Motivating Teachers

Faisal Bari

SHOULDN’T a school teacher have some power and control over what happens in her class? Shouldn’t she be given the freedom to decide how to pace teaching, how to explain concepts and how to ensure that students understand the material?

But a lot of teachers in Pakistani public schools feel that they do not have such power and control in effective terms. The power might be there on paper, but it is not there in practice.

Teachers feel they are told, in a lot of detail, what they are supposed to do in classes. Curriculum and books do not have the input of teachers. The language of instruction is determined by the provincial government. Teachers get detailed lesson plans and in many cases they are even told what sentences should be said in order to explain concepts to students. The lesson plans are detailed enough in many cases to tell them how to even pace their classes. What they cover in class is also monitored closely. And there is a lot of testing of children by various entities of the education department as a means of monitoring progress. All of the above, directly or indirectly, reduce the space that teachers have for exercising their agency in class.

The same is true, to a large extent, with head teachers in the public system as well. Head teachers do not have the power to hire and fire teachers. They, effectively, do not even have any authority to discipline teachers. They cannot, apart from complaining to the higher authorities, do much in case a teacher’s performance is not up to the mark or if a teacher lacks the attitude needed to perform well. Powers to hire and fire are possibly very hard to devolve to the school level. It is there in the private sector, but given the legal requirements under which the public sector works and bureaucratic developments in the country, it is next to impossible to give these powers to head teachers, headmasters and principals.

Still, even without school managers having these powers, there are plenty of things that can be done to provide the requisite autonomy and authority to principals so that they are able to do a better job of managing their schools. In a number of private- sector school systems, even if principals do not have the power to hire or fire teachers, they do have a significant say in who stays in their school, who gets promoted/ rewarded or punished, and what type of training is imparted to whom. Principals have a significant impact on a teacher’s career path in this system. Even such authority, in many instances, is enough to provide principals with a handle with which to manage teachers effectively.

The public sector finds it hard to do even that. Teachers’ training is very centralised and head teachers have little to no role in determining what kind of training their teachers are going to receive. They do have a say in the performance reports that are written for the teachers in their school, but since they have to work with the same teachers going forward, performance reports tend to not distinguish amongst individuals. Promotions are mostly based on seniority and not performance and hence head teachers do not have a say even here.

Head-teacher incentives are also not stimulating: the teachers are mostly promoted on the basis of seniority. Here, too, we do not have any instruments with which we can motivate and/ or incentivise head teachers effectively.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that the government, across provinces, has found it very hard to motivate teachers and head teachers to do better. There are definitely content knowledge issues amongst teachers: many teachers do not know the subjects they are supposed to teach very well themselves. It is also true that a lot of teachers do not know how to teach effectively.

But that is not the issue I am focusing on here. The issue is that public-sector teachers are much more educated and trained than their counterparts in low-fee private schools. They are also much better compensated than low-fee private school teachers. But, in terms of performance, measured through student learning, most researchers have found that children from even low-fee private schools perform better or at least as well as those from public schools. Even allowing for income and other household characteristics across schools, this conclusion seems to hold.

If this is the case, we need to understand why better-educated, trained and better-compensated teachers are not able to perform better. One possible explanation of this is that we are not managing the human agency of teachers and head teachers well. We are not giving them the requisite environment, career paths, incentives, responsibility and authority to create the optimal motivational environment for them.

If teachers feel they are not listened to, if they feel their environment is being over-determined and/or over-monitored, if they, over time, lose the motivation to teach effectively and well, or if the system cannot create the right motivational environment, even properly educated and trained teachers might not perform well.

Provincial governments across Pakistan have over the last couple of decades spent a lot of money on increasing teachers’ salaries and adjusting their grades; they have also spent significant amounts on creating new, technology-driven monitoring systems. We continue to spend big amounts on teacher training too. But all have ignored looking at motivational issues of teachers/head teachers and of creating effective ways of managing human agency. This should be the next frontier for education-sector reforms.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday 22nd September, 2017.


