Sunday, December 19, 2010

Taseer tweets against CM's "Daanish"

By Khalid Khattak

GOVERNOR Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who is an ardent follower of internet-based social network, Twitter, is known for his bracing remarks on country’s politics and many other social issues online.

However in his tweets made during the last week he touched upon two important academic issues. While the one is related to Punjab government’s “flagship” educational endeavor, Daanish Schools, the other is linked to increasing ratio of girl students in institutes of higher learning.

Governor Punjab’s comments about the Daanish Schools are evident of the fact that he is totally against the project, a brainchild of Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and which is being dubbed “the poor man’s Aitchison”.

According to him the Punjab government is spending Rs 4 billion on four Daanish Schools when thousands of public sector schools in the province are without basic facilities of boundary walls and electricity etc.

Mr Taseer’s tweet (available at) reads “Punjab Govt is spending Rs 4bn on 4 Danish Schools whereas there r 14 thousand schools without walls roofs electricity gas…...”

The project has drawn appreciation from some quarters, as it promises quality education to the children of disadvantaged groups of society and is being started from backward areas of Southern Punjab.

Nonetheless the project has been facing immense criticism too by academic circles who fear it will not serve the purpose of promoting the cause of imparting quality education at a wider level.

They are critical of the Punjab government’s initiative arguing there is a need to develop an excellent system of schools as according to them development of some excellent schools in the system will not serve the purpose.

They suggest that instead of focusing some selected schools over 60,000 public schools, most of which are lacking basic facilities like boundary walls, clean drinking water facility, electricity and toilets etc, should be upgraded on a priority basis.

The other important subject touched upon by Salmaan Taseer in his tweet reads “As Chancellor of Punjab Universities can say a quiet revolution taking place. On an open merit system more than 50% of students are female.”

He has termed the increasing female enrolment “a quiet revolution”. Nonetheless the academic circles as well as social scientists are quite worried about the developing situation saying this growing trend might result in shortfall of manpower in future.

They argue often prevailing social norms limit the active participation of women in mainstream and despite having high professional qualification girls do not join professions saying this need immediate attention of those at the helm.

The academic circles also argue that efforts made by parents, teachers, girls themselves and huge investment by the government goes into waste when a professionally qualified girl does not join a profession she has studied over the years.

They also suggest the government to fix quota for boys and girls to maintain the balance besides creating maximum awareness and taking solid measures to ensure that females, especially those getting professional degrees, do take active part in their professional lives.

The story was published in The News International, Lahore on December 6, 2010. However it did not appear in online version of the newspaper.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Army takes lead in flood-hit schools reconstruction

By Khalid Khattak

LAHORE: The Pakistan Army, using public donations fast, has left the Punjab government far behind in the reconstruction of flood-hit public sector schools.

While the big heads in Punjab government are exhausting their energies in file work and the petty ones waiting for release of funds, the army is doing actual field work and has so far repaired 487 partially damaged schools in four flood-hit districts of the province.

The districts where the schools have been repaired are Dera Ghazi Khan with 89 schools, Muzaffargarh 184, Rajanpur 141 and Layyah 73 schools.

According to sources in the School Education Department, the only contribution from the department in the task was the active part played by the newly recruited educators who worked hard in the whole process and extended the maximum support to the army. They said the amount used for repair was public donations the army received for the flood affectees from philanthropists and common people.

The sources further said the schools repaired were partially damaged, including damaged boundary walls, furniture, drinking water facility, toilets and doors, etc, adding that after repair the schools were also whitewashed and were now fully functional.

An official of the department said that as per estimates, an amount of Rs 63 million had been spent on the repair work of the damaged schools of district Muzaffargarh alone. He said the army was now working to repair partially damaged schools of district Rahimyar Khan. He said the department had initially sought around Rs 1 billion for the damaged schools of Muzaffargarh, however, now an amount of Rs 63 million had been subtracted from the said amount now.

The official confirmed that no repair work could be started by the Punjab government so far, adding that it would start as soon as the required amount was released. He said in the first phase, the damaged schools of district Muzaffargarh would be repaired.

When contacted, Secretary Schools Muhammad Aslam Kamboh confirmed that the provincial government had yet to start repair work of the flood-damaged schools. He said the release of around Rs 1 billion was likely for the damaged schools in the coming days.

He, however, claimed that academic activities had resumed at schools of all the flood-hit districts of the province right after summer vacation.
He said in the areas where schools were not functional, the department had made arrangements in rented buildings and nearby houses, adding that many tent schools were also established to continue educational activities. He said the students had been provided new textbooks and majority of teachers had also been provided teaching kits.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Punjab government had identified around 4,193 schools which were either fully or partially damaged by floods in different parts of the province. Of these, over 700 schools were completely damaged while 3,420 were partially damaged by the floods while, interestingly, out of partially damaged schools, over 1,200 schools had been damaged owing to the stay of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were provided shelter there.

