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Army Public Schools and Colleges System: RISING AND SHINING.

Byline: Shama Saeed - Email: director@apsacssectt.edu.pk

Pakistan Army has always been in the forefront in nation-building. Apart from being the defenders of the frontiers, the armed forces have always rendered reckonable services in times of crises in the history of the country. In the process, the officers and soldiers render supreme sacrifices and display a spirit far beyond the call of duty. It is seldom realized that in their prime years, they, alongwith their families, have to serve in remote and under-developed areas braving the hardships of non-availability of basic facilities like health and education. With the resolve of not to be thwarted by deprivation, the army formations have devised their own self-supporting systems.

It was in this spirit that during the early seventies, some army wives got together to open a small school for the neighborhood children. The seed for the Army Public Schools had been sown. This courageous initiative was taken up by many others and 'little' schools sprang up all over the army garrisons. Housed in makeshift rooms with bare essentials these schools excelled in providing quality education and personalized attention. Through these small beacons, the light of education spread to the remote corners of the country, the names of which many people have never heard. We need to salute and laud those pioneers who struggled against all odds with dedication to a cause they believed in.

Within a few years these self-sustaining schools thriving on improvisation in the face of paucity of resources, blossomed and became large institutions which kept not only the army children school going but opened new vistas of awareness and opportunity for the deprived local populace, that was also provided with quality education at the doorstep at nominal cost.

Many of these institutions moved up to SSC levels, some even to HSSC whereas a few offered GCSE courses also. For SSC, HSSC and GCSE these schools (and colleges) were affiliated with the FBISE and CIE (Cambridge International Examinations). At the Junior, Primary and Middle levels, however, these schools had become a jumble of freelance experimentation in education. Every school followed its own academic calendar, curriculum and assessment system, even school uniforms and stationery materials varied from school to school. With frequent turnover of school heads, vision, mission, objectives and expected learning outcomes of syllabi kept on changing, within the schools as well as from one school to the other. Some schools located in urban hubs were islands of excellence, whereas those in far-flung areas were like rudderless ships tossing in the dark, seeking direction.

It was repeatedly observed that the stress of movement from one station to the other due to exigencies of service increased manifold due to lack of uniformity and standardization in available army schools. The wards of army personnel felt an acute financial and emotional trauma as they continuously struggled to adjust from one system of education to another.

Over the years, a need for a uniform standardized system of education in all army schools was acutely felt. Lt Gen (R) Arif Bangash as IGT&E, got the Manual of Army Public Schools/Colleges 1991 published which was the first step in this journey. In the late 90s, efforts were made by a panel of army wives formed by the COAS to make recommendations to streamline the procedures in the Army Public Schools. The major thrust in this direction, however, was made when Mrs Aziza Hyat, wife of the VCOAS, took on this challenge. The APSAC System was created by the COAS on 3rd October 2005 to create uniformity in Army Public Schools and develop a futuristic approach to education through a standardized curriculum, assessment and examination system and teacher training programmes. Mrs Hyat was appointed the first director and she, with a core team of a handful dedicated educationists, inked the first words on a blank sheet of paper that would become the foundation of APSAC System.

The COAS Directive of 2005 defines very clearly the concepts, goals, organization and functions of APSAC System. All Army Public Schools and Colleges "were to be integrated and reformed into a leading education system capable of imparting international quality education at affordable rates".

The Board of Governors with the COAS as the Chief Patron is the supra policy-making body of APSAC System. The Executive Committee headed by the IGT&E as its Chairman has representatives from every Region (Corps) as its members. It is expected to meet at least once a year or more as desired by the Chairman. It is a potent platform where a report is presented by Director APSACS, progress is reviewed and future policy guidelines are given, based on feedback from the Regions.

For effective management, administrative and financial control in all matters, such as admissions, appointments of Regional Coordinators, Principals and school staff, salaries and fee structures, as well as routine day-to-day matters, rests with the formations that carry out these functions through their Governing Bodies. The management of all technical matters of education such as Academic Calendar and schedules, Curriculum Development, Assessment and Examination System, Training Programmes, Monitoring and Evaluations, recommendations for opening new schools and their registrations rests with the APSACS Secretariat.