Information Issues

Faisal Bari

I CAN always tell when Javed, a cook working in our neighbourhood, is worried about something. When I ask him how he is his worry is the first thing he mentions. And a lot of times it is about the health of his very young granddaughter. She is a healthy child. But she does fall sick once in a while. When she does, Javed’s face reveals it before his words do.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I ask. “I took her yesterday. He gave her an injection. She is better now.” Every visit to the doctor involves an injection. “But what did the doctor say? What was wrong with the child?” I ask. “She had fever and loose motions.” “Yes, those were the symptoms that made you consult the doctor. But what was causing the fever and diarrhoea?” “The doctor did not tell us anything. He just gave her an injection and she is better now.” This is more or less the typical exchange I have with Javed when his granddaughter falls sick.

Infant and child malnutrition and stunting rates are worryingly high in Pakistan. Infant and maternal mortality rates have stopped coming down as fast as they used to. The trends in nutrition, stunting and child deaths are even more worrying given that our numbers, across sources, are showing that poverty rates have been declining in Pakistan for the last couple of decades or so. If poverty is coming down, meaning people have more resources than before, what is making the child malnutrition, stunting and ill health numbers so high?

There are a number of hypotheses that are worth looking into. Drinking water quality and lack of sanitation facilities might have the power to explain a lot about health/nutrition outcomes. Reports on water quality, from across the country have recently been quite alarming. Lack of sanitation facilities, mixing of drinking water with sewage, and few toilets for defecation are linked to the spread of diseases as well.

Lack of effective immunisation as well as lack of access to effective medicines might be another issue worth looking into. The immunisation rate is still a problem. But so is the quality of medicines that immunised children get: if medicines have not been stored properly, are past their due date, or are not of the quality they are supposed to be even high immunisation rates are not going to be of much help.

Some of the literature also points towards information gaps and lack of knowledge as a possible explanatory factor. Do parents, especially mothers, know what they need to know to ensure the nutritional needs of their children? Do parents know what to do when their child is not well? Do they know how well their child is doing compared to other children at a similar stage of development and how, if their child is not doing as well, to remedy the situation?

My interaction with Javed points to the issue of poor information. Does Javed’s granddaughter become unwell too often? The doctors Javed visits, and these are usually general physicians in our locality, almost never give any feedback to Javed or the parents of the child. It is almost always an injection and/or some medicines that is administered but without the parents’ knowing what ailed their daughter and what the drugs are meant to cure.

These doctors also do not tell the parents how well or poorly the child is doing compared to other children. Javed and the parents of the child never know if three episodes of fever in 15 days is too much, if the child’s weight or height is below par or not and/or if her cranial circumference is increasing within tolerable limits. If they had this knowledge, if they do not face extreme poverty issues and if other things are constant would they not be able to make better decisions about the health of their child?

Though I have used Javed’s example, I know of too many other cases of a similar nature. Given some of the administrative work I do, I get to see how many days of the week colleagues don’t come in because a child at home is ill. The numbers tend to be substantial especially among blue-collar and unskilled workers.

In some cases, parents even delay treatment of a sick child as they cannot afford to be absent from work. But in almost all these cases when I have talked to parents, the issue of information, according to my reading of the situation, has come up in one form or another. Parents do not get proper feedback from healthcare providers; they do not know what preventive measures they can take, what medicines they can use or are given by caregivers; they do not know why their child got sick in the first place and they are almost never told how their child is doing compared to other children.

There is some research in Pakistan on the impact of poverty on nutritional outcomes and researchers have recently also started looking at connections between public good investments (water, sanitation and immunisation) and health outcomes. But we know very little about the connections between knowledge/information issues and health/nutrition outcomes. Is the last one an important issue or not? We need household-level research to figure this out.

Fortunately, information/knowledge issues can be remedied with low-cost interventions. If information/knowledge issues are also contributing to the poor outcomes we are seeing on the nutrition and health side, carefully crafted but low-cost feedback loops for parents can readily and easily remedy the situation. Given the potential, public health researchers should look at such issues on a priority basis.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday 8th September, 2017.