Source: The News International
02 December 2010.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Red tape hurdle in good governance

Kampus Korridors

By Khalid Khattak

THE lethargic attitude of government officials, their lukewarm response and lack of coordination regarding issues of immediate attention have been a matter of concern for stakeholders over the years.

This not only exposes the so-called good governance but also shows as to how the government remains unmoved and does not bother to introduce reforms to benefit the masses.
The most recent example of official sluggishness and indifference is related to public sector universities of the province.

In the first case, the academic circles are quite critical of top officials of the Higher Education Department Punjab for delaying the removal of dozens of officials of public varsities whose appointment against key posts is being dubbed illegal in the wake of October 5 judgment of a division bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The division bench of the LHC had declared the appointment of Dr Shahid Mehboob Rana as Acting Vice-Chancellor Government College University (GCU) Faisalabad, by the governor Punjab as illegal because it was made without seeking advice of the chief minister.

After the LHC judgment, the Higher Education Department had sought advice from the Punjab Law Department asking whether the department, after the court verdict, was required to process the case regarding cancellation of all orders/notifications issued by the governor without seeking the chief minister's advice.

The department had received the reply on October 14 from the Law Department according to which all such orders without seeking advice of the CM were illegal.

It is pertinent to mention here that since then, no action has been taken against the top officials of different varsities, including a pro vice-chancellor (PVC) and deans of various faculties, and they are still enjoying the coveted posts, illegally.

The department officials claim that the delay was witnessed in collection of data from different varsities across the province. Nevertheless, one wonders as to how the data collection requires so much time in this era of computer technology. However, the stakeholders term the same sheer sluggishness on part of department's bosses was behind the delay as they could not initiate action despite passage of over a month. They say the delay has been greatly irking other eligible candidates who can be posted against these important slots.

Similarly, the stakeholders are also critical of the Higher Education Department for delaying the stopgap arrangements for the University of Education (UoE) and Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) following the expiry of tenure of vice-chancellors (VCs) of both the varsities on November 20, 2010. It is also important to note here that since then both the varsities have been functioning without VCs. As per prevailing procedure, regular VCs are appointed through VC Search Committee process while temporary arrangements are made under which an official looks after the office of the VC.

The terms of four other VCs will expire in the near future, including those of Government College University Lahore's Prof Dr Khalid Aftab (February 25, 2011), Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) Multan's Dr Muhammad Zafarullah (January 26, 2011) and University of Sargodha's Prof Dr Muhammad Akram Ch (February 11, 2011) and Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) Rawalpindi's Prof Dr Saeeda Asadullah Khan (March 11, 2011).According to stakeholders, the department being well-informed should take up the cases before expiry of term of a VC so that similar situation does not surface in future and varsities do not suffer owing to absence of top administrators. Academic circles are also demand the government cut through the red tape and introduce reforms for transparent and quick handling of the cases of public interest.


Sources: The News International
Monday, November 29, 2010.
Justify Full

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Degree verification saga

PU fails to verify degree of PM's son

By Khalid Khattak

LAHORE: Punjab University (PU) has failed to decide fate of graduation degree of MPA Abdul Qadir Gilani, son of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, which has been under scrutiny for almost two months now.

The issue was highlighted in early October this year but since then nothing has been heard clarifying the exact situation whether the premier’s son holds a genuine degree or a fake one.

Besides this, it is reliably learnt verification of degrees of almost a dozen of MPs are pending with the Punjab University. According to sources a couple of weeks ago the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had written a letter to the PU asking the varsity to speed up the whole process of verification but to no avail.

It was reported that Abdul Qadir Gilani’s case was amongst those some students who had taken their BA/BSc exam in an examination hall that was never allotted to them.

It was further reported that such cases are dealt by the Unfair Means Committee of the university but the junior Gilani never appeared before the committee despite issuance of three notices. It is pertinent to mention here that Abdul Qadir Gilani, however, denies to have done anything wrong.

According to the sources besides degree of premier’s son, the Punjab University had yet to verify degrees of around a dozen of senior parliamentarians who had graduated from the varsity many years back. They also claimed that the varsity high ups were under tremendous pressure owing to which the whole process had to face delay.

They further said the verification of junior Gilani’s degree had been pending before October when the issue was highlighted for the first time by the media.

PU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran could not be reached by The News despite repeated attempts on his cell phone while an SMS was also sent to him in this connection by this correspondent.

However when contacted a senior PU official, seeking anonymity, said the varsity’s verification committee would meet within this week and all the cases would be taken up.

