Full Steam Ahead: Murad Raas And The Road to Educational Reforms

When you look at it, Murad Raas has no easy job at hand. For the moment he is responsible for the affairs of more than 700,000 teachers employed by the Punjab School Education Department. As the department’s minister, he is addressing one issue at a time. We find out how things are with him and his ministry.

unjab School Education Minister Murad Raas is bringing changes in the province’s school education sector that aim at setting new standards and change the department’s affairs for good. In an exclusive interview with the Academia Magazine the minister explains how he would transform the 700,000 plus teachers’ workforce and improve infrastructure, as well as build new schools and increase enrollment of students. 

What is the difference between PTI’s education policies and previous government’s education policies?

The previous government’s focus was “bricking model” while our focus has been on quality education. No matter how good the school building is, if there is no quality education, no one would want to study. In contrast, if children are forced to sit under a tree but the education being provided is of high quality, everyone would love to study under that tree. 

You have vowed to digitize the education sector and taken some steps in this regard. You faced a lot of criticism. What is your take on the situation?

The School Education Department (SED) has long been kept away from technology. About four months ago, I wanted to hold a video conference. I was surprised to find out that there was no such facility in SED. I was told I would have to go to Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) for holding video conferences. SED has the largest workforce in Pakistan after Pakistan Army, but the situation of technological advancement in the department is evident by the non-availability of video call facility. We started E-transfer and HRMIS application and service book, promotion and retirement will also be online in the next one-and-a-half year.

I want the bureaucracy to improve their pace of work and go ahead at full steam. Even if I have to change 10 school education secretaries, I will.

There was around two to three billion rupee corruption in SED in terms of transfers and postings. Now a teacher can apply for transfer while sitting in his house using a smartphone. A teacher had to pay Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000 for his transfer. Now teachers only have to focus on teaching, for which they have been hired. There would be zero political influence on them from now onwards. If teachers are engaged in census or election, that happens once every 20 years or once in five years and I do not think that makes a huge difference.

Uniform education and uniform curriculum has been the slogan of PTI. What action has the ministry taken in this regard?

We are committed to introduce uniform curriculum, but we must first improve the quality of education in 53,000 public schools. We are taking steps to introduce uniform curriculum in province, but this will not happen at once. In the first step, we would improve the quality of curriculum in which life skills and critical thinking will be introduced. The first phase about introducing syllabus reforms is going to begin from March 2021 and we will able to implement our policies in curriculum within the next three years.

The PTI government has announced to adopt Urdu language as medium of instruction in Punjab? When is the decision going to be implemented?

Urdu as medium of instruction will be implemented from class 1 to class 5 from March 2020. The reason is that a child cannot understand a foreign language and English is not a local language. A child who speaks local or native language for most of the time can hardly understand English in school where he comes for a few hours only. We should get out of this complex of speaking English. At least Urdu will clear the concepts of students. We were giving students books worth billions of rupees that were literally thrown away by students and they brought Urdu medium books from market to understand what was being taught. We are first going to bring the changes in public sector schools and later implement these changes in the private sector educational institutions.

PTI government is putting schools management and other related matter under local government as per its new Local Government Act 2019. Do you think this will increase political interference in education sector?

There is nothing wrong in putting the school’s management under local representatives. Chief Operating Officer (COO) of District Education Authority (DEA) will be responsible for all the work and he will be an employee of Schools Education Department (SED). But still he must follow local government’s instructions. There are no chances of political interference after implementation of the new local government act.

You have started the process of rationalization. There are fears and apprehensions among the teachers that they may be laid off in the process?

The rationalization process has started but there should be no fear of people becoming jobless. They may be transferred to places where their services are more required. For example, if there is a school that has 22 students, there is no logic of posting eight teachers there.

Addressing the issue of fee hikes by private educational institutions has been your focus. What steps are being taken in view of Supreme Court of Pakistan’s orders?

The Punjab government will implement the Supreme Court verdict on fees hike in entirety and has advised the private schools not to use any pressure tactics to fleece parents in any other way. District Registration Authorities have already notified to recalculate the school fee on the baseline of January 2017 (with 5 percent annual increase of 2018 and 2019). Complaint cells have been set up at district and tehsil level. “We have received complaints against 84 schools.

There was around two to three billion rupee corruption in SED in terms of transfers and postings. A teacher had to pay up to Rs 100,000 for transfer. Now teachers only have to focus on teaching

Twenty-two schools have been penalized so far. We are initially taking action against 245 schools and all calculations have been prepared. They have been given seven days to issue new vouchers and parents will get reasonable time to pay it. Parents can visit offices of CEOs in respective districts but with prior registration of their complaint online. If the schools do not abide by the law, their registrations would be cancelled and in the next phase these schools will be sealed.

You talked about improving quality of education. In Pakistan we have pass percentage of 33 percent which is very much below the international quality standards. Don’t you think it is high time to increase pass percentage?

Our focus is currently on quality education. We have ended Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) fake examinations in which cheating was at its peak. Once the assessment will be better, we would move towards improving grading standards.

PTI government is focusing on accountability. What steps did you take for accountability in education department when you took charge?

The Punjab Education Foundation had three functional offices in Gulberg and Model Town. Rent of these offices was almost Rs 3 million. Now I have asked them to shift to single office in Gulberg and their rent has dropped to Rs 1.8 million rupees. For the PMIU office in Garden Town, Rs 1.3 million monthly rent was being paid. Now it is being shifted in QAED Academy. Similarly, I have shut down departments including NEEC which were not functional. These steps don’t cost any department. The recently launched e-transfer software did not cost us a single rupee and we have made life of 400,000 people easy.

There is much deficiency of teachers in Punjab as per an estimate around 60,000 teachers and 18,000 head master’s posts are vacant. What is your plan regarding catering this shortage?

For addressing this deficiency, we announced rationalization that will cover 90 percent deficiency of teachers in Punjab. If seats remain vacant even after that, we will hire new teachers. Teachers will now be moved to schools where there is a deficiency of teachers. Teachers will be moved in their own district within a radius of 10 to 12 km.

What upcoming legislation your ministry is bringing in Punjab?

We are bringing three legislations in Punjab which include teachers licensing, private schools act and corporal punishment and one against drugs in campuses. If doctors and lawyers have licenses, why should a teachers not have a license to teach? This is widely practiced in other countries. You have to have a license before you start teaching. Criteria for getting license will be set up once the act will be passed. Both acts, private schools and teachers licensing acts, have been drafted and presented in cabinet.

What steps have you taken so for or plan to take regarding provision of missing facilities?

We are seriously short on resources at the moment, but we are still going to establish 1,000 new science labs, 1,000 new computer labs, 100 model schools, while old schools in 10 districts of Punjab will also be revamped. Besides, 300 libraries will be setup in schools. All these will be done by April 2020. We have started day-boarding in Danish Schools and those who can afford the fees should also study there because around Rs 18,000 is being spent on a child by the government. Also, 100 primary schools will be setup in rental buildings in Lahore district under be a new concept. Lahore’s biggest problem is primary schools. If will establish new 100 schools, it will take four to five years. These 100 schools will be established at a cost of around Rs 200 million only. In Lahore there are 250,000 children who are out of schools and this project would bring them back to schools.

How would you define expectation vs reality? What were your expectations before assuming charge and what challenges now are you facing?

It is very difficult working in the government. I was expecting very high pace of work before assuming charge. I want the bureaucracy to improve their pace of work and go ahead at full steam. Even if I have to change 10 school education secretaries, I will, until they help me meet my targets.