Mobility in Urban Spaces

LAHORE’S population is estimated to be about 12 million people. If a third of these are children who go to school, 4m children need to move from their homes to school in the morning and then back again around midday. If about half the population works, around 6m people need to move from their homes to their places of work and then back in the evening. And with 12m people involved in their usual business, there is a lot of movement that needs to be catered for.

A lot of cities of this size have opted for fairly extensive public transport networks to facilitate movement. These public transport networks, usually a mix of trains and buses, provide a grid for ensuring that every part of the city is connected to every other part, directly or indirectly, keeping in mind the volume of traffic that flows and is expected to flow from one particular part to another.

A lot more people are expected to move towards business districts from residential areas in the morning. A reverse flow is expected in the evening. Evening flows might be towards parts that provide entertainment (shopping areas, theatre areas etc) and late night flows would usually be towards residential areas again. Weekend demands for facilities would be different from weekday demands and so on. All of these larger cities have very elaborate load management systems and very well-resourced planning and execution departments to ensure the smooth functioning of these large transport networks. The London transport network provides a good example of what we need to keep in mind.

There are significant differences in how people’s movement is managed in a city like London and in Lahore. Though public transport has been prioritised in Lahore over the last few years by the current government and one large project has been completed and the other, the Orange Train, is under construction, historically the model Lahore has had, by default or by design, was one of relying on private transport and privately provided public transport. Even today, the public system has only one backbone line that is functioning, the other is still under construction, and the network of connecting routes to support the backbone are still under development.

The main change that has happened in transport has not been through the public sector and/or in public transport. The main change has been the decline in the price of motorcycles. Where at one point a 70cc motorcycle was selling for Rs60,000-plus, one can now buy it for under Rs30,000. This has been one of the biggest changes in the transport area in Pakistan over the last decade or so. From selling about a few hundred thousand motorcycles a year, we have now gone to selling a couple of million-plus motorcycles. The drop in prices happened because a clone of the 70cc motorcycle was developed and we had a lot of local and Chinese manufacturers enter the market for producing these clones.

But concurrent with this development we have seen that the government has also moved in the direction of facilitating traffic flows through road broadening and infrastructure upgradation projects. The Lahore signal-free project, construction of numerous underpasses and overpasses, and the broadening of key roads have been key components here.

There are significant and real concerns that have been expressed by various stakeholders about the effects that this model is likely to have on various important environmental, social, and cultural variables. Cutting of trees to broaden roads has an environmental impact. Building concrete infrastructure near heritage sites can destroy them and even if that does not happen, it can change the ‘value’ of the heritage site significantly.

But I want to raise a separate issue too, one that has not been highlighted as much in discussions on the infrastructure development model that Lahore has been following. Signal-free corridors, underpasses and overpasses and broader roads also reshape the urban landscape completely. It has become a lot harder for pedestrians and bicycle riders to move around the city.

If you need an example, try crossing the Ferozepur Road or the Main Boulevard on foot. In some places, overhead pedestrian crossings have been made, but there are too few of them and they are not easy to negotiate. And they are not for bicycle riders. If you have to go an extra kilometre or so to cross a main road, as a pedestrian or cyclist, you are likely to be very discouraged from doing so. Not having lanes/spaces for bicyclists on the main roads is also indicative of the state’s priorities.

If the city plans to have a much larger public transport system eventually — and the bus system, the Orange line and work on support networks that are being operationalised do suggest that — then the developments through the signal-free corridor and underpasses and overpasses might work at odds with the kind of urban spaces that should be thought of, that should accompany the development of the larger public transport system.

Large public transport systems do allow for and make it possible for cities to have spaces where people can walk around or use bicycles and where private transport (cars/motorcycles) are not allowed. And these spaces can be for a lot more people environment- and culture-friendly. Even a city space as built up as Manhattan, and one can hardly think of a more concretised space, decided to close down 20 odd streets on Broadway — one of the busiest roads in the area — to vehicular traffic a few years ago in order to facilitate the development of a bicycle track, walking space and development of street cafés and street culture.

