EducationVolume 14 Issue # 01

Existence of absenteeism and laxity

Naveed Iqbal, a ninth grader at a government school in Allama Iqbal Town, believes his mathematics teacher is the best teacher, though only at a private educational academy for evening classes.


In the morning, Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan teaches mathematics to four classes, from seventh to 10th, where Naveed Iqbal is one of his students. However, in his school, Naveed never noticed that ‘Sir’ Jehanzeb was such a good teacher. He learnt only about his great capabilities when he joined an evening academy at Wahdat Road Lahore, sensing an impending failure in the matriculation board exams.


In school, Naveed experienced Sir Jehanzeb either not coming to the class at all, though present in school, or just cracking jokes if he ever showed up occasionally. He never covered his syllabus in his school classes, like most of the other teachers.

After attending his ninth class for three or four months, Naveed realised that his new school was quite different from his previous middle standard school as no teacher appeared to be serious about taking classes and teaching the students. It would have not bothered Naveed much had there not been a fear of the board exam at the end of the year and chances of failing the exams.


When he shared his fears with his parents, his father admitted him to a private academy in the evening, though it was really hard for him to spare the Rs. 5,400 a month tuition fee, out of his meagre Rs. 43,000 monthly income. And then Naveed came to know his schoolteacher Sir Jehanzeb was very good at teaching mathematics.


Once Sir Jehanzeb told his “hard working” student Naveed in academy that he didn’t take his school classes seriously as no “serious” students come to government schools. “Education is free in there, in government schools, and boys go there only for enjoyment. So, why should I waste my energies on them?” asked Sir Jehanzeb. However, he believed that those coming to private schools and academies were serious students, as they pay thousands of rupees monthly to get an education.“That’s why, I take them seriously and put in an extra effort to teach them,” he clarified.


Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan is not the sole teacher of his kind. There are tens of hundreds of teachers across the country who earn high salaries at government schools, but often do not show up. And even if they do, they do little once they get there. Why?


Nadia Naviwala has another answer to it, besides the reason shared by Mr. Jehanzeb Khan. She is a Global Fellow at the Wilson Centre, where she recently authored a report called, Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story. She calls Pakistan’s education system a “crisis”, and its reforms “frenetic”. She doesn’t agree that low budgetary allocations are the main cause of failure of the education system in the country.


In a talk with Cutting Edge at a workshop for teachers in Karachi, she shared her conclusion that Pakistan’s education crisis has come down to a crisis of teaching and learning, which is not something that money can solve.  “You can look at some of the best education systems in the world, and they are not necessarily the ones that spend the most. Efficiency is also really important,”says Ms. Naviwala.


Even in the case of Pakistan, adds the researcher and educationist, the provinces that spend the most on education are not necessarily the ones that have the best outcomes in terms of children’s literacy. Pakistan has doubled its education budget since 2010, but we haven’t seen either the improvement in enrolment or the learning value you’d expect, she says, while referring to the surveys of the Alif Ailaan education initiative.


There are hundreds of thousands of students who can’t read basic sentences after spending three or four years in a classroom, and drop out altogether by age nine, regrets Ms. Naviwala.


On some points, she seems to be agreeing with the conclusions that can be drawn from the anecdote of Naveed Iqbal and Jehanzeb Khan. She says that the largest part of the education budget, about 85%, goes into teachers’ salaries. “If your teachers aren’t showing up to school, or if they aren’t doing anything when they get to school, then it really doesn’t make a difference how much money you’re pouring in.”


But the more painful thing is, adds Ms. Naviwala, that successive governments at the centre as well as in the provinces, have made no sincere effort to figure out what to do to resolve these issues. “Once you get teachers to school, how do you improve learning outcomes for kids? This is the reason for high rates of illiteracy in schools in Pakistan.”


However, Nadia Naviwala, also a senior advisor for The Citizens Foundation, which educates over 200,000 students in low-cost private schools across Pakistan, has observed some positive things in Pakistan’s education system. She tells Cutting Edge that two of Pakistan’s four provinces, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have achieved a few things regarding education reforms. First, they fixed school infrastructure, because Pakistan was, and still is, a place where going to school is dangerous because the facilities are so dilapidated. Second was making teachers show up at school. The [provincial] governments started sending MEAs [Monitoring and Evaluation Assistants] to school every month to make sure the teacher was there, which resulted in teacher absenteeism plummeting.Former chief minister of Punjab fired a significant portion of government teachers. However, making them teach their students in public sector schools is still the biggest challenge, adds Ms. Naviwala.


“There are a lot of little things that can be done. You can fix the curriculum, you can fix the teacher training. But in the end, it comes down to a teacher being unwilling or unable to teach,” adds the educationist. “You can force a teacher to show up, but you can’t force him/her to teach. And that’s what a lot of kids will tell you about what happens in government schools, the teacher might be there, but not teaching,”Ms. Naviwala says. “But the same teachers could teach at a low-cost private school that charges a few thousand rupees a month, and they will teach and they will perform, because there is accountability and they are motivated to do so.”


However, Dr. Irshad Ahmad Farrukh, secretary, National Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (NACTE), Pakistan, does not agree fully with Nadia Naviwala as far as objections on teachers are concerned. He regrets that mostly government teachers are painted as villains.“But, I don’t think that’s fair,” he tells Cutting Edge.


“There may be two teachers in the school, and one of them isn’t present. Even if both of them are there, they are teaching 3-year-olds and 10-year-olds all at one time. They are given an impossible task,” he defends the teachers. “And then there could be a ton of pressure on them to do certain things. For example, they may have a lot of pressure to enrol kids, so they’ll do what is measured against.”


Ironically, he adds, even though kids aren’t learning much at all, the syllabus is full, and schools are struggling to get through everything in a year. They have 40 minutes per subject, which means teachers don’t have time to teach or spend with kids. Especially if the books are in a language that the kids don’t speak, or that the teachers don’t speak or even understand. This affects a teacher’s motivation. Ultimately, you have to in some way inspire or motivate teachers to perform, believes Dr. Farrukh.