EducationVolume 14 Issue # 19

Shortage of teachers in South Punjab

The news shared with Umar Deen Kumhar was not less than a bombshell for him when he was told that his son had badly failed his first-year board examinations. His son’s classmate told him that Taj Deen could not get even passing marks in all three science subjects – Math, physics and chemistry, and English.

Living in a chak (village) about 9 kilometres from Fort Abbas a tehsil of district Bahawalnagar, it was really hard for Umar Deen to admit his son to Government Degree College for Boys, Fort Abbas. Arranging for a new uniform along with black shoes and a bicycle for his son was not an easy task for him. However, he arranged for the amount required for buying all these necessities through a loan from Chaudhry Muhammad Awais Jajja, the numberdar of the village, and selling of his only pair of hens. In fact, his son’s schoolteacher had played a key role in convincing and motivating Umar Deen to send his son to college, as he had passed his matriculation examination in first division. ‘‘Your son is a hardworking and shining student. One day he’ll become a doctor or an engineer and change your fate altogether,’’ the teacher had told him.

Teacher’s words kindled a hope in Umar Deen Kumhar. He had no interest in his son becoming a doctor or an engineer; he wanted him to become ‘‘wadda thanedaar’’ (big police officer) or a wakeel (lawyer). He had never forgotten the humiliation and helplessness he underwent throughout his life after his teenage daughter was ‘‘kidnapped’’ by the Chaudhry’s son years ago. He could not do anything to get justice for himself or for his daughter. She was only 13 years old when Chaudhry’s son, almost thrice of her age, took her along to some other city telling her that he would marry her.

When he went to police station to lodge a case against the ‘‘kidnapper’’, the police officer not only refused to register a case but also insulted him. He even threatened to put him in jail if he visited the police station again. His daughter later committed suicide by jumping into a well near their village when the Chaudhry’s son refused to marry her even after passage of over two years. He had tortured her badly and thrown her near his house. And the innocent girl, in a state of sheer regret, shame and helplessness, jumped into a well to end her life, instead of returning to home.

The area people pulled her body from the well in the morning, and after recognising her told Umar Deen about it. During his wailing, the police came there and took the body to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital for autopsy and other legal requirements. The hospital staff later told Umar Deen the girl was seven-month pregnant, and the infant had also died with her.

The police registered a case against his daughter for committing suicide but refused to include the name of Chaudhry’s son in the FIR for lack of evidence against the accused, though the entire village knew it who had taken away the girl. Even some people later told him that Chaudhry’s son had forced her to jump into the well.

Umar Deen Kumhar did everything possible for him to get justice for his deceased daughter. He appeared in the ‘‘khuli kutchery’’ (open court of wadda thanedaar) and the police also arrested the accused. But when he was produced before a court a few days later, a lawyer got him released firstly on bail and then got him cleared of all charges for lack of evidence against him. Even the state lawyer provided to him by the court supported Chaudhry’s son, and Umar Deen couldn’t do anything for his daughter. The judge expressed sympathy with him, but told him he could not sentence anybody without a solid evidence. The court experience told him lawyer in black coats could do anything; they may get convicted innocent people and get released criminals.

Therefore, when his son’s teacher told him Taj Deen could change his fate, he decided that he would send his son to college to make him a thanedaar or a wakeel. He had always pinned high hopes on his son, who was the first one to go to school for an education.

Umar Deen had left his original profession of pottery soon after the death of his wife. From kneading clay to making pottery on his wheel, and from drying process to firing of his pots, he always intensely felt the need for his wife’s help, which was no more there. After the incident of their daughter dying in a well, she fell permanently ill, and within a year of her daughter’s tragic death, she also died.

Then Taj Deen was 10 or 11 years old, and studying in their village school. His wife had always insisted on education of her son, and Umar Deen also had no objection to it. After his wife’s death, he didn’t withdraw his son from school, and instead left his pottery profession, continuing in his family for generations. Now his only source of income was his donkey. Twice of thrice a week, he, along with his donkey, was hired by village people for transportation of building material, bricks, cement, crushed stone, etc. It would fetch him two meals a day, and some fodder for his donkey. But sending his son to college and meeting his needs was a very difficult decision for him.

However, the hope of getting some respect in his village, and one day taking revenge from those who had killed his daughter forced him to send his son to college. But the news of his son’s failure in first year exams had dashed all his hopes. In a fit of severe helplessness and anger, he beat his son black and blue with the stick he used to hit his donkey. Even the explanations given by his son’s class-fellow could not stop him from beating him. Umar Deen was told his son had opted for science subjects on the recommendation of his schoolteacher, though no science teacher was available in his college. All students studying pre-engineering and pre-medical subjects used to get private tuitions to pass their examinations. However, Taj Deen knew it well he could not afford private tuition in very limited resources of his father, hence be failed in four subjects. For the last few months, he has started working as trainee ‘‘munshi’’ (accountant) at a Galla Mandi (Wholesale Grain Market) shop in Fort Abbas.

However, Shahzad Hussain, the office in-charge at Government Degree College for Boys, Fort Abbas, where Taj Deen studied for one year, partially endorses the account that there is shortage of teachers in the college.

In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he said currently 15 teachers were working in the college against the total approved strength of 29. He claimed that all science teachers including those for physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and mathematics were available in the college, and the strength was sufficient for imparting education to over 1,200 students currently studying in the college. He, however, admitted that there may be shortage of science teachers two, three years back when Taj Deen was studying there.

In fact, severe shortage of teachers in almost all colleges of South Punjab districts is a reality, which is not hidden from the authorities concerned.

In the first week of May the Punjab Assembly was informed that there was a severe shortage of teaching staff in the most backward areas of the province.The official data was shared in response to a written query of MPA Shazia Abid. Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education Sibtain Raza told the House that in Rajanpur district, the most under-privileged area of Punjab, out of 256 posts of teaching staff for 10 colleges, only 110, or around 43%, are occupied and the rest are vacant.

The record showed that the vacancy ratio is even poor. Like, only two teaching posts, out of 19, are filled in the Government Boys Degree College, Umerkot; and four out of 22 posts in the Government Girls Degree College, Dajal.

The parliamentary secretary admitted that the situation of the provision of furniture to the colleges is also dismal, as four of the institutes are facing its shortage. He also admitted that the Higher Education Department had no alternative plans to meet the shortage of teachers, adding that the hiring of lecturers through the Punjab Public Service Commission would take a long time.

Last year, the Higher Education Department had told the minister that 7,000 posts of lecturers and 5,000 MPhil and PhDs staff had been vacant for long.

On the other hand, the Higher Education Commission has already been informed, and this has been reported in the press, that the budget for the higher education sector is going to be cut. Compared to what the HEC would like to demand, the cuts might be to the tune of 10% to 15% in recurrent expenditures and up to a whopping 50% in development expenditures.