What sort of urban space development model will we go for in the larger cities of Pakistan? I hope there is sufficient debate on this and we do not make decisions by default only.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday 25th August, 2017.

Registering an FIR and After

ABOUT eight years ago, a friend’s car was stolen from outside his house in Lahore. He went to the police immediately. It took all his connections and three days of effort to get a First Information Report (FIR) registered.

About a month later, he received a phone call from the concerned police station to let him know that his car had been ‘recovered’ and that he could come and collect it. The car was a bit battered and rundown, but it was all there. It seemed the police had recovered it a week or 10 days prior to calling my friend and had been using it in the meantime. It took my friend another 10 days to get possession of his car.

This would still have been a happy story had it ended there. But it did not. Since no one had been arrested or convicted for the crime of stealing my friend’s car, the FIR he had registered remained open. The car was evidence and my friend was told that he could have his car back but he would be responsible for producing it anytime the police or the courts needed it. Eight years later, my friend is still saddled with the car. He would like to sell it but he cannot. Though he has never been contacted by the police or the courts since, his possession still continues to be conditional. He could sell the car at a steep discount but my law-abiding friend is concerned: what if they ask him to produce it someday?

He did inquire about the process of getting the FIR quashed and the matter disposed of, but he felt he did not have the time, money or the connections to pull it off. He is resigned to the fact that this car will stay with him ‘till death do them part’.

Another acquaintance had a similar experience. But, eventually, after a year of spending a lot of time and money in the concerned police station and lower courts, he was able to have the authorities close the case and was then able to sell his car. But even after everything was done, he was not sure if all proceedings had been carried out legally and if the paper he had received was enough.

It is no surprise that when, quite recently, another friend’s car was stolen, he worked on ensuring that his vehicle was not recovered. Instead, he worked on getting the requisite paperwork from the concerned police station so that he could get his insurance claim processed and just buy a new car. He took a hit of a few hundred thousand rupees but he felt that the loss incurred was still more tolerable than the hassle of waiting for his car to be recovered and then going through the process of getting the FIR quashed etc.

Why do the police need the physical car as evidence even in this day and age? Could documents, photos and other evidence not be substituted for the original? There must other ways of dealing with the quashing of an FIR as well.

There has been a lot of talk, recently, of how new technology has been introduced at police stations and law enforcement, and how citizen help desks have been set up for almost everything. Yet, on issues that matter to the citizen, especially when it comes to interaction with the police station staff, almost nothing seems to have changed.

A couple of years ago, a gentleman I know was held up inside one of the ATMs he was visiting. The robbers made him use all his cards to their limit and left him poorer by a couple of hundred thousand rupees in the process. He had an FIR registered. As is usually the case, it took much effort to do so. The police asked him to get video recordings from the cameras at the ATM. The gentleman had to convince his bank to share the relevant video recording with the police station.

He visited the police station three to four weeks later to check on the progress that had been made on his case. To his astonishment, his photo was also displayed on the police station noticeboard as a wanted person. “Whoever was in the camera footage that we got, we have put their picture up. It is for the courts to decide who is guilty of these and who is not,” said the station house officer. The gentleman has never been back at the station and he has heard nothing about the case from the police. He is quite glad he has not heard back from the police.

Having facilitation desks, technology and new rules over and above an existing but archaic system does not solve problems. In fact, it complicates things further. If your car is stolen, Dolphin and other police personnel can be there in less than 10 minutes now. But if they still need an FIR first to be able to move, and the FIR is going to be registered in the old way, you are still giving the robbers a 36- to 48-hour head start, even if you are very connected. What is the point of new personnel and technology here?

Of late, I have been reading Osama Siddique’s new novel Snuffing Out the Moon. It is a historical fiction spread over six epochs: Mohenjodaro, Taxila, Jahangir’s time, 1857, 2009 and 2084. A key theme that runs through the novel is that irrespective of the form of government, the lack of space for citizens to participate effectively in governance or work out even decent, let alone optimal, governance arrangements for the people creates most of the problems that citizens face. Those in power seldom have an interest in addressing the issue, and so the citizens continue to struggle.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday August 11th, 2017.

