EducationVolume 12 Issue # 19

Let them focus on their primary duty

Muhammad Arshad Wahla* seems in a hurry to leave for his home. He has received a call from his wife that his only son is suffering from high fever. It is already 7 in the evening, the official time of closure of the wheat procurement centre. But it seems it will take at least one more hour for Mr. Wahla to complete the data entry process, and leave for home. “I’m here since 7 in the morning, feeding data into the computer. I would have left home for home maximum by 2pm had I been in my school doing my original duty of teaching students computer and imparting to them practical lessons,” says Arshad Wahla, a computer science teacher at a government high school in district Bahawalnagar. Since the start of the wheat procurement process last month (April 15, 2017) in Punjab, the Education Department deputed him at a purchase centre for carrying out the data entry process about the issuance of “baar dana” (empty sacks for purchase of wheat) to farmers and the total wheat purchased, on daily basis. Wahla says he is not the only teacher performing this duty in Punjab. Hundreds of computer teachers have been assigned the task this year, as in the previous years. Instead of going to their schools to teach their classes, they are forced to spend over 12 hours at the wheat procurement centres daily, feeding details of the wheat procured and other related information, into computers. There are two computer science teachers, including Wahla, in the government high school. As he is not going to school for the last one month, his students are deprived of the computer education and practical lessons, Wahla regrets. It seems wheat procurement data feeding is more important for the government than teaching students, the computer teacher says in a bitter tone.

Shughufta Kanwal, a primary schoolteacher in Lahore, fully agrees with Muhammad Arshad Wahla. She is going door-to-door in Chaudhry Colony (Samanabad) area of Lahore on a hot May day, along with other team members, to administer anti-polio drops to children under five years of age. You utter a word of sympathy and she bursts into complaints. “You can’t imagine how much humiliation we have to face during the vaccination campaigns,” Ms. Kanwal tells Cutting Edge. The unmarried 26 year old teacher has been part of dozens of anti-polio and anti-dengue campaigns during the last six years. “A number of people even don’t bother to open their gates when we knock, and many pass cheap remarks,” she relates her ordeal. “Sometimes I wonder if we have been hired by the Education Department for teaching students or for garnering insults and scorn while going from door-to-door?” “And, by-the-way, what do teachers have to do with these issues; these are purely the health departments job,” she raises another question. Kashif Shahzad Chaudhry, central secretary general of the United Teachers Council Punjab, seconds views expressed by Mr. Wahla and Ms. Kanwal. He says that being a schoolteacher in Pakistan is not a bed of roses. The teaching community is continuously faced with various problems, he tells Cutting Edge in a telephonic talk. The teachers would stage a protest rally from Masjid-e-Shuhada on The Mall to the Chief Minister’s Secretariat on May 16, under the aegis of the United Teachers Council Punjab to force the government to accept their demands. Besides other issues, Kashif Chaudhry says, teachers would also protest against assignment of non-academic duties to teachers. From his personal experience, he recalls that a teacher is made to go door-todoor to collect voter information ahead of every election. He has to keep going back, day after day, and ensure that he hasn’t missed anyone. Then there is pressure from local landlords and other influential individuals, who want him to register bogus voters, Chaudhry shares with Cutting Edge. And currently, the population census duty. A large number of schoolteachers have been deputed for carrying out the house marking and population census in Punjab, like in other parts of the country, says the teacher. “On our protest, the Punjab provincial government had withdrawn all its Education Dr. Zaheer Ahmad Babar Let them focus on their primary duty Kashif Chaudhry says that the list of non-academic tasks assigned to teachers is quite long.

They are sent to special (sasta) bazaars for checking price lists, forced to go to kilns to convince the labourers working there to send their children to schools asked to visit katchi abadis to verify data of families registered with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), etc. teachers from performing duties in the population census. However, later on Provincial Census Commissioner (PCC) Punjab, Arif Anwar Baloch, held a meeting with the government authorities and requested them not to withdraw teachers from the process.” Secretary general of United Teachers Council Punjab says that the election duties had always proved a nightmarish experience for teachers. They are assigned duties in places that are usually very far from their homes, usually 40 or 50 kilometres. Standing in queues for hours waiting to receive election material, ferrying the sensitive material to and from the polling station – usually without any provision for transport – and, of course, facing the wrath of political parties and activists on polling day, are humiliating and insulting, the teachers representative relates. Kashif Chaudhry says that despite this hard work and humiliation, most government schoolteachers do not get compensatory holidays for weekends spent in the service of the provincial government. They are asked to oversee health-related events on most Sundays, but are seldom paid for it or given a leave in lieu of the working days on Sundays. The education initiatives, Alif Ailaan and the Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE) conducted a countrywide survey in 2016 and presented the data collected in their report The Voice of Teachers: Learning from Teachers Across Pakistan. The report findings showed that most government schoolteachers spend a quarter of the academic year in nonteaching activities. “Government teachers are frequently called upon to perform duties that require the deployment of personnel in large numbers.

As a result, many teachers are assigned tasks that take them away from the classroom or eat into the time they would otherwise use to plan lessons or mark papers,” the report said. The report stated that schoolteachers are the single largest workforce in the country, numbering around 1.4 million. More than half of them work in government schools. One of the main issues faced by them is allocation of nonacademic duties that force them to divert attention away from the classroom. Kashif Chaudhry says that the list of non-academic tasks assigned to teachers is quite long. They are sent to special (sasta) bazaars for checking price lists, forced to go to kilns to convince the labourers working there to send their children to schools asked to visit katchi abadis to verify data of families registered with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), etc. The situation becomes further complicated when teachers are withdrawn from the schools where the number of educators is already less than their prescribed strength. Around half of all government primary schools in Sindh and Balochistan and 29% in Pakistan as a whole have only one teacher each, according to the Pakistan Education Atlas 2016. Currently, 36,408 primary schools in the country are being run by one teacher each, says the Atlas. Balochistan is on top of the list with 54% single-teacher schools, followed by Sindh with 47%, KP 19% and Punjab 15%. In Gilgit-Baltistan, which has 797 primary schools, 281 of the institutions (35%) have only one educator each. Central secretary general of United Teachers Council believes that teachers should concentrate on teaching only and they should not be assigned any non-academic work. He believes that engaging teachers in the activities other than teaching takes a toll on them and affects their primary duty. He suggests raising a new force under the prime minister of Pakistan, for carrying out all tasks that are assigned to teachers currently. It will help improve education standards in the country.

* Name changed on request