He said the delay was witnessed owing to delay in provision of required documents by the MPs adding Eid holidays and non availability of some members of the committee were other contributing factors.

The PU official denied any pressure saying it was a sensitive issue and needed to be dealt with care keeping in view all the legality. To a question he said the PU would be able to verify all the remaining degrees of MPs by December 2010.

HEC Chairman Dr Javaid R Laghari, when contacted, confirmed that the Commission had written a letter to the Punjab University. He, however, expressed helplessness to share response of the university saying he was himself out of the country and had recently returned back.

(The story appeared in The News International on Wednesday Nov 24, 2010. However it was missing in the online edition of the newspaper!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mock forums gainnig popularity in Pakistani schools!

By Khalid Khattak

THE growing trend of organising mock forums by students is a healthy sign as the same not only provides an opportunity to the youth to debate issues of national and international importance but also to know functioning of supreme institutions such as parliament.

The simulation exercise also provides an opportunity to the youth to experience the subtleties of diplomatic negotiations especially when a Model United Nations (MUN) is organised.

Punjab University (PU) students presenting Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case in a mock court at the varsity last week rejected the allegations levelled against her in a US court.

The mock court, organised by Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), also decided to bring back Dr Aafia keeping in view sentiments and feelings of people of Pakistan. It also urged the Pakistani government to take all possible measures for release of Dr Aafia.

Similarly the 1st Indian Mock Parliament was organised by Seeds of Peace, Pakistan, recently and Pakistani students from different education institutions of the city participated in its different sessions and replicated the Indian Parliament.It is pertinent to mention here that Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Model United Nations Society has been organising Model United Nations (LUMUN) since 2000 to discuss sensitive issues of international concern.

According to Dania Mukhtar, director, Media LUMUN 2010, the annual LUMUN conference is one of the largest student conferences in Asia as it attracts over 1,200 delegates from all over the country and abroad.

At the conference, students assume the role of ambassadors representing different countries and discuss a wide range of issues in a setting modelling various committees of the United Nations, she says.

The initiatives like this have value not just as a mental stimulation but also as a means to understanding each other’s opinions, perspectives and cultural sensitivities.

She says a large reason for the success of LUMUN’s flagship conference is the exposure of its organising team at an international level. “Every March, an eight-member delegation, selected after careful screening, represents LUMUN at the Harvard World Model United Nations, the Leviathan of Model UN conferences. It attracts delegations from world over, including top of the line universities such as Oxford, Princeton, MIT and London School of Economics, to name a few.” “The LUMS delegation has nonetheless consistently been winning the Best Delegation Award at the conference for the past five years, a feat which has lent a big hand to its credibility,” Dania adds.

And that is not the end of it -even a social responsibility programme has sprung up under the LUMUN. The society now trains students from the CARE Foundation’s schools in public speaking and also held a CAREMUN just this summer. The LUMUN is going to be held from 22nd to 26th December, 2010, she concluded.Academic circles are of the view that the government should also take steps to introduce similar kind of ‘mock forums’ at public sector colleges and schools to provide students with an opportunity of a healthy and constructive debate and to explore their hidden potential.


Source: The News International
Monday, November 01, 2010

No watchdog for private schools!

By Khalid Khattak

LAHORE: THE powerful private schools mafia has failed the Punjab government’s much-hyped policy of establishing a regulatory body for them despite the lapse of two years.

A high-powered committee, comprising educationists, MPAs and private schools representatives, was formed by Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif in late 2008.

Besides reviewing the existing Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance 1984, the committee was given the mandate to propose suitable amendments to the ordinance with the view to establishing a standard for infrastructure, teaching staff and syllabi, curriculum and examination system of the private sector schools.

It was also tasked with establishing fee structure of private schools linked to the standard of service and facilities offered by the institutions.

The committee, though after a delay, had given its recommendations. Afterwards, on various occasions, different government officials claimed that the draft regarding the proposed watchdog had been sent to the Law Department. However, nothing more was heard later on and people are still waiting for the regulatory body.

Besides genuine public concerns, the absence of a regulatory body has also been causing problems for the government as at times it seems unable to implement its policies in private sector schools.

Almost every year, private schools across the province lock horns with the government over the schedule of summer vacation while accepting or rejecting grade-5 and grade-8 uniform examinations by the Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) is another issue.

The failure in enforcement of policies is quite evident from the unbridled working of private schools where people are fleeced as much as a private institute can.

The most recent notification of the Schools Education Department, Punjab, regarding resumption of six working days is likely to meet a similar fate of “defiance” as many elite schools generally observe a holiday on Saturday.

