Seniority above competence

Every year, high-performing schools, teachers and students in Gilgit-Baltistan are given awards on the occasion of the World Teachers Day (Oct 5). Comprehensive assessment tools for the three categories were developed 10 years ago outlining the relevant performance indicators to facilitate the selection and to keep the process beyond bias.

This year, I was also a member of one of the evaluation committees for the selection of the best school, the best teacher and the best students, and spent three days visiting different government primary, middle and high schools for boys where interviews with headmasters and teachers were conducted. The visits allowed me a chance to observe some of the key factors in the assessment criterion. The interviews with headmasters, for instance, made me think of what appointments made on the basis of mere seniority can do to a system.

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Except a few, most schools were facing multiple challenges, such as low academic performance of students, weak leadership and management practices, and lack of teachers’ commitment to their jobs. Not many were using lesson plans or keeping track of the daily diary routine, and the students’ progress report were not being kept updated.

In addition, most of the schools were running without proper direction/vision or a school development plan. A number of schools’ elementary board examination results were found to be dismal. The low student performance can be related to poor services and inefficient inputs delivered by the subject teachers during the academic year.

However, some schools were better with relatively better students’ academic achievements, well-furnished classrooms, clean and green environment, and availability of potable water. Besides, there was proper record-keeping and the school development plan could be seen displayed in the office of the headmaster.

When I analysed the reason for the success of these schools, it was all about the quality of leadership available at any given school. Review of studies also indicated and authenticated the critical role of school leadership behind every improvement initiative. The schools with low performance were being led by teachers who had been promoted as headmasters on the basis of their length of service — seniority, in other words — without having any leadership and management training.

In most of the well-functioning schools, however, empirical data indicated efficient leadership and management practices because the headmasters had relevant background or natural inclination towards such a role. In fact, some of them were appointed through the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC).

Likewise, officials are promoted as district education officers (DEOs) and director of education (DE) on the basis of seniority, not competence. This is causing institutional decay, leading to poor performance and service delivery.

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The relevant authorities should have a well-informed policy related to the promotion of teachers as school heads at government schools where seniority may well be one of the factors, but not the sole factor. Competence, judged on merit, should be the key factor. This will allow the individuals to raise the bar and prepare better students for higher studies.

KARIM MUHAMMAD KHAN

NOMAL, GILGIT-BALTISTAN

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