Quality Assurance Process

Faisal Bari

A FRIEND driving a new Honda City that had travelled only 2,000 kilometres had a near miss on the motorway. One of the rear tyres burst while he was driving at 110 km per hour. He was very lucky that there was no traffic at the time and that he was able to keep the car under control as he pulled up to the edge of the road.

When I bought my last car four years ago, I remember the dealer explicitly told me to have the tyres changed and not to rely on the Pakistani company manufacturing them. When my friend told me about his incident, I asked him if he had been similarly advised by his car seller. He said that he had been given this advice but that he had ignored it. When my friend went to get the tyres of his vehicle changed, even the vendor said he should have had them changed as soon as he got the new car.

What is interesting is that clearly the tyre manufacturers are aware of this perception and the issue; a recent advertisement focuses on why people should not have the tyres of a new car changed. They clearly think that their tyres are good enough. But the perception in the market is divided: even if you do an internet search on the company and the quality of their product, you get a very divided opinion: some say the tyres are good, others feel they are not.

These tyres might indeed be good enough. I am not an expert in tyre technology to pronounce one way or the other. And if Pakistani car manufacturers, even when selling cars worth Rs 2.5-2.7 million, are using them, this must be after careful reflection. But it is surprising that even so, the strong perception about the tyres’ quality persists and several dealers still keep advising people they should get the tyres changed right after they buy a new car.

For me, the question here is different. Where is the regulatory structure of the country in all of this discussion? It would seem that we cannot believe the tyre manufacturers as they have an interest in selling their tyres. Neither can we give too much credence to the car manufacturers as it might be a regulatory requirement for them to use local tyres. So, who should we, the citizens of the country, rely on? Where is the local quality assurance mechanism and the local regulator? Do they not hear of stories about exploding tyres? Do they not even see advertisements on television that are talking of perceptions of tyre quality?

This is not the only product or the only time this issue has come up. It was only after a bus full of children had an accident in the Kallar Kahar area that it was revealed that the body-maker of the bus was at fault: the body was too soft and collapsed easily. When a number of children died in a CNG explosion in a van carrying children to school in Faisalabad, we found out that there are substandard tanks being used for CNG storage, and that sometimes installation of CNG kits is also of poor quality.

When a tanker spilled fuel on the road and over 200 people died in the fire that was caused, we came to know that most of the tankers that are being used to transport fuel across Pakistan are not safe and do not meet the quality standards that have been set for them. When buildings catch fire or collapse, we get to know that the construction was faulty or that fire regulations were ignored.

Though the issue of tanker safety is still being discussed this is largely because the incident is still fresh in the memory of people. In all of the other cases, we do not know what happened to the ‘investigations’ after the initial findings. Was anyone punished? More importantly, what was done to ensure better quality bodies for buses, better kits for CNG and better quality installation for these kits? If there were any changes, why have they not been communicated to the people? If history has any lesson, it is that nothing will come of the discussions about tanker safety. There will be some hue and cry, there will be some payments made to the injured and the families of the dead, and then all will be as it was.

So, when dealers tell me to change the tyres of a new car, should I not take that advice seriously even though it might just be an issue of perception? How can I distinguish the truth from falsehood here if it is my family and my life that are at stake? Should I be taking a risk for a few thousand rupees? If I can afford a car of Rs2m or so, why not get new tyres as well?

The issue is not just about cars, buses, tankers or buildings. It has to do with almost every product/service in the country. More effective or less, other countries do have many quality assurance mechanisms in place before products are allowed to reach the customers. And customers can invoke remedial measures when they feel that standards have been breached and/or when standards are not effective enough. We do not have any such assurance.

I do not know if the bottled water or milk I am drinking is safe, if the vegetables or meat I am having are safe or even if the medicines I am taking are at least of minimum acceptable quality. We do not have many options so we have to continue to use all items. But is it not high time for us, as a country, to think of creating more effective quality assurance mechanisms?

From the Dawn, Pakistan, Friday 28th July, 2017.

