When I was working on my book The Tyranny of Language in Education I would visit Orangi quite frequently to study the methods of pedagogy in the schools there with reference to the language of instruction. Those were the days when there was much talk about ghost schools.
One day I requested Abdul Waheed Khan, the founder of Naunehal Academy in Baldia, and a very fine man who was shot dead in 2013, if he could show me a ghost school. He agreed willingly.
The very next day he took me to a Peela School, as government schools are referred to. Their buildings are painted yellow. It appeared to be huge with a big compound as most public sector schools in Karachi are. The gate was bolted from the inside. Waheed knocked and banged on the gate till someone came and let us in. To my surprise the place was deserted. There was not a single child to be seen on the premises though it was mid-morning when we landed there.
On enquiring, we were informed by the person who had received us that the children were not there but the headmaster who was taking a shower would soon receive us. We strolled around as we waited and it became clear to us that there was no evidence of the school being functional.
When the headmaster made his appearance with a towel round his waist, he informed us that the children had gone home. I was intrigued by the absence of furniture in the school. The upper storey was occupied by the headmaster’s family as we could make out from the curtains fluttering from the window. I didn’t think it appropriate to inspect his home though I was certain that some of the missing furniture would be found there.
The headmaster had the temerity to ask me for a donation! It seemed to be a cruel joke. How could anyone cheat little children of their right to education, I thought? Later, I saw in the Sindh school census report (for the year 2010) that Sindh had 9,000 such institutions. Other provinces also had their share of ‘dysfunctional’ schools, to use the term the government preferred.
In Sindh the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism was also dubbed the visa system. It meant that the absent teacher had succeeded in getting a job abroad and had left the country subletting his position to a junior not qualified for the job.
In another case the headmaster had been sent on deputation to mind the kitchen of the local wadero (landlord). One feature common in all such cases was the connivance of the education department. Without its cooperation, no teacher can take the liberty the teaching staff is known to take.
For long the erroneous belief was that teachers have been degraded — they are poorly paid, they don’t enjoy any respect in society and are not properly trained. But these are myths. Hefty pay increases — most who have long years of service earn six digit monthly salaries — quick promotions and their jobs being conditional on teachers’ training should have given them the status in society they have always yearned. That has not happened.
The fact is that most teachers in Pakistan lack motivation. Corruption is rife and inefficiency is the norm. The good teachers are in a minority and are overshadowed by the incompetent majority lacking integrity.
One may well ask how they get away with it. The fact at the heart of this greatest farce of education is the government’s concern for the teachers’ interests. The rulers care for the teachers not because they care for the education of the children. Rulers only care for themselves and in this age of democracy when teachers do election duties they are the favourites of the rulers. They count votes. They guide the voters. They can make or break governments.
Demands have been made in the past that teachers should not be engaged in election duties. But no party has made the move to end the practice. Stakes are high. Even rules barring the transfer of ‘reliable’ teachers during election times to sensitive areas where they can be trusted to safeguard their master’s political interest have been violated with impunity.
Training is another problem. Facilities are not adequate in quantity and quality. Training facilities are needed not just for teachers of the future. The existing lot also need in-service training. If teachers are not improved the students’ output can never be improved. With so little support from their homes — nearly 80 per cent of the parents of low-income students are illiterate — the workload of teachers is indeed heavy. So is their responsibility.
The writer is Dawn’s former Op-ed editor. She currently writes a fortnightly column on the social sectors. Her writings can be found at www.zubeidamustafa.com
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