THE STATUS OF OUR TEACHERS: REALITY VS. EXPECTATIONS
It is expected of teachers to be upright, virtuous, and passionate about their profession, to be untainted by society’s ills and to strive in giving quality education to children. Teachers are considered integral to the fabric of society but, unfortunately, our society does little to honour them. In Pakistan, teachers have poor working conditions, uncertain promotions and frequent delays in salary payments. The specific grievances of teachers were highlighted in a dataset compiled by the Zara Sochiye Ilm Center, which comprised of complaints pertaining to the education sector. Around 1300 teachers called in to voice their grievances. The most frequent complaints related to governance issues including misappropriation of funds and corruption in the department. Teachers expressed their dissatisfaction with authority figures, such as the principal and high officials in the department, and blamed them for being unsupportive and inattentive to their needs. There were multiple complaints regarding the lack of basic facilities such as electricity and running water. The picture painted by these complaints is that of the education system as a crumbling building, eroding away at the core. Where the basic amenities and the vital support systems are missing, it does not come as a surprise that teachers feel discouraged and uninspired to do their jobs.
Government teachers are also assigned duties during elections or health campaigns that require them to undertake tasks that no one else wants to do. During the recent elections, they were told to go from one house to another to gather detailed household information. They were humiliated and mistreated. During one of our field visits, some of them told us that they felt as if they were pesky salesmen rather than respected teachers in the community. On the day of the election, they spent the entire time at the election booth, guiding voters and ensuring the smooth running of the voting process and, finally, once the voting was completed, carrying the ballot papers at midnight to the collection point. Most Presiding Officers, teachers of grade 18-20, went back to their home later than 3 am. This is not a single instance, however, as the government can ask them to undertake duties for health campaigns and other awareness drives whenever required.
While teachers, being government employees, are required to respond to the orders of the government, this does not imply that they will not raise a voice against what they consider to be unjust. Like everybody else, teachers too have personal responsibilities that may actually take precedence over their professional responsibilities – they are parents and earners for their own families. While the example of teachers in Sri Lanka and their perseverance during the civil war is given to prove that teachers can be individuals who rise above their circumstances and persevere even in adverse conditions, these expectations are sometimes unreasonable in Pakistan’s case, where the political will to fix problems is absent. Is it fair to expect teachers to do their jobs well in spite of having no salary for seven months straight or not having been promoted for ten years-cases that happen more often that we think?
Dr. Arifa Syeda in a recent seminar arranged by ITA on World Teachers’ Day, 7th October 2013, echoed the thoughts of visionaries who encourage teachers to be free-spirited forbearers of change and to strive for intellectual excellence. To fulfill this role, they need to be reinstated in a position of respect and nobility. Teachers’ perception of their job is also moulded by society’s expectations. If parents want teachers to ensure that their child gets good grades, teachers will teach to the test and do little to influence other facets of the child’s intellectual upbringing. If, however, teachers are exalted to the level of harbingers of change and progress, they will be inspired to deliver.
This does not mean that teacher absenteeism and apathy, a major complaint of students and parent alike, is forgivable, but it does imply that it is understandable. The education sector needs a dramatic facelift and one side cannot be improved without adjusting the other simultaneously. If teachers are expected to shoulder the entire responsibility of education, there is a danger that they might not be able to withstand the pressure. It is important to commend teachers and appreciate the challenges they face in their work and treat them less as hired labour and more as mentors for the children of this nation. Where their complaints are justified, it is incumbent upon the policy-makers to address them and facilitate their role as leaders of intellectual progress.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives