As an educationist, one ends up travelling a lot in connection with work in all provinces of Pakistan. This gives an opportunity to highlight what is right and wrong in the education sector in the country. Though mostly weaknesses are written about, sometimes one comes across an institution or a project that deserve positive coverage. A recent visit to Sukkur IBA (SIBA) was so pleasant that the readers must be aware of some good educational efforts being made in Sindh.
When I was teaching at the IBA Karachi in the 1990s, I remember Dr Nisar Siddiqui visiting our director Dr Abdul Wahab and meeting faculty members in his efforts to initiate an IBA Campus in Sukkur. It was the second government of Benazir Bhutto (1993-1997) in which she made tremendous efforts to enhance the quality of education in Sindh, especially at the tertiary level. Szabist in Karachi led by Dr Javed Leghari and Sukkur IBA led by Dr Nisar Siddiqui were two institutes of higher education that emerged in the late 1990s and opened new horizons for students in Sindh.
SIBA started its journey with an affiliation of the IBA Karachi and soon established itself as a pioneering institution in the north of Sindh that catered to the needs of students from that area. When Dr Abdul Wahab was unceremoniously removed from the directorship of IBA Karachi in 1999 by the then Sindh Governor, Mumnoon Hussain, gradually IBA lost its number one position in business education in Pakistan to LUMS in Lahore. Now it appears that if any other institute can challenge both the IBA Karachi and LUMS Lahore for the first slot, it has to be SIBA which is already the third best.
But before discussing the SIBA some background facts about Sindh which are not at all encouraging. For example, the results of Standardised Achievement Test (SAT) conducted by SIBA show that at the end of primary schooling in class five the achievement level stands only at 23 percent in mathematics, 32 percent in science and 23 percent in languages. Similar tests are also conducted by ASER, but in terms of robustness of testing methods and test administration, the SIBA reports are much more reliable and valid.
Apart from the usual programmes that other institutes offer, SIBA has at least three unmatched initiatives that make it superior to all others. The first is its Talent Hunt Programme that tries to enhance its outreach. As we know, hardly seven percent of the youth in Pakistan have access to university education. It is not sufficient just to increase the number of universities, especially when most students who pass their intermediate or class 12 exams from government colleges in Sindh, can hardly compete with a class 8 student from a good private school.
Three of the most damaging factors are cheating in exams, lack of resources in schools, and outdated curriculum. SIBA targets all three at the same time and with its effective interventions helps specifically those students who have been deprived because of their rural background. The Talent Hunt Programme of Sukkur IBA enables those students so that they can compete with students who have had better opportunities in private schools and larger cities. Since SIBA started its journey in the mid-1990s with just two classrooms in a public school, it was well aware what it was getting into.
Initially it faced high dropout ratio because it demanded maximum efforts from its students, just like IBA Karachi had done under Dr Abdul Wahab. Now, SIBA had two options: one, failing to get better students, drop its standards; two, initiate a new programme so that the intake could improve. Dr Abdul Wahab had done the same in the early 1990s when he initiated its Skills Development and Business English Programmes, and this writer had the opportunity to lead and run those programmes at IBA Karachi for eight years from 1992 to 2000.
Before SIBA started its Talent Hunt Programme, the dropout rate was over 50 percent but it declined gradually to just 15 percent after this initiative. A Zero-Semester concept was introduced for applicants aspiring to study at SIBA. This zero semester is a rigorous programme of capacity development in three important subjects i.e. English, computers, and mathematics. In comparison, IBA Karachi’s Skills Development Programme was more broad-based in the sense that it also prepared students on current economic and political affairs, geography, history, and international developments. SIBA’s zero semester is much more focused on the three areas mentioned above.
While the IBA Karachi charged fees, SIBA’s initiative provides financial support to students by not only sponsoring their tuition fees but also offers a monthly stipend of Rs4000, free books, accommodation, and transport. This has been running for over ten years now and has produced impressive results with the academic input from SIBA’s department of education.
The second unique initiative of SIBA is the concept of community colleges. We know that college education in Pakistan, and especially in Sindh, is one of the most neglected areas in which not even international donors are interested. Most education projects we see are either at the school education or at the tertiary education level, and the intermediate education is almost completely neglected. It is interesting to note that almost 0.2m students complete grade-12 education in Sindh every year, both from private and public schools. Of these, only 10-15 percent go to universities for higher education.
That means over 85 percent students drop out from the mainstream of education. SIBA’s community college initiative precisely addresses this concern and must be replicated by other provinces. It has established community colleges in various districts of Sindh to provide students with quality education and also to produce skilled workers. This is not a new concept in education in other countries as it caters to the needs of local communities in many countries where technical and further education is provided by community colleges. After graduating from community colleges, students can either proceed to higher education or find a gainful employment.
The third impressive initiative of SIBA is taking management control of Public School in Sukkur. Due to its deteriorating standards, the Public School in Sukkur was handed over to SIBA in 2012 after which it was renamed IBA-Public School in Sukkur. Within five years the school was transformed from a low-performing school to a role model school in the region. The first step was to appoint a properly qualified and experienced principal from the Aga Khan Education Service. Ali Gohar Chang joined the IBA-Sukkur Public School in 2013 and under the guidance of Dr Nisar Siddiqui and with the help from the department of education at SIBA, it has progressed well.
To conclude, we may highlight three important factors that have contributed to the success of SIBA. One, the ability for Dr Nisar Siddiqui to assemble a competent and hardworking team. Two, a focus on continuous professional development. Three, the availability of the latest computers and facilities to students and teachers alike. With these, any educational endeavour would succeed.