Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms is planning to convert existing educational institutions in Islamabad to smart schools and colleges. The project will include online learning platforms and blended learning solutions as part of the ‘smart’ upgradation plans.
The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) recently approved the project, tasking the Federal Directorate of Education, Islamabad (FDE) with the implementation of the smart schools project.
The Smart School Project
The project aims to bring different smart elements to the schooling system like an online learning platform, which will allow students from class 3 to 5 to access a range of instructional material related to their studies. Detailed online diagnostic assessments about students will be available via blended learning. Teachers will go through computer-based training sessions to improve their technical skills as well.
During the pilot phase of the project, 24 schools and colleges (where required infrastructure is available) in Islamabad will get the new facilities. Boys and girls’ schools will get an equal representation during the pilot phase.
Over 5000 Students to Avail New Services
Each school which will be getting the facilities has 220 students on average. During the first phase, only students of classes III, IV and IV will get the services. The total number of students positively affected by the services will be 5,272.
The second phase of the project will see students of classes VI, VII, VIII and an 40 additional schools get the IT facilities, summing up to a total of 14,000 students by 2018.
Implementation & Costs
Project implementation will take place during school working hours to increase student and teacher involvement. All of the implementation tasks will be approved and supervised by the Principal of each school or college.
The total cost of the first phase of the project is projected at Rs 498 million, which will be sponsored by the Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD). Rs 100 million have also been allocated in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) of 2015-2016. The second phase of the project is stated to cost about Rs. 556 million.
Unresolved Issues and Problems
The Education section of the Ministry and members of Planning Commission have raised some concerns prior to the project’s approval. The initial plan lists that each desktop computer for the computer labs will cost Rs 80,000 and come with a dedicated UPS which will cost another Rs 300,000. A price tag of Rs 380,000 per computer is outrageous to say the least. These prices reflect an abnormal cost for a normal professional PC. The same goes for the UPS, which should cost at least 10 times less than the mentioned price.
The ministry has not mentioned the specs of any of the hardware but has allocated 80% of the budget to it. Smart school project depends on the software, i.e. online learning platform, online students monitoring, smart equipment programming, but it only gets less than 1% of the whole budget. If we are being honest, just making computer labs operational and directing students to Khan Academy would be more beneficial.
600 tablets are planned to be purchased which will be shared by 2 students per classroom. However, these tablets cost Rs 30,000 each (without any mention of its model) and there is no explanation of the gains that such devices bring to the computer labs.
The Planning Commission has asked to let go of video conferencing equipment and interactive smart boards costing Rs 22.5 million and Rs 6.75 million respectively. They show little benefit for such young students. Despite the complete work out of Civil Work Quantities, all of the costs and prices mentioned by the FDE are on a lump sum basis. Several other issues have also been pointed out by the Planning Commission and the education department.
Upgrading computer labs and improving the standard of education in schools has been due for a long time. What’s more necessary is to update the curriculum to develop the learning process. The smart schools initiative is a step in the right direction.
The impact of online learning for students of class 3 to 5 and video-conferencing facilities for students is debatable. The success of this pilot project during the next 4 years will determine the fate of the expansion of this project. We hope that it is replicated by other provincial governments as well in order to bring Pakistan’s schooling standards in line with the 21st century.
It is also a fact that the government has failed to let the FDE work with stability. During the last 27 months, the government has appointed 12 different director generals in FDE, hindering its work. Since it is the responsible body for implementing the project, it is hoped that it can carry out its work without interference.