Case studies

The management of large-scale change in Pakistani education

United Kingdom academic research, November 2014

What are some of the considerations when rolling out global changes? Does inclusivity have a place in managing change across borders? Using a Pakistani-based study, this article looks at the outcomes of using an ‘off the shelf’ change management approach and how this impacts the implementation of the change. By Juliet Bourke - Consulting, Partner.

When organisations adopt reform policies developed in other countries, they often also ‘import’ their supporting change management strategies. This ‘one size fits all’ approach, with its embedded assumptions about how to ‘manage’ change, may or may not suit the social, cultural and political context of the adopting country.

Professor Christine Forde (School of Education, University of Glasgow) and University Associate, Jamila Razzaq, recently examined the impact of Pakistan’s adoption of a Western style education reform program, along with a Western style change management process.

In essence, the researchers found that the change management interventions used by the Pakistani Government failed to take into account Pakistan’s socio-economic and cultural complexities. As a result, the educational reform program, which was initially received positively, was unsuccessful. The research suggests that contextualizing change management processes to suit a local environment is critical to driving effective implementation.


The research explored change management in Pakistan through the experience and views of teachers involved in a large-scale educational reform program. The researchers set out to examine four areas:

  1. the perception and experience of the change initiative;
  2. the views of the teachers about the impact of the reform on students and teachers;
  3. the problems faced by the teachers in the implementation process and the strategies they used to resolve these 
  4. their suggestions for improvements to the current reform initiative and for any similar future programs.


Research data was collected from teachers in 20 high schools experiencing a centrally driven, externally mandated reform program in Pakistan in 2002. There were three phases to the data collection process including:

  1. 20 semi-structured interviews with head teachers
  2. an exploratory semi-structured questionnaire based on the data from the first phase and completed by 10 teachers
  3. a structured questionnaire generated from data in the second phase, completed by 120 teachers.


The researchers found that although the reform was initially perceived as positive by 58% of respondents, there were underlying flaws in the way the reforms were implemented at both the school and classroom levels. These flaws reflected a failure to adapt the reform program to suit the context, and in particular the socio-economic and political environment. In particular, Pakistan spends only 2.1% of its GDP on education, despite an adult literacy rate of 57%, resulting in a low quality of educational outcomes and poor quality teaching. Elements of the military rule remain strong in Pakistan and the education system continues to be under bureaucratic control. There is limited opportunity for democratic decision making and teachers depend on government direction and support to drive change.

The researchers presented three key elements to taking a more contextual, and inclusive approach, when managing change, namely (1) key stakeholder involvement; (2) key stakeholder training; and (3) the provision of resources and support at implementation. Each of these are described in more detail below.

1. Teacher (key stakeholder) involvement

Teachers were excluded from the planning and designing of the reform policy and the implementation strategy despite them being key to implementing the changes in the classrooms. Teachers saw the policy as ‘being removed from the existing structures and practices of the wider education system and from the ‘on the ground realities’ of the schools’. The lack of consultation meant that the reform failed to accommodate logistical issues, large class sizes and the actual time available in a term to teach the new content. Teachers also complained about the limited timely communication and information which caused there to be a ‘lack of understanding of the change’.

2. Teacher (key stakeholder) training

Teachers were not sufficiently trained during the implementation phase and accordingly there was a gap between teachers’ skills and the skills required to teach the new curriculum. The lack of training also meant that teachers did not feel prepared for implementation. With training being imperative to enabling readiness for change, teachers suggested more centralized training was required to improve the initiative and other similar future reforms.

3. The provision of resources and support at implementation

The teachers felt they did not have adequate resources and support to provide them with the capacity needed to implement the change in the classroom. Themes of inadequate funding, time and information were raised. Head teachers also asked for governmental guidance on the implementation as well as flexibility to allow their teachers to adapt the changes according to their situation. Teachers requested additional resources to help them perform their job in the classroom such as teaching materials and library resources.

These findings illustrate the assumptions embedded in the Western style reform program about the ease of implementation. In particular, more developed countries use change management processes to ‘enable and empower’ teachers through governmental guidance and support. That scenario is ‘is a long way off for nations like Pakistan struggling to ensure basic human rights for the poor and the marginalized majority’.

Finally, the teachers proposed ways that the change could have been managed more effectively to address the issues they raised. Out of the suggestions the researchers developed a model for future educational reform in Pakistan. A key feature to this model is inclusivity and leveraging knowledge from the ‘field’ to help ‘plan, shape and implement the change’. Change implemented in a more developed nation would take teacher engagement as a given, however, in the context of Pakistan, the engagement of those impacted was seen a ‘major leap and a breakthrough’. The other core features of the proposed model included comprehensiveness and a research-based approach. The model recommends using inclusivity to tailor wholesale change management methods, constructed by more developed countries, to drive effective change.


Rolling out reforms across borders with a homogenous change management approach, and little consideration of the local context, will reduce their effective implementation. No matter what the industry, businesses need to give high levels of attention to local voices in order to understand the local terrain and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. These insights have obvious resonance for Multi-National Companies, which often develop reform strategies in the centre for implementation in the regions. The discipline of “change management” focusses on helping people to understand and implement a change initiative, and investment in their early engagement will help create an approach which builds on dominant change processes and reflects the social, cultural and political nuances of the country implementing the change.

To read the full article, see Razzaq, J and Forde C. (2014) “The management of large-scale change in Pakistani education” School of Leadership and Management, Vol. 34, No. 3 (2014), pp.299-316.

For additional information on the study see, Razzaq, J. (2012) “Management of Educational Change in Pakistani Educational Institutions.” PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.


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