The education sector in Punjab is plagued with many structural problems, the administrative authority’s incompetence being the root cause, claim teachers and principals across the province.
Muhammad Arif, a retired professor of Government MAO College, Lahore, told The Express Tribune that the organisational culture at the Higher Education Department Punjab (HEDP) offers little respect to teachers. “Usually, the top officials are either inaccessible or unresponsive and the lower staff is habitually contemptuous,” he added.
Hence, he said, there was a dire need to re-conceptualise the relationship between teachers and the administrative staff.
Identifying the problem
The administrative system of education is overly centralised which makes it almost impossible for people to reach to higher-ups.
Elaborating, Arif clarified that each request mobilised by a person had to be decided at the centre. “For instance, even for a no-objection certificate (NOC), the application has to be sent to the higher education secretary which not only takes a lot of time but becomes expensive for a person who needs to go through different channels in the corrupt system.”
Terming centralisation the root cause of all evils, Arif said concentration of power at the higher level needs to be rationalised.
“Principals of colleges should be authorised to issue routine NOCs like ones for passports, studies, leaves and applying for jobs because essentially it is the principal who gives the approval in all these cases and is supposed to manage the workload,” Arif said.
Principals were given much of these powers during 2003-07 but these were later withdrawn due to unknown reasons.
“The administration should be held accountable for inordinate and deliberate delays,” he said, suggesting that an ombudsman be appointed to check such abuses.
We struggled for the delegation of power to the principal and director level in 1993 but our efforts ended up in waste, he claims, saying that “A teacher could not even think to meet with the secretary education.”
The ‘proper’ channel
Ghulam Muttaza, a lecturer at the Government Post Graduate Asghar Mall College Rawalpindi and the Rawalpindi division president of Teachers Unity Forum Pakistan, told The Express Tribune that despite loopholes, colleges are compelled to strictly follow the ‘proper channel’ in case of any complaint.
There are three intermediary offices between the principal of a college and the HEDP secretary: the deputy director colleges at the district level, director at the divisional level and director public instruction (DPI) Punjab.
He revealed that the clerical staff in these offices mostly resorts to holding files to mint money and as virtual gatekeepers unnecessarily block communication lines.
“HEDP should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of keeping these post offices [clerks]. They should devolve powers so basic requests can be settled by those directly senior to principals,” he suggested.
The DPI office is the most obstructive office which usually hinders onward transmission of requests on flimsy and at times ridiculous grounds, he said. Citing an example where a case of retirement was turned down with the objection that the applicant had sent four set of applications instead of three.
Traditional file system
A serving principal of a government college, on the condition of anonymity, claimed that administrative offices keep accumulating files which are seldom maintained.
“Whenever one applies for an NOC, these files are missing and retrieving them requires some special skills,” he said.
The principal was of the view that the entire system should be shifted online, which will make it easier for the public. “This will save a lot of time, money and discourage corrupt practices at the same time,” he said.
It may be mentioned that the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa government has already introduced a digital tracking system for government departments.
Contrary to these views, Rawalpindi Division Colleges Director Professor Humayun Iqbal told The Express Tribune that the situation has improved in the last two to three years.
“Almost 60-70 per cent cases, complaints and requests are entertained immediately,” he said.
He further stated that some applications, like the ones for leave, are immediately processed but a proper procedure has to be followed for some matters like the issuance of NOCs.
“The Punjab education department is making constant efforts to improve the administrative structure in the education department with the passage of time,” he maintained.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2014.