The APSAC System with a total of 111 notified and 21 de-notified schools is one of the largest school systems in Pakistan. It has a student population of more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand with more than seven thousand teachers. It is divided into 11 Regions. The Regional Offices are "an extension of APSAC Secretariat" to ensure execution of the policies/directives of the Secretariat. Headed by Regional Coordinators, they are an important link between the schools, formations and the Secretariat. The Executive Committee is the forum where all these different organs of APSAC System come together on one platform with the purpose of creating harmony between the planners, implementers and the target audience.

APSACS Secretariat is an autonomous body that works within the ambit of the Executive Committee (ref COAS Directive). To fulfil the mandate given to the Secretariat of "four key areas i.e. curriculum/syllabus, schedules, examinations and teacher trainings", three Departments Curriculum Planning & Development, Assessment & Examinations, Training & Evaluation were set up in 2005. Later on Departments of Computer Research & Resource, and Review & Quality Assurance were added. Information Technology Cell is currently being established to develop and maintain AMS (APSACS Management Software). The Coord-Office headed by the Chief Coordinator, co-ordinates the internal working of the Secretariat as well as liaises with the IGT&E Branch and Regional Offices.

Facilitation of frequently moving wards of army personnel through uniformity in all procedures and policies is the reason of our existence. In the sixth year of its life APSACS Secretariat can look back with satisfaction at having been able to achieve the goals placed before it, as it continuously moves towards new horizons.

As a first step guidelines were provided to Regions to set up a uniform user-friendly school organogram based on optimum utilization of resources. Job descriptions for school administrators, high, middle leaders and teachers, were developed with supportive record-keeping Registers. Guidelines in detail were also provided for physical ethos and environment, class strength, layout of classrooms and utility of ancillary staff.

The backbone of the system which reflects the theme of uniformity is the APSACS Academic Calendar. Issued every year it has details of Orientation days for parents, Teaching and Revision Weeks, Assessment and Examination dates, Result Days, Parent-Teacher Meetings, Extra Curricular Activities' schedules as well as Holidays and school timings. This detailed pre-planning is undertaken to enable schools and parents to plan activities/commitments around the school programmes. School and College uniforms, textbooks and notebooks, are the same across the system and once bought can continue to be used, regardless of where the student has moved. The Student Diary re-designed every year, has been developed as a very valuable link between teachers and parents.

It contains forms which when filled by parents give vital information to the teacher about the child, which can be used in any emergency; and equally important information is given to the parents about important dates of the Academic Calendar, as well as day-to-day progress of the child. Student Dossiers have been designed to contain progress reports and other important record of the student. Student Dossiers are to be maintained by the school office, and facilitate transfer from one school to the other; all records are to be continued in the new school.

The main focus of APSACS Secretariat has been to formulate a system of quality education. This is not possible without improvement in teaching, learning and assessment methodologies, to attain the benchmarks that international standards demand. There are no two opinions of what quality education is, and the need to achieve it. In the beginning unfamiliar procedures like conceptual teaching, ongoing assessments and student-centred classrooms gave rise to apprehensions in schools as the comfort level that they had developed of familiar methodologies seemed challenged. APSACS Secretariat through its robust training programmes has assisted and empowered schools to accept the need of doing away with old archaic methods and move ahead to keep up with the fast pace of new trends in education, so that our students come up to the desired norms of international standards in today's world.

The biggest challenge for us is to absorb the high turnover of trained teachers, which being outside the purview of the Secretariat, hampers our growth.

Formulations of policies cannot make a difference till they are backed by intensive training, monitoring and motivation through recognition of high achievers. That is the road on which the APSAC System is now travelling. Formations have provided students with state-of-the-art custom-made school buildings and an impeccable administrative structure. There is no reason for APSACS not to be able to provide the best quality of education in the country. It is a dream of every parent to see their child achieve the grades that will merit an entry into professional colleges and positions in the competitive job market of the 21st century. It is for all of us to ensure that their dreams come true.

This is the first of a series of articles aimed at providing orientation to parents, the most important component of the learning triangle, about the APSAC System and the facilitation that is available to APSACS students.

Shama Saeed

The writer has been associated with APSAC System since 2005 as Head of Assessment & Examination Department (2005-2007) and Director APSACS from 2007 to date.
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Publication:Hilal
Date:May 31, 2011
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