Sindh teachers get good news at last, but what about students and parents?
Teachers in Sindh province, protesting for regularisation of their services for years, got the good news at last, on December 30, 2017. However, the path to winning this assurance had not been that easy. Only five days ago, they got a good thrashing at the hands of the police near the Karachi Press Club and faced detentions, on December 25, while the entire country reverberated with resolutions of following Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s ideals of progress and tolerance on his 141st birth anniversary.
The ruling party’s young chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, came to know about the plight of the protesting teachers only through TV channel footage and flashing of headlines. His heart sank when he saw bleeding heads of teachers and they being bundled into the police vans. He ordered the authorities concerned to release the arrested teachers and look into their problems, though it took the PPP leadership seven long years to extend an assurance to the poor teachers.
On the recommendation of the party chairman, the Sindh cabinet decided on December 30, 2017, to approve through an assembly act the regularisation of all contract teachers, who had passed the National Testing Service (NTS) test. The cabinet also decided that a comprehensive education reforms bill would be presented in the assembly for improvement of an overall education system in the public sector. The directions came from the chief executive officer of the province. Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, said that the NTS-passed contractual teachers and the contract teachers of the University of Sindh were around 2,100. He added that under the recruitment rules, teachers would have to pass a test for regularisation.National Testing Service as well as those appointed through a test, held in Sindh University in 2010. Those associated with the Primary Teachers Association demanded an upgrade in their services structure, whereas the New Teachers Action Committee comprising teachers appointed in 2012 by the former education minister, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, demanded to be paid their salaries. Representatives of these teachers told the media persons that the provincial government had failed to release the salaries of 6,750 employees in the Sindh Education and Literacy Department for the past five years.
Abu Bakar Abro, chairman of the New Teacher Action Committee (NTAC), told Cutting Edge by telephone that they had been facing police torture for a long time for demanding regularisation of their services and payment of their salaries. They were baton-charged by the police on September 12, 2017 while protesting outside the Karachi Press Club. Again on September 17, the police used batons and water cannons to disperse the protestors. They were again beaten up on November 23, as they attempted to march on the Sindh Assembly from the Karachi Press Club.
Haji Shafi Mohammad, a senior leader of the All Sindh Primary Teachers Association, says that the issue was not limited to regularisation of services of over 3,000 teachers, but also their promotion. Talking to this writer by telephone, he said he had served 15 years as teacher. The government earlier promised to promote those who have completed more than 20 years in service to scale 16. The notification was issued, but no one implemented it, he added. He claimed that more than 21,000 teachers have passed the test conducted by the National Testing Service (NTS) and Sindh University, but the government was still not giving them permanent orders.
Another representative of the protesting teachers told Dawn, on condition of not being name, that the real issue was not of lack of funds but of priorities. He claimed that billions of rupees had been released by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Union and other donors during the past four years to promote education and provide the missing facilities in schools, but a majority of the educational institutions were still deprived of water, sanitation, boundary walls and furniture.
Jam Mehtab Dahar, provincial education minister, does admit problems in the education department. He alleged that the authorities in his own party’s government were bribed in 2012 to hire teachers in the hundreds, who did not meet the criteria for selection at all. Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, he also admitted that 23,000 ghost recruitments were made in 2012 across the province, with 11,000 in Karachi alone, at a time when there were no vacancies.
According to ASER 2016, released in August 2017, at least 14% teachers didn’t show up in the government schools on a daily basis. This must be kept in mind that the ghost teachers are not included in this list.
The report also said that 45% of all government teachers surveyed across the province were graduates, while 41% of them had Bachelor in Education degrees.
While the Sindh government seems all-out to get rid of those teachers also who have been hired by it, and who have even cleared the NTS test to prove their eligibility, it needs thousands of more teachers to impart education to all its population under 16 years of age.
The Sindh legislature was informed on July 27, 2017, that close to three million children were still out of school across the province. “There are 2,876,324 children … who are out of school,” said Education Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar while responding to a question filed by Nusrat Abbasi during Question Hour in the Sindh Assembly session.
And even those attending schools don’t have many teachers to impart education to them. The School Education Statistics Sindh 2015-16 official data says that there are a total of 50,097 teachers in government schools across the province. As many as 24, 514 of them are serving in primary schools, 5,215 in middle schools, 16,604 in secondary schools, and 3,764 are teaching in higher secondary schools.
However, researchers believe that the main issue is not of lack of resources but lack of proper planning and misplaced priorities. One of the leading research papers in this field was presented last year titled Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story by Wilson Centre fellow Nadia Naviwala and Ahmad Ali from the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences in Islamabad.
The research paper says that the 4% GDP public education spending target – which is promoted as the gold standard by donors and campaigners – seems to provide a simplistic solution to Sindh province’s education crisis, which is Pakistan’s second largest province. In 2016, the province spent 12 times more on teacher salaries than it did in 2010; despite this increase the majority of its fifth graders can’t read a second-grade level text. Sindh has been on the forefront of a general trend of turning public education departments into employment agencies.
Ironically, the researchers say, Sindh’s provincial government has itself admitted that as many as 40% of its schoolteachers are ghost employees, meaning that these teachers don’t show up for work, and in some cases they don’t live in the towns where they are posted to teach. But the same teachers keep getting pay rises. Unsurprisingly, this toxic combination of political patronage and ineffective policies has seen a decline in net school enrolment rate in the province.
Parents rightly ask what’s the benefit for them in sending their children to school when the children are unlikely to learn? Especially when these children are economically more beneficial for families when they are working.
The Sindh province, and the country at large, has to build more schools and train its teachers. That requires it to “spend better, not simply more”. Something international donors need to understand. Pakistan’s private education sector – which educates about 40% of the country’s students – can serve as an example here.
The report says that private schools on average pay five times less to their teachers than their public school counterparts. What’s even more fascinating is that private school teachers also have lower academic qualifications and are half as likely to receive training than teachers employed in government schools. However, despite this, the students at these schools are on average two grades ahead of their government school peers.
Here arises a question: Why is it then that private school teachers deliver better? At the core, private school teachers feel more accountable to parents. Parents can pull their fee-paying children out of school if they believe that their children aren’t learning the key skills. This makes teachers and private school administrators more efficient at delivering quality education. This isn’t the case in government schools, which are answerable to usually an education department located often miles away. That means that public school teachers in the country are rarely fired – even if they aren’t delivering in classrooms. How teachers are hired and promoted is also crucial. Public school teachers regularly report that politics play a strong role in these decisions, at times hinting towards outright political patronage. The Sindh education minister’s admission in this regard clearly showed that a large majority of teachers in the province are hired on political grounds.
That means the province can’t simply spend its way out of its education crisis. The authorities will have to hire teachers on merit who can deliver in class and then keep strict check on them if they really want to achieve the desired results in the school education sector.