Monitoring activities are crucial functions for effective policymaking and implementation. It allows government agencies to try out vigorous solutions to recurring challenges and an evaluation of outcomes to help differentiate effective interventions. One can’t have the right public policymaking without monitoring. Working alongside stakeholders while analysing their development, defining their roles, describing activities, boosting implementation, identifying gaps, outlining risks and enhancing the decision-making comes under the ambit of monitoring, yet it remains largely understated by both advisers and implementers.
In the case of public education monitoring plays a crucial role. Numerous challenges arise because students and their parents have little to no actual input in the relevant policy decisions. Due to the unique settings of the education sector, the burden of responsibility shifts towards regulating government agencies and institutions. They have to make sure that their decisions and actions must contribute directly in improving student learning experience.
Various factors make up the student learning experience. In the context of schools infrastructure, furniture, facilities, academic environment and discipline play a major role. Teachers’ academic skills, experience, professional development and conduct are also important. Above all, the relevancy of the course content, application of technology, class size and pedagogy are significant. Inclusion of all these factors makes monitoring of public education a challenging task. For monitoring activities to be effective, they must have to be overhauling. They are to be carried out, before, during and after each intervention. Timeliness is crucial because only the correct information at the right time can improve decision-making. The scope then becomes extremely diverse. Realising that each obstacle has the potential to reverse all efforts in improving education outcomes raises the stakes.
To illustrate, imagine the scale of public education sector in K-P that has over 28,000 functional schools. The number of teachers and staff employed at these schools is in thousands. Factor in all the employees of education agencies and the number further swells. Making sure that activities of all these agents are monitored to improve performance is an extensive task. The amount of data that is to be collected and analysed is enormous. No one realises the vastness of it better than the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU). It was established in K-P during the financial year 2012-13 with its first data collection process completed in April 2014.
In the past three years of operation, the IMU has shown strong results in reporting data on key education indicators in a timely, credible and efficient manner. Availability of this data has resulted in decreasing student absenteeism from 48% to 21% and teacher absenteeism from 23% to 12%, opening of almost 450 non-functional and occupied schools and increased provision of basic facilities. The data is also used in design and implementation of incentive programmes for teachers, teacher rationalisation and developing yearly school improvement plans, among others. The directorate of Elementary and Secondary Education has recovered Rs90 million in penalties from absentee teachers.
To handle such vast volumes of data the IMU has now linked the process of monitoring to Online Action Management System (OAMS). It allows for corrective actions by creating a continuous feedback loop. The system currently reports on teaching staff absenteeism with initial results showing a reduction of absenteeism by 3% in pilot districts. By allowing technology enabled monitoring mechanisms, the IMU has set out to reform the public education sector in K-P. Since inception it has undertaken over 8,000 disciplinary cases involving teachers, headmasters and employees of the education department. Moreover, 300 teachers were terminated from service based on absenteeism. The IMU and the OAMS both bring about a turnaround in the public education policymaking and bring to light changes that limit archaic practices in the education sector.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2017.