Often government-run programmes are not known for creativity, innovation and experimentation. However, it is this perception that the Gilgit Baltistan (GB) government is changing, one project at a time.
Over the past year, Chief Secretary Mohiuddin Ahmed Wani, with support from GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid and key political stakeholders, has focused on human development. This unique approach places education at the forefront of human development and has initiated several programmes that are already showing promising results.
The centerpiece of educational reforms in the province is the promotion and integration of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Part of this is the innovative‘Tech Fellows’ programme which allows students from 6th, 7th and 8th grades to work on cutting-edge science and technology projects. One example is of Muhammad Mehdi, a student of Class 7th, who designed a solar-powered circuit which lights up a bulb. To get students excited, FBISE (Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education) offers top three projects in each stream of STEAM (subject wise) with cash prizes. These projects allow students to develop critical thinking skills and gain hands-on experiences, pushing them to be innovative and think outside the box.
Similarly, learning from interventions around the world, in collaboration with Allah Walay Trust, the government of GB initiated the‘School Meals Program’ which has increased the enrolment in 26 primary schools in and around Gilgit by 12.1% in mere three months. We know from experience that enrollment rate in schools increases if the students are also provided with meals and early results from this programme are a testament to the success of this approach. Students in the province are not only getting good quality education but also nutritious meals which help meet their developmental needs.
Focusing on structural linkages, the GB government is also focusing on expansion of partnership and coordination with credible national and international organisations. The GB cabinet has approved the transfer of 34 kanals of land to National College of Arts (NCA), the pioneering institute of arts in Pakistan, to build a campus in the province. This will be a tremendous opportunity for students to explore their creative potential and grow within the field of arts. The state of education cannot be improved unless there are structures and processes in place which support this vision.
However, ensuring quality education in institutes is just as important as establishing them. Being cognizant of this, the GB government and Education Testing Council (ETC) Higher Education Commission have signed an agreement under which the province will avail the standardised testing services for screening for pre-selection of suitable candidates in recruitment of teachers. This initiative will ensure teachers are recruited on merit and transparency is maintained during the recruitment process.
Other initiatives introduced by the GB government such as ‘Plastic Free GB’ where alternative bags are distributed free of cost to citizens and ensuring supply of alternative options also contribute towards building overall civic sense in society. This is reflective of the realisation that while transformation of educational institutions is important for students to progress, it is essential to create a society which promotes holistic learning and enables the development of civic sense.
These reforms are only a few among the many initiatives taken by the Chief Secretary in the province, who is supported by a team of bureaucrats working with him day and night. Reforms can only be successful if they also have buy-in from key stakeholders and the reforms in GB are a success because of wider support of the GB government, cabinet, civil society and academia.
In a country where bureaucracy is criticised for being slow, traditional and conservative, GB is shattering these stereotypes. Amidst all the challenges that Pakistan is facing, we need such glim- mers of hope to know that good and credible work is being done in the country.
Perhaps what we need for transformative change are such system level visionaries with relentless passion and commitment and an eye for results.
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