Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), the land endowed with the glorious peaks of K2, Nanga Parbat, Mashabrum, RakaPoshi along with 7,000 glaciers, is determined to scale new heights through holistic education reforms.It all began in April 2022 when a chief secretary deeply committed to education was posted in G-B and emanated historic transformations. This was evident when I was visiting schools in G-B this week and witnessed holistic academic and non-academic practices in academic institutions, observing ‘what works and why’. Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, the chief secretary of G-B, is a reformer to the core with a vision of excellence in education and learning, entitlements through technology and STEM, and empowerment through devolved governance supported by trust. He is the epitome of ‘bureaucratic will’ driven by evidence, system and outcome-based reforms. As a seasoned civil servant, he well-informed about the possibilities and limits of working within systems along with teams and key stakeholders. His mission has been to transform the education system in G-B – ensuring that schools are safe and functional, teachers are adequate and supported for active teaching, technology and STEM is an entitlement, and that all children are healthy, stimulated and confident to learn, matched by progressive financing. Within one year, he has initiated various robust reforms in G-B’s almost 1,800 schools enrolling quarter of a million students – be it in STEM tech, afternoon free coaching, improving school infrastructure with additions in sports /IT/library/ science facilities, devolving extraordinary powers to cluster head teachers, ensuring nourishing and holistic formative assessments.
Courageous and caring to the core, he reconstructed a girls’ school that was tragically torched by unidentified assailants within a day and proceeded to hold the school’s winter sports gala as planned even when extremist groups threatened with dire consequences. These bold actions by the administrative chief were greatly appreciated and applauded by the people of the region, especially grateful parents who were ‘so happy to see reforms in education for the first time in G-B’s history and were hopeful of a bright future for their children’.
Such lasting reforms must be backed by skills in finance and accountability, and Wani knew this well. He provided all head teachers and principals who are Drawing and Disbursement Officers (DDOs) with the authority to receive and spend funds to fulfil the required needs of their schools. The reform, notified on March 10th, 2023, is built on an existing building block which has not only empowered the DDOs with responsibility of enhanced financial, administrative and performance appraisal powers, but also for postings and transfers of staff/ teachers (up to grade BPS-18). By devolving practical and strategic authority to the local level, the reform instantly reduced the stress on the system.
During my visit of the schools, I noticed additions to support teacher adequacy which was appreciated by students and principals alike, however, it was the addition of a ‘tech fellow’ for enhancing skills in IT, STEM, coding for grades 6-8 that was greatly appreciated for giving students the opportunity to live in the 21st century. Moreover, students are also being offered small grants for enterprise to encourage them.
In addition to these improvements, a comprehensive policy handbook has been approved for schools in order to ensure rigid policy alignment.
The aforementioned reforms have boosted confidence in G-B’s students who previously felt like nobody cared for their present and future. One student happily shared: