Public education has always been rendered the most genuine means of expanding economic opportunity, enhancing social mobility, developing a skilled workforce, and preparing young people to participate in the progress of a country by inculcating values of democracy and citizenship in them.
Most, unfortunately, public schools of Pakistan are not equipping all students with the skills needed to thrive in a rapidly changing economy; the consequences of the poor achievement are obvious. Students graduating with poor cognitive and critical thinking skills are unable to get admissions in institutions of higher education and remain unemployable. Education is no more a luxury; it is the basic need of any human being to live and sustain in the age of knowledge. The Punjab government has to pay serious attention to this basic need of its human beings and decide very carefully, whether she wants to turn its youth bulge into a powerful human and social capital keen to build a civilized and cultured society or we want to raise hoards of rowdy and uncouth bandits; I’d not wish to use the harsh word of extremist and/or terrorist for any of my fellow citizen.
Cognitive skills are strong predictors of educational attainment and achieving these skills depends upon quality teaching and learning; hence, the teacher is the key resource a school needs. School achievement depends upon the effectiveness of the key resource, the teacher. In absence of this essential resource we cannot expect any promised outcome of school. I am curious to know while mapping schools performance and effectiveness whether the availability/unavailability of teaching resource is considered a major context on which school vitals depend, or the school heads are punished of sins they are not responsible for. Before we chastise our education system, we must take respite from moaning and wailing of ghost schools and teacher absenteeism, we will have to pay serious attention to teacher shortage.
If Pakistan is to equip its upcoming generation with the skills essential in the new economy, high-quality teachers are more important than ever. In recent years, the demand for effective teachers has increased as enrollments have grownand class sizes have fallen.Women have more career options than ever before, making it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the many effective teachers who are needed. Moreover, schools are limited in their ability to identify and reward the most effective teachers. Perhaps the most urgent problem facing Pakistani education is the unequal distribution of high-quality teachers. Schools belonging to underdeveloped areas are disproportionately assigned quality teachers; they get teaching staff that is least prepared and comes from the weakest academic background. Teacher turnover is high in public schools of Punjab; it is more rampant in rural and underprivileged areas than urban areas.
Though government is trying to increase the supply of teachers, but it remains doubtful that teachers will stay in a job which is not permanent but contract based lacking job security. Punjab government offers a fixed travel allowance to teachers, whether a teacher’s home is at a distance of 5 kilometers or 50. Moreover, on being late they are marked late and whole day’s pay is deducted. Neither is the government geared to provide similar infrastructural facilities in far off areas of Punjab, nor she is giving any extra allowance to teachers for any extensive traveling. I wonder what effect it may have on teachers’ morale and commitment. These circumstances are affecting shortage of subject specialists of Mathematics, English and Science for secondary schools. Failure to provide subject specialists to all schools poses a great challenge both to the equity and quality of education in these schools.
No doubt the previous, government has tried to meet the challenge of teacher shortage by hiring teacher educators and subject specialists, but it is still not clear, as authentic data is unavailable, how many teachers have been so far retained in the system. The present government is working in the same direction to cover up teacher shortage crisis? But the question remains unanswered whether the efforts of current government will be able to meet all those preconditions which may ensure teacher retention in poor and marginalized area schools of Punjab; whether the teacher morale and commitment will be the same as those of serving in developed areas of the same district or province. How will we realize the dream of ONE PAKISTAN?
It is well ascertained that following School Reform Road Map the monitoring and evaluation is an essential part of the plan, and perhaps most effectively carried out element of the plan so far, which has been the cause of many conflicts between the teachers and the district administrators. The school education department has yet to share data about teacher retention of previously recruited teacher educators and subject specialists. The department is free to apply PEDA, but is unmindful of quoting teacher rights, quenching its basic spirit of autonomy and authority, thus breaking the sacred trust between the teacher and the pupil. As this relationship is called off, so are the obligations with it, and the relationship is reduced to professional interaction in a set environment to meet the concrete demands of the job. But I wonder these formal demands are exchanged with any teachers in black and white. Surely! The right to know is the basic right and key to empowerment.
It is also important to note that recruitment of teachers is not the solution of problem. It is too idealistic to think that every young person is capable of managing a large and diverse group children and he/she would be able to bring desired changes in their students’ knowledge, skills and attitude, the way it is expected of them. Mostly teachers are hired from natural sciences background, known to lack soft skills, empathy, compassion, and care, the young souls may have needed. Do our hiring agencies attempt to measure scientifically the capability of becoming a good teacher by administering them certain psychological tests, or they just hire a person for his/her excellent academic career. I hope the hiring commissions are capable of making educated guess right. Which research has ever proven that academically strong people can become good teachers? Sometimes, I ask myself a serious question: if I have never faced a failure in my life, how would I deal with failure of my students? I will attribute all causes of failure to them, their neglect, their failure to work hard or I would label them as ‘hard nuts to crack’,‘imbecile’, ‘stupid fools’, so on and so forth. Therefore, I am justified that I’d withdraw all my attention and concern from these undeserving monsters leaving them to rot alone in their miseries? Or I would bend down and extend a helping hand to lift them up and stand tall on their feet. For such miracles to happen what is needed: charisma of natural disposition of a caring person or magic of modern pedagogy, and what a double treat would happen by appropriately mixing the both? We can’t transform successful graduates into effective teachers without proper education and training in pedagogy. It won’t be once in a year unplanned training sessions without any needs analysis, without any follow up, missing all directions to a successful career; no matter how many high profile organizations are involved.
We must keep in our kind remembrance that the age of simple black and white has been over decades ago; we are living in a world of high definition mega pixel media. Can we bring this reality to school so that media models are no more their role models? They can appreciate modesty and don’t keep denying poverty in every facet of life. Today, during an interview session with my PhD students, who were proud owners of private schools, they fearlessly told that salary structure of their teachers with 16 years of education comes around 12-15 K, since government has put a minimum wage limit of 12000 PKR. I was wondering about the salary of my illiterate maid, driver and cook, which is not only higher but also paired with many other fringe benefits like, tips, free food, and living place and no transportation cost at all. I am trying to convince myself that my personal staff is definitely more skilled than these teachers. Please you should also convince yourself that teachers in our country are served right and we are not violating any psychological contract with them by still expecting more from them.
Our nation has always been waiting for some emancipator or deliverer, because they have always felt themselves in shackles of bonded labor. A child should happily come to school and this dream of happy school children is a universal dream. In order to realize dream of universal primary education we need to make all schools happy schools. Another moment of caution; emotions are contagious; how can an unhappy teacher who is overworked and underpaid can make others happy? Who has to travel long and hard each day, crossing the turbulent seas of noisy traffic, stuffed in a public transport, smelling not just bad scents but facing loathing comments and harassing eyes that touch deep down the soul. We still expect this teacher to arrive in classroom pure and clean as angel and whispering flowers like fairies. We the residents of this quagmire know that expecting any such thing is to live in a wild fantasy, but this wild fantasy is not so wild after all, because this is the most earnest wish of any school going child. What if your child has to meet maleficent instead of magnificent in schools…! No doubt 250 million children are out of school.
Alas! We are such a poor nation that we can’t afford to nurture dreams of our children.