Interviews

Need to delink poverty with the government schools: Prof. Dr. Fouzia Khan

By Dr. Mohsin Raza

Please tell us about yourself?

My family belongs to District Sawabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, but my domicile is of Sindh. Since there was no trend of female education in our village, I had to struggle a lot for my basic education. I had to complete my basic education in Karachi. I did Masters in Psychology from University of Karachi, and then later I did Ph.d in Psychology. I got admissions in post-doctorate programs three times, but somehow I could not manage to go because it is difficult to live abroad for a longer period. I also have a research background, and I have supervised many MS and Ph.d students. In 1997, I got a government job through public service commission. Then, in 2005-06, I shifted to private sector and became the Dean for Social and Media Sciences in SZABIST. However, I returned to the public sector and resume the work on curriculum reforms. Rather than complaining about the crisis in education sector, I believe we need to see the huge room for improvement in the sector. Also because this is the sector where we can give back to this society.

What motivated you to join the education sector?

I joined this profession by choice rather than by chance. This sector provides you an opportunity to create an impact around you, the people you teach, and the people who look up to you. It gives an immense satisfaction when students and parents see you as a mentor, an integral part of their lives. One drawback in the education sector is that you do not get very high paying jobs. However, spiritually you get a great sense of achievement. I enjoy it because you get immediate results of your endeavours. You do not have to wait for long to see the results of your investments in your students. I am more involved with the managerial work and policy making compared to full-time teaching, but even in these areas I get feeling of immediate achievement.

What are your views on teaching as a career?

I think personal commitment is necessary for teachers. If you are joining this profession just because you are not getting any job, you are not only being unfair to you but also with the society you live in.

“That’s an injustice with the nation,” she stressed. If you are not able to work with dedication and are just passing your allotted time, you should join some other profession. We have recently hired new graduates through National Testing Service (NTS). These candidates had professional qualifications like MBA degrees and were selected on merit under the supervision of IBA, Sukkur. They are highly motivated and they are a part of our team now. When such people come in the field then you can easily spot differences. The more important thing is commitment. If you do not have commitment to this field, it’s better not to join this profession. People face financial constraints in this field, but if you are qualified you can go on and make a career by running your own independent education consultancy.

What traits in a teacher can make him or her stand out?

I think qualities like dedication, motivation and sincerity are very important for teachers. Along with this, he or she must know how to be empathetic. He should know how to relate with students because we usually have students from different backgrounds, cities and areas. He must have the flexibility to treat each child as an individual rather than treating the class as a herd. Teachers should help their students in boosting their confidence and self-esteem. Each and every student of the class has a different family background and different experience, therefore, a teacher must have the capacity of addressing each student as an individual.

How easy is it for a woman to be at a leading position in public sector?

It is not that difficult. You just have to be competent in whatever you do and perform well, especially in the early years of your career. I have realized that those women who perform well in their initial phase of career are better accepted by everybody, including their male staff surrounding them.

The work environment here is male-dominated, but our system is gradually changing and more women are coming to the leadership positions. If you are self-confident and at any post due to your competence, no one can do anything against you. You feel good when your male colleagues accept you and sometimes in fact recommend you to others with good compliments.

What role an individual can play to help improve the education system in Pakistan?

Good question. Many of us complain about the miserable situation of our schools. But when the system of government schools started to deteriorate, instead of supporting it, our public switched to the private sector. Due to that approach, private sector made its own market. Now when we talk about education reforms, although I admit that things are not satisfactory, we must ask ourselves why people have disassociated themselves from the government schools. We need to take the first step by first admitting that this is a two way process. We need to own the government schools. You can support any government school in your area or in your community and this will bring a big difference. There are many projects that are initiated by the government because the community living around the schools demanded that and created enough pressure. The education reforms are impossible without the participation of the society.

What are the major changes you have made in the education curriculum of Sindh?

After the 18th amendment, education is now a provincial subject. The curriculum wing shifted from the federal government (Islamabad) to the provincial governments. However, even at present, all provinces are mainly following the textbooks based on national curriculum designed by the federal curriculum wing of 2006. Sindh’s curriculum was based on the curriculum of 2002 so we had to first bring it to the federal curriculum of 2006.

So far we have not changed our curriculum, we have updated it. In the first phase, we have removed gender bias and other such problems in the books. For instance, earlier Sindh’s books had pictures of girls mopping the floor so we have made it gender neutral. Moreover, we have also focused our energies towards teacher training, including the orientation of teachers according to the new text books.

Besides, we are also working on non-formal education, which is necessary to bring out-of-school children in the schools. This is being done to accommodate the drop outs who were over 16 years of age and were not eligible to be enrolled in the schools. Meanwhile, the implementation of the biometric attendance system has improved the attendance of teachers in recent months. We have also started providing stipend to female students ranging from Rs2,500 (urban students) to Rs3,500 (rural students). This has improved girls’ enrollment in the province.

What is your message for the teachers?

I think teachers and schools are interconnected. As a society, I think there is no sense of ownership in us. Teachers treat their profession only as a routine activity. Sometimes I also feel discouraged due to the complexities of the system and my children ask why I want to work there (at Sindh Secretariat). I say I want to raise the education standards of government schools so that I see my grandchildren studying in these schools. “But my children say why I am cursing them,” she said in a lighter mood.

There is one more problem. Somehow we have linked our government schools with poverty. We have to change this viewpoint. This approach has further alienated our society from the government schools. We all have studied in government schools and there were many students from good families. Government schools were not associated with poverty at that time. But now this has become a very big challenge that we have to deal with it. There are many people around us who cannot afford private schools, but they enroll their children there just to avoid peer pressure. They just do not like to be called poor. This is a big stigma. This is a very big challenge, and I want our teachers and people to realize this problem.

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