The Canadian government’s generosity to convert its Rs1.2 billion debt into a grant for capacity building of teachers in Sindh seems to be wasted on the provincial education department as teachers are trained only on paper and often do not even know that their name is registered under the programme, with officials pocketing the ‘expenses’.
Sindh Education Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro claims to have trained almost 35,000 teachers in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida) since 2006 but the prospects of the project that utilises almost 60 per cent of the Rs1.2 billion grant, remain in doubt as Dr Zubair Ahmed Shaikh, who led the project for a period of 10 months, revealed its dismal state.
The Cida-funded project was initiated around seven years ago, confirmed the education department’s additional chief secretary, Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, but the provincial government is yet to spend the remaining Rs512 million on various projects involving capacity building of teachers. “With the support received by Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah in the past couple of years, the project has been brought back on track and is likely to be wrapped up by the end of this financial year,” said Dr Pechuho.
However, for Dr Shaikh, who currently heads the Karachi campus of the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, not more than 35 per cent of the spent amount was properly utilised, while the remaining 65 per cent of the expenditure was ‘abused’ in massive corruption.
Dr Shaikh was the first executive director of the Sindh Teacher Education Development Authority (Steda) from September 2012 till June 2013, when he walked out on the umbrella body that was to formulate policies and supervise all the teacher education programmes and reforms affecting over 150,000 government school teachers.
During the same period, he was also appointed as the project director at the Cida-funded Sindh Elementary Teachers Training Programme that aimed to train 100,000 elementary school teachers and bring about infrastructural and facility reforms at teacher training institutes and colleges across the province.
“The passion that drove me to accept that position, the policies that I made, the difference that I attempted to create and the accolades that I received directly from Cida, all were washed back to the shore by the actions of others,” said Dr Shaikh, while talking to The Express Tribune.
For him, the reason for the failure of the project is plain; incompetency of the officers at the top. “They have no idea what education is and are clueless about educational strategic planning,” said Dr Shaikh. “I will never blame the teachers, the students or even school administrations; it is the Tughlaq House [Sindh Civil Secretariat] that is to be blamed,” he said.
Uncovering the corruption
Following his appointment as project director of the Cida-funded teachers’ training programme, which was initiated in 2006 but had stalled since then, he got to know that the National Accountability Bureau had been conducting several inquiries against former officials for ‘serious irregularities in the released funds’ and had uncovered discrepancies of at least Rs108 million.
“The teacher training sessions, which had a significant budget, were only carried out in the official files and were the equivalent of ‘ghost trainings’,” said Dr Shaikh. “It was all mere deception.”
He was shocked when he randomly approached the teachers who were recorded in the files as beneficiaries of the training sessions, and were also said to have received travel, lodging and food allowances. “They were never approached by the officials for the said trainings and had no knowledge about the initiative,” he said. “Millions of rupees were ‘spent’ like that.”
There are 25 government elementary colleges of education and four colleges of education that offer an 18-month associate degree in education (ADE) programme, leading to a four-year Bachelors programme in education. At these institutes, everyone - from the students and teachers to the education department’s peons, janitors and sweepers - were recorded as having been awarded these scholarships, claimed Dr Shaikh.
“The ADE programme has replaced the old Primary Teaching Certificate and the Certificate in Teaching courses mandatory for the prospective teachers in the province,” said Ghulam Asghar Memon, the teacher training institute’s additional director at the Bureau of Curriculum and Extension Wing. Memon refuted Dr Shaikhs claims and maintained that there has been no foul play in training and scholarship programmes.
Trying to bring about change, but in vain
“I was ridiculed by my colleagues when I attempted to change the system by bringing in a process of verification for each voucher that was to be issued by the provincial finance department to the 2,500 deserving students,” said Dr Zubair Ahmed Shaikh. However, despite his best efforts, he was unable to bring about change and, frustrated, he eventually left. “When I was asked to take charge, the Cida project was smothered in the filth spread by the mafia that holds sway in the education department, but I refused to become a part of that filth,” he said. “Hence, I bade them adieu.”
Refusing to give in to the corruption, Dr Shaikh had left on his terms and now, the education department’s additional secretary, Rehan Iqbal Baloch, enjoys the ‘additional charge’ of Steda as well as the Cida-funded project head.
Caught in the bureaucratic crossfire
The message from the education department’s additional chief secretary, Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, to Dr Zubair Ahmed Shaikh was clear. “You are not one of us, keep sitting in a corner and see what you can do,” said Dr Pechuho, a message that ultimately forced him to resign. However, Dr Shaikh was not interested in being yet another critic on government policies and ‘red tapism’.
It was the former provincial education minister, Pir Mazharul Haq, who had asked Dr Shaikh to join and when the minister was changed after the 2013 elections, he was no longer needed. It was his stated terms of not accepting any undue political and bureaucratic interference prior to signing the four-year Management Position-I scale contract that compelled the ‘others’ to treat him as a pariah and ultimately led to his resignation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th,2014.