Ali Gohar Chang, MEd ’07, could sense the tension in the air on his first day as principal of Public School, Sukkur (PSS) in July 2013.
Teachers hadn’t been paid for months and were on strike. Protests against the former principal had turned violent leading to police being called to the school. Parents were also hesitant to send their children to school and there was deep distrust between management and staff.
The school itself was rundown with many facilities lying abandoned due to a lack of maintenance. It was clear that the school needed wide-ranging reforms and Mr Chang stepped up to the challenge by conducting a thorough analysis of the school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Teachers are the foundation of every school and so he looked into the performance and issues faced by all of his teachers and put in place a plan to persuade them to take responsibility for the school’s future.
“They [the teachers] had a long-standing fear that being principal, I was with the management,” Mr Chang recalls. “But I explained to them that I come from a teaching background and I was on their side.” He then used a combination of the skills he learned while completing his master of education degree at AKU’s Institute for Educational Development (IED) to launch a training programme, to give constructive feedback to teachers about their classroom practices and to demonstrate the value of different teaching techniques.
His first meeting with teachers got off to a rocky start as they were unhappy about being called in during the summer vacations. But over the course of the three-hour meeting he succeeded in showing teachers how they could contribute to the school’s progress. With the teachers on board, Mr Chang set about implementing the next step of his vision for a school where parents and the community would be proud to enroll their children.
This would require investment from the institution’s stakeholders to resume salary payments and to finance an upgrade of the school’s facilities. When Mr Chang took over in July 2013, he learned that the school’s science labs had been locked for 10 years and that the school didn’t have a single computer lab. By working with Sindh government officials and a private sector university, the Institute of Business Administration, Sukkur, which had adopted the school; Mr Chang set about arranging the funds to revamp the school.
Over the next year, three IT labs with high speed internet were set up, advanced science labs were established and the process of renovating the school’s main building got underway. In 2014, Mr Chang also made IBA Sukkur Public School the only institution in the area to conduct in-camera examinations – a bold move aimed at tackling the rampant cheating culture in these institutions. This led to the government of Sindh designating the school as a model exam centre – a step which enhanced the school’s reputation.
PSS, now known as IBA Public School Sukkur, has 2,500 students: more than three times the number when Mr Chang took over. Parents are so eager to send their children to the school that a recent call for admissions saw 1,300 applications for just 200 seats.
It’s been more than five years since he joined the school and Mr Chang continues to ensure that teaching standards remain high and has introduced an in-house professional development programme for teachers – an initiative which he continues to lead.
Mr Chang credits his time at IED for his success, Chang said, “IED prepared me and gave me theoretical and practical understanding of education in the local and western context. The skills I developed there gave me the confidence that I can make a difference.
“My time at IED also improved my communication and leadership skills, my ability to plan, to convince others and to multi-task. These skills were crucial in helping me turn around the school.”
Mr Chang also appreciates the role played by one of his advisers, Professor Nisar Ahmed Siddiqui, director of IBA, Sukkur, for supporting him as he faced the many challenges at the school.