Teaching in Pakistan

Recently Janet Strivens and I visited the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan for two weeks as part of a British Council funded INSPIRE project. INSPIRE stands for International Strategic Partnerships in Research and Education.  These are 3 year partnerships set up to develop closer multi-level links between Pakistan and UK universities. They  require the involvement of different activities and different departments.

Our project’s overall aim is to ‘enhance learning and teaching in medical education in the Punjab’.  Just a bit of background, UHS is a ‘hub’ university and administers the examinations for medical education throughout the Punjab, that’s 30 affiliated Medical and Dental institutions, both public and private, in Pakistan’s most influential province, population 80m.  So the potential for impact is significant!
The challenge is to make sustainable, locally owned improvements that last beyond the duration of the project.  We’re working on systemic enhancements, one of the most tangible being an introductory teaching programme for all new medical educators that will be delivered locally by qualified staff and at an international standard.  With staff from throughout the Punjab we’ve been agreeing on programme content with critical thinking, active learning and using technology getting plenty of interest.  Paul Duvall also came and taught for one week and has posted his E-learning experiences at elearning@liverpool.

Links between the universities are strengthening in other areas.  We have just reached agreement for 10 PhD students per year, for the next five years, to come to Liverpool to study.  They will come primarily to the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences in areas most likely to contribute to health improvement in Pakistan and that are aligned to UoL’s strategic research areas. In addition, staff from UHS have visited the university to discuss our experiences and systems in Knowledge Exchange and innovations in Medical Education. It’s an example of a teaching based project contributing to several of the University’s strategic goals and making a valued contribution in an important region for the university’s international reach.

As part of the visit Janet and I went to four regional universities to run seminars.  This took us from the south near to a desert area, to the industrial heartland and finally to a more mountainous region.  Wherever we went we were very warmly welcomed and treated to the renowned Pakistani hospitality, which involves plenty of official ceremonies, photographs and excellent food.

We managed to make local and national press. Clearly Pakistan attracts negative headlines in the world press but we were kept very secure and not able to go out and about.  Nevertheless we got a sense of a fascinating and complex country. We are learning how to adapt our UK systems and experiences to a new context, as it is essential not to attempt to just transplant our ‘ways of doing things’.  This means getting to grips with Pakistani traditions and practices in medical education, understanding how staff are rewarded and motivated and working out how the university system operates.  Only then can we usefully discuss how we can adapt our programmes to local needs, build in sustainablilty and local ownership, whilst ensuring international standards.  Not surprisingly this involves lots of meetings, lots of listening and plenty of tea :).

It’s been a  brilliant experience for us and it would be great to hear from others with comparable experiences.

Ian Willis

See University news item. recent visit of UHS Vice Chancellor