Syeda Fatima Zaidi
EVERY citizen of Punjab, deserves an equal representation in the policy making process. Policy decisions based on mere self-experiences and observations are illogical, rather unjust. Recognizing the essence of data-driven and evidence-based policy and practice, Punjab has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. A province of 110 million people is marching towards a scientific and impartial representation of its individuals.
In further bridging disconnect between research, policy and practice, through its unwavering support, Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) iselated to connect the Punjab’s School Education Department (SED) with the LUMS School of Education (SOE). While SED manages over 50,000 public schools across Punjab and implements province-wide Education reforms roadmap, SOE aims to be a thought leader in the education sector. Today, as both these institutions bind into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), empowered data cooperation leading towards need-driven and timely research for representative policymaking and informed practice seems possible.
This partnership is an unprecedented step in Pakistan. It aims to diminish the mismatch between research priorities and expectations and garnish a collaborative effort benefiting both, the government and researchers. While ensuring suitable-timed research feeds as answers to policy questions at hand, data repositories with the government are being made accessible for open yet purposeful research. Simultaneously, for embedding research capabilities, SOE is set to build both human and technical resource expertise within SED. In future, SOE’s professional education institute will help train existing as well as upcoming policy makers and practitioners for adopting evidence-based approach in policy development and implementation.
Fulfilling the need for localized and actionable data remained a consensus amongst all key stakeholders (including government, donors, advisors, researchers, academics and practitioners) throughout the inception and execution of Punjab’s widely acknowledged‘ Parho Punjab Barho Punjab’ Education reforms roadmap. Consequently, from initially setting up monthly tablet-based school-level data, it is now rapidly progressing towards real-time student-level tagging. For implementing targeted and localized interventions to bring out of school children into school, comparing schools data with household-level social and demographic indicators is also underway. After long, given an almost equal share of the private schools in Punjab, a province-wide census is also conducted. Moreover, comprehensive feedback loops in the form of telephonic hotline and field observations regularly feed into policy formulation and corrective mechanisms.
Despite being public, most of the aforementioned data remains largely under utilized in RCTs and research studies, through our collaboration with SOE, Punjab invites finest researchers from both Pakistan and across the globe to undertake research and effectively contribute towards solving pressing problems and refining existing interventions in the education sector.
The political cloud encompassing this partnership is resolutely supportive of evidence-based policy and practice. Proposals lacking statistical evidence in support and missing impact assessments during implementation receive little recognition from the Chief Minister in Punjab. With a common ambition of driving up socio-development indicators, the government is eagerly eyeing answers every day. As opening up data supports this voyage, there is unabridged willingness in extending access. Further support lies in facilitating research teams in the field.
Transferring this mindset across the delivery chain is a challenge. It requires, from district administrators to school teachers, to make well informed choices. Dissipating purpose during implementation defeats the cause driving even the most marvellous of policies. We are consistently exerting for all stakeholders involved in delivery to learn and adopt this policy process. Enabling purposeful research at the corresponding granularity levels for prompt decision making also remains a primary objective.
Coherence between the government and research organizations can significantly contribute towards Punjab’s development and prosperity. Globally, leading academic institutes and think tanks continue to provide advice to governments. They have led the change through their innovative findings. Despite the existence of divergent groups insisting on researchers to either be scholarly or policy relevant, research can simultaneously serve the immediate advisory needs as well as find thoughtful explanations to its long term objectives. In presence of growing domestic academic, research and advocacy institutes, synchronizing their efforts for deciphering policy and governance challenges faced by the government can be incredibly impactful. This partnership with SOE will pave way for similar alliances. The government has initiated a giant step forward; the ball now lies in the court of researchers.
As the Education reforms progresses towards its set targets of enrolment, teaching quality and school infrastructure, moving forward, developing in-house research and development capacity will be crucial for Punjab’s School Education Department (SED). In some of the developed education systems, recommendations for reinventing schooling stress on the cruciality of continuous research and path adjustments. Nurturing similar expertise within SED will not only enable localized and contextualized research but also prevent the reforms from hitting a standstill, in future. Collaboration with SOE also promises to deliver on this transition while establishing a cooperative framework to benefit those who are responsible: the government; those who matter: students and teachers; and those who must progress: the society.