job tenures (for contractual or private appointments) were few of the reasons.

In the same respect, merit in the induction of teachers could not be ensured in most government-run and some private schools. The teacher, the most important building block in the system of education, either became an unwilling worker or an incompetent being. In many cases, the moral and ethical values were greatly tarnished due to the inappropriate conduct of several members of the teaching fraternity.

BSEK's performance was directly affected by this vital handicap because the teaching fraternity had a very significant role in the board's routine work. Course delivery, revision of curricula, invigilation duties, paper setting and checking, tabulation and computation of results were all assignments where the teachers had a direct role. When the rot set in, its disastrous effects eclipsed the overall performance of the primary and secondary level of education. The system of conduct of examination was the worst hit in this backdrop.

There are shelves full in the record rooms of administration with studies and assessments pertinent to the examination system and related matters. Many vital findings have evolved from these deliberations.

It has been found that the school management is a key component in the system. A well-managed school is such which is competent to gauge the educational needs of its intake and nurtures the same in an appropriate way. It is able to professionally examine the curriculum and deliver the same to students in a satisfactory manner. It also bears the capacity to augment any deficiency in the curriculum by providing extra input to pupils in a bid to develop key competencies amongst them.

Hiring well-motivated teachers, maintaining a healthy and congenial environment and ensuring the availability of corresponding material and intellectual resources all come under school management. If the schools become strong and independently managed units, the overall system of education and the performance of the board shall be consolidated. At present, this near ideal scenario appears very remote from reality.

Many educationists believe that the nationalisation of schools in 1972 was a shoddily-executed project. It was believed that quality education shall become accessible to all. In contrast, the schools became dumping yards for politically-motivated appointments, embezzlement of funds and weak internal management.

In other words, they were reduced to unimportant entities from the perspective of bureaucracy. Lack of motivation and absence of accountability led to callousness and boredom among the teachers. These deadly attributes were also passed over to the students. In respect of private schools, very few have been able to maintain any worthwhile quality. In the upper class institutions, the affiliation is normally kept with the British universities for their respective examination system.

The middle class outfits are largely commercially oriented with many short comings. Absence of trained teachers, inappropriate physical space and facilities as well as the money-minded administrations continuously hamper the normal performance of schools. The lower income localities have private schools which are grossly under equipped. While many have a genuinely motivated teaching staff, the basic facilities for the mental and physical development of pupils are simply absent. Those individuals who can afford to supplement academic weaknesses resort to the thriving tuition centres which are certainly not the answer. At best, these educational shops provide orientation and practice about examinations.

The scholastic attainment of students is routinely judged through examination procedures. It is a vital stage in any educational system as it certifies (or otherwise) the capabilities and competencies acquired by the pupils. When marred by corruption or any other form of malpractice, it can lead to the demolition of the entire educational framework.

Symptoms of the prevailing situation in BSEK suggest the same. The feedback acquired from board insiders and concerned stakeholders shed light on many important aspects. There are allegations of the existence of strong collusion between a few board officials and some school managements. The common types of irregularities include leakage of question papers to favourite candidates; admission of fake candidates in the examination premises; facilitation of copying from books/notes uninterrupted; change of answer books; change of seat numbers on the answer books; manipulation in the allocation of examination centres; clandestine usage of mobile phones to obtain prompting from outside sources; harassment of innocent students by invigilations (for bribe); malpractice in checking and totalling and even in the preparation of final result sheets.

The corrupt teachers/school managers/board staffs draw their strength from political and administrative connections. They never fail to act as per the directive of their influential peers in gross violation of the rules, procedures and academic code of conduct.

Institutional dynamics of the board are such that the partners in crime support each other. In certain dire cases, a crackdown is ordered by the competent authority of the board; few heads roll for a while and thereafter the situation returns to "normal". Considering the universal solution to all the problems in the country, the government appointed a retired brigadier to head the board. The rot unfortunately has deepened. Circumstances also suggest that the present rot is more than the normal routine.

Loss of BSEK could become the gain of private boards and alternative systems of education, as stated by the well wishers of the public educational system. This point carries some weight as many prominent schools in Karachi have now obtained affiliation from a private board, legislation of which was promulgated controversially in 2002.

However, the independent educationists are blatantly fastidious on this matter. They demand a complete overhaul of the BSEK, school affiliation criteria and internal working of the schools. As SSC is the foundation block of education, any shortcoming remaining at this level casts an adverse impact upon the higher stages of learning.

Scientific approach with tangible target setting must be applied in reforming BSEK. The induction of qualified and competent academic managers in BSEK must be facilitated. An effective mechanism of affiliation of schools must be worked out where the monitoring of teaching, delivery of curriculum and internal teacher/student performance checks could be documented.

Besides, as the first step towards stemming the malpractice in examinations, the examination centres should be centralised at least on a town wise basis. Well-equipped public (or private) buildings can be acquired for the purpose. Problems of the schools in respect of resource shortages, deficiencies in human resource as well as political interference need to be dealt with effectively.

An overseeing committee of independent educational experts and eminent concerned citizens must be formed to make this institutionally possible. The committee should be entrusted the task of looking at BSEK's internal/external performance and the problems of affiliated schools. The recommendations prepared by the committee must be bolstered and given due strength by way of regulation. This mechanism has worked successfully in various public-sector entities and is likely to generate positive results in this sector also.

By Dr Noman Ahmed - The writer is professor and chairman, Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University, Karachi. Dawn

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