Making reforms work

Faisal Bari

HERE is an interesting puzzle to consider. There have been, in the last decade or so, literally dozens of reforms, large and small, that have been announced and implemented in the area of school education across all of the provinces of the country. Yet, at the end of it all, learning outcomes of children have virtually not improved. Government schools still have a pretty poor reputation. What could possibly explain this?

Reforms in the education area have been quite significant, deep and in almost all sub-sectors of education. Teacher entry requirements, modes of selection, salaries, posting, transfer and promotion systems have been changed. Teacher and school monitoring systems have been completely revamped. Student testing has been changed. Curriculum and books have been overhauled several times. Education budgets, for all provinces, have more than doubled in the last decade. We have documented more than 70 or 80 major reforms that have been implemented in school education departments across the country in the last decade or so. Think of any recommendation that you could want to make, large or small, and it is very likely that it has been tried in the education sector.

Data from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), based on testing of children from a very large sample from across all districts of the country, shows that there has been little or no improvement in student learning over the same period. There have been some gains in enrolment, especially at the primary level, but it is not clear if we will be able to sustain these gains as in recent times enrolment gains have also plateaued. It is not just ASER data that shows no gains in learning, even government examination results data, such as matriculation examination results and Punjab Examination Commission results of grade 5 and 8 examinations, also do not show any learning gains.

So, what has all the reform done and what will we have to do to improve learning?

If reforms had not been implemented at all or had not been implemented properly, the above mentioned situation would have made sense. Though it is hard to check on all of the reforms and there is some unevenness in how they have been implemented, a large percentage of the reforms mentioned have been implemented quite well. Teacher entry requirements, recruitment processes and salaries have increased significantly, teacher attendance has improved, school monitoring is better, student testing is being done regularly, and textbooks are being delivered in schools. We need to look elsewhere for a fuller explanation.

It is clear that some of the reform that has been done, across provinces, has little or nothing to do with student learning. There is no evidence, anywhere, that just distributing laptops or tablets to students or even teachers, or opening a small number of very expensive schools for a few children while the majority of children continue to attend regular government schools, improves student learning. But a number of provincial governments have continued with laptop distribution schemes and there are still schemes being implemented that are distributing tablets to teachers.

We need to build a much better feedback mechanism in our policy-making: policies should be based on some evidence and once policies are implemented, we need to know if they are achieving their objectives and if they are not, they need to be altered and/or tailored to ensure better results. Does giving laptops make any difference to learning? If not, should this be continued as an education programme?

Each reform could also have unintended consequences and these could work against getting the results we have been looking for. In the case of some reforms the unintended consequences are quite clear. As we raise teacher entry requirements from matriculation/intermediate and teacher certificate to bachelors/masters with an education degree, the base for teacher recruitment will become more urban, teachers from local community, in some communities, will be harder to recruit and the social distance, between teachers and students who attend government schools, will increase. This could work against the objectives on learning enhancement. As we introduce more tablets and internet-based material, it could work against teacher motivation.

It is, usually, not possible to work out all the consequences of a policy/intervention. We only know about them once an intervention has been implemented and there is data on consequences that can allow us to look at what the results were. The government needs to collect a lot of data on results. Once this data is available, learning from it can be organised. This brings us back to the issue of feedback loop and learning from experience. It does seem that bureaucracies find it difficult to be learning organisations. They need to figure out how to do course correction after initial action.

If raising teacher entry requirements is leading to higher social distance between teachers and students, can we alter pre-service and in-service teacher training to ensure better teacher socialisation and preparation? If traditional models of providing continuous professional development of teachers are not working, how can we re-design them to make them more effective? Policy change is a complex process and needs to be recognised as such. Strong data gathering and monitoring of results, based on initial interventions, is a must for effecting improvements in subsequent rounds.

Reforms have been pretty deep and extensive in the education area, and across provinces. But, so far, we have little to show for all the effort and expense that has gone in. This offers an interesting puzzle for us. It does seem that ‘systems’ level thinking might be a must to unravel this puzzle but this area requires a lot more thinking before we can be comfortable with the answers.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday July 14th, 2017.