Baela Raza Jamil — profile of an academician | Pakistan Today

Baela Raza Jamil — profile of an academician

Perhaps it was not so surprising that Baela Raza Jamil, who spent most of her childhood protesting against the schools she was sent to, would eventually land up in the field of education herself, trying her best to improve the standards of the system itself.
Born in 1956, Baela grew up as the daughter of a well-known lawyer Raza Kazim and his wife, both belonging to completely different backgrounds; one from a Shia family while the other from a Sunni family, one from Sitapur and the other from Ferozpur.
While her mother was a homely and all-encompassing kind of a person, pleased to do things for her family, her father was a ‘radical’, as Baela puts it herself, with a fierce leftist ideology and a passion to ‘change the world’.
Apart from this, both of Baela’s grandfathers (paternal and maternal) lived in the same house so all her extended family too lived together with them: she always had easy access to her cousins, aunts and uncles.
For Baela and her siblings therefore, to grow up in such diverse surroundings, where they encountered different ideas, thoughts and personalities, they integrated perfectly into their surroundings.
In short, with the kind of environment they came from, nothing was too out of the ordinary. There was as much dissimilarity in the world as there was similarity, people came from different backgrounds, socio-economic classes, had different interests, ideas and had their own distinct mannerisms. For Baela and her siblings, this was perhaps that first lesson she learnt inevitably and accepting this was the most natural phenomenon for her.
“I remember that every night there used to be some gathering at our house with my father,” she reminisces. “There would be Faiz sahib, Aijaz Battalvi, Major Ishaaq. And they used to be reading out things, talking or joking, playing cards, listening to music. It was such fun. Everyday, without exaggeration was like a fun day.”
There were horrible times too when her father, a radical communist activist, was often picked up and sent to prison, sometimes for up to three days.
“I dreaded hearing that horrible knock up on the door in the dead of the night,” says Baela, her soft brown eyes hardening to counter that memory. In 1961, Baela’s father, on a spontaneous decision, moved to Karachi where Baela experienced her first school, ridiculously named ‘Jack and Jill’, run by a British woman. Hardly had a week passed by, when the four year old Baela made a huge ruckus.
“I was always an aggressive child, and making a noise about something which I didn’t like was incredibly easy to me,” laughs Baela. “Me and one of my sisters were termed naughtier than the boys around by everyone at home.” The infamous Radiant Way English Reader that almost every child has read at primary school, was the last straw for Baela. “Why do we have to read about things that don’t happen in Pakistan?” she later asked her parents.
Later, her mother and uncle dropped Baela and her other sister to St Davies boarding school at Murree, one of the best schools around. But this too did not do the trick. “They were obviously heaving signs of relief boarding me and my sister up because we were the most aggressive,” smiles Baela. “But one week later I packed my bag and told my father if you are coming to pick us up we will walk out of here ourselves.” Having already done that once, and returning home non-chalantly enjoying a gola ganda (and later having her ears boxed for doing it), Baela’s father immediately had the girls brought home.
As a child, Baela’s rejection of the system is uncommon for those her age. Nevertheless, it signifies that education, reading and what she learnt (especially coming from a highly educated family circle), was incredibly important to her and she had the skills and intelligence to understand what she would not accept.
“I would not study in a school where they were still suffering from colonial hangovers and used to charge me Rs 10 for speaking in Urdu!,” says Baela.
“Even in Kinnaird College, I would be able to see the distinct demarcation of the girls in class, with the Cambridge English girls in front and the Inter System Urdu medium girls at the back.” In 1971, Baela went abroad to England to study and at the age of 15, she was beginning to face some U-turns in life. Back in Pakistan Gen Zia had once again imprisoned her father, this time for 18 months.
“It was at this time I began to think about myself, about who I was, my identity, what I wanted to do in life,” says Baela. “The age of 15 to 21 was a tremendous struggle and I studied a lot, especially to cut away my loneliness in this new place, and I tried very hard to understand my identity. At the same time, I did not want to be the kind of person who did not fit into a new environment.
So in Atlanta where I was staying and which had a bloody history, I learnt and I could understand it and so I became a part of Atlanta too.” Her work in education began in UNICEF, where she was offered to work as a program officer for education, women, and children in vulnerable circumstances. This was when she started becoming interested in the education system in Pakistan.
“UNICEF was a good place but I wanted to have more say in policy making because that is the real thing,” she says. “But since the organization was going through changes itself, I left. Out of a sudden, I got a call from Bristol University who needed a senior education advisor for some work in Faislabad’s urban slums.”
The work description appealed to Baela but she was adamant in getting a position of decision-making. “What is the point of researching and working and reaching a conclusion about flaws in a system but not having the power to see they are mended?” she asks.
In 1995, she joined the task force on education in Punjab where she was given some say in policy work but two years later moving to sindh, she joined the Sindh Education Foundation with Anita Ghulamali, an expert in Education. “I term these years from 1991 to 2000 as my most learning years,” she says. “I worked on a lot of things: design, policy, implementation, etc.
Major programs were expanded, more funds were brought in, money which was previously being wasted was now being utilized in the right places. Even more people joined in. So this experience at SEF was a success.”
Then Baela began thinking of setting up her own organization in 2000. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi was created in 2000, which started with a project based on the Sindh’s adopt-a-school. This meant taking a run down government school and changing them around.
Perhaps the major changeover came during 2000-4 when Baela became Technical Advisor to federal education minister. When asked why she agreed to work in the cabinet of a military dictator, she says, “I have seen a lot of negativity during democratic regimes, so I was open minded even now. In any case, I was not working for him. I was working for the ministry not the minister.”
She instantly got rid of PC1, a dehumanizing process of getting funds from the federal government to the provincial government. Now funds were directly given to the Punjab government at the very beginning, all at once, after which they did not need to ask for more. At one of the inter-provincial ministerial forums, Baela also presented a paper on curriculum and reforms in education, which was appreciated by many.
“The design of education is so obscenely wrong,” says Baela. “If there are bout 1 lakh primary schools, and only 14,000 middle level schools, what you are doing is throwing away the rest of the primary graduates and are wasting them! Then we have a defected implementation system of two teachers, two rooms. This is very impractical.”
But she is more positive about the 2006 national curriculum. “Our curriculum is not that bad,” she says. “We have to work on aligning text books with the curriculum and upgrading the status of the board exam.”
It is a myth she says that the prevailing education systems should become one. There are very few Cambridge graduates, and far more matriculation graduates.
Who is more important for us to focus on? “Open the black box of Boards and ask them why they are not upgrading themselves? Why are incompetent people sitting on top? Also the 18th Amendment I think is a great chance for us to implement many of the strategies that are ready for implementation. Let me just clarify one thing. This can never be a myth: 100 percent people want good education. Let’s respect the rights of the citizens.”


  1. Aneeq Zaman said:

    "ridiculously named ‘Jack and Jill’" hahaha

    “Why do we have to read about things that don’t happen in Pakistan?” she later asked her parents.
    haha I am a fan of her now. Great lady!

    • Xari said:

      She most definitely is, Aneeq. A great, dynamic lady with steel courage and strength. Very admirable.

  2. shumaila said:

    She is a great lady, not in her thought but also in character. i like her very much.

  3. TEHMINA said:


  4. Shukri Rehman said:

    No doubt SEF is a great place for those who aspires to learn and do some good work for this country. I have had an honor of working with Ms. Baela at SEF and observed that during 20 years of SEF history in most occasions SEF has benefited from Ms. Baela experiences:-)

  5. ali dastgir syed said:

    like a father like a daughter.This is truely most educated family of pakistan.

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