It is important to mention here that on the instructions of the federal government, the Punjab government had announced functioning of schools five days a week instead of six days a week as part of the save energy drive. However, the Punjab government has now announced to resume old weekly schedule according to which Saturday will be considered as a working day.

The notification issued by the Schools Department clearly reads: “All public and private schools will remain open for six days in a week from November 22, 2010 and only Sunday will be the weekly holiday.”

The stakeholders argue that if the government cannot ensure implementation of its policies and rules in private sector schools why they are made part of notifications.

It is also pertinent to mention here that the Punjab government during the tenure of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as chief minister of the province was quite ambitious to introduce a regulatory body for private sector schools. However, this could not happen.

The current Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif also took up the issue quite ambitiously and formed a committee to introduce a regulatory body for private sector schools. Almost two years have passed since the formation of the committee but the proposed controlling authority is still not in sight.

Chairman of Chief Minister’s Taskforce on Elementary Education Raja Anwar was quite vocal and active regarding the establishment of the regulatory body for private schools in the beginning. However, it seems he has run out of steam now.

Sources claim that the CM’s taskforce chairman has completely focused the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) ever since he became its chairman.

According to the sources, the issue of great public interest had been put on the backburner as the Punjab government was facing immense pressure from politicians who own big private schools.
The public has been quite critical of unbridled working of private schools over the years. People have been complaining about the absence of government’s authority in determining fee structure of private schools, heavy registration fee, mandatory purchase of uniform and stationery from the prescribed stores, annual charges and many other monetary matters.

When contacted, Secretary Schools Aslam Kamboh said he could not tell anything offhand about the proposed regulatory body for private schools. However, he said that any policy which seemed to be disputed could not be introduced at a time when academic session was at the peak.

Answering a question, he said mentioning private sector in notifications was important as almost 96 percent of such institutes followed government policies and academic calendar.

The News could not reach Chairman Taskforce for Elementary Education Raja Anwar for his comments.

Source: The News International
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, December 26, 2009

KC barred from action until probe

By Khalid Khattak

LAHORE: The Punjab Higher Education Department on Thursday formally asked the Kinnaird College (KC) principal not to remove or surrender any faculty member until the committee formed by the college’s Board of Governors submits its report.The KC Board of Governors (BoG) had formed a three-member committee on December 5, to investigate the allegations levelled by the faculty members against appointment of the KC registrar. The faculty members, in a letter addressed to the BoG chairman, dated 28 October, 2009, had alleged that the appointment of Dr Naima Khurshid as Registrar of Kinnaird College was unjustified. A copy of the letter bearing signatures of 97 KC teachers was made available to The News on Thursday. In the letter, addressed to BoG’s Chairman Dr Alexander John Malik, the faculty members expressed strong resentment over the appointment of Dr Naima as registrar, making it clear that she was not acceptable in any of the administrative capacities at the college. They further maintained that her previous professional record and references in the Queen Mary College were overlooked by the principal at the time of her induction. The teachers had also alleged that the tenure of Dr Naima at KC had been full of questionable activities including an inquiry against her in 2008 when she was appointed as Resident Inspector in Intermediate Examinations. However, on December 23, KC Principal Dr Bernadette L Dean fired seven teachers, repatriating four heads of different departments, since they were government employees, to the Punjab government and terminating services of three others serving on contract basis. It is pertinent to mention that Dr Dean had denied allegations of unjustified appointment of the registrar, claiming that no teacher was victimized and the decision was taken in the best interest of the college. She also rejected the allegation levelled against her, reports say. According to the sources in the department, Higher Education secretary Ahad Khan Cheema took a serious notice of the removal of seven teachers, asking the principal to ‘abstain’ from any action against teachers as her own conduct was under question. The principal was asked not to take any action even against contract teachers since the BoG had ordered an inquiry into alleged irregularities on complaint of the teachers, the sources added. They said, after the constitution of the inquiry committee, the KC teachers had also submitted an application to the department, the inquiry committee and the BoG, alleging that they were being threatened of dire consequences ever since the initiation of the probe. A KC faculty member, seeking anonymity, said the principal had removed seven teachers on last working day ahead of winter and Christmas holidays fearing any resentment from the students. She added the news had created great anxiety among the students who had been sending SMSs through mobile phones to all the teachers expressing complete solidarity with them. When contacted, the Punjab Higher Education Department secretary, Ahad Khan Cheema, confirmed that the KC Principal had formally been asked not to take action against any teacher until the submission of inquiry report as it would be taken as ‘a conflict of interests’. “The principal had also been asked not to remove even teachers serving on contract basis,” he added. Talking to The News, Dr Bernadette L Dean said she did not know about the letter from the department since the college was closed, adding, “I’ll only know when the college reopens after the vacation”.

Source: The News International
Friday, December 25, 2009