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Shifting the responsibility

Giving away of public schools to private sector raises several questions — foremost of sustainability

Shifting the responsibility

As I enter the hall, I find it packed with people. A speaker is addressing them from the podium. Am I late? I look at my cell phone for time. Five minutes only. How come everyone is there in time? On second thought, I realise the people in the hall are all teachers who are always in their classrooms on time.

Six or seven chairs are placed along the wall on the side of the entrance — all unoccupied. I assume they are for media and take a seat. Mostly, a writing pad and a pen are given in briefings and moots to which press is invited. They aren’t here. I take out my notebook and pen from my bag to jot down my observations and report. As I do so, I notice most of the men in the room have a pen clipped to the pocket of their shirt. I am reminded — well, they are teachers.

The evening is heavily laden with emotions. The hall is full of teachers who have come from different districts of Punjab along with their respective leaders who are sitting on stage from its one end to the other. The men on the stage come one by one to the podium and announce their resolve to fight for the rights of the teachers and for the poor man’s right to education till the end — motivating the teachers to take a stand without letting their school work suffer. Leaders from across Punjab recite Allama Iqbal’s verses profusely in their speeches, charging the evening further.

Their biggest concern is handing over of schools to private sector. Other major concerns are treatment of head teachers; their transfer to far off districts in a high-handed manner, unjust penalising over failing to meet the government’s enrolment targets and dropout rates in their schools and government’s objection to a teacher filing a case in court to get his right…

Teachers are putting up resistance against handing over of government schools to private sector to run them. They are here to chalk out an action plan in this respect. This is October 22, 2016, Lahore.

Teacher is extremely under stress. The policies are such that he is forced to lie. “The chief minister (CM) wants to hear that enrolment in public schools is 95 per cent which is not the case. If a headteacher says it is 70 per cent, he is penalised but he is speaking the truth because on average that is the attendance of students,” says a senior teacher. “So he better give the figures that are acceptable,” a head teacher shares this while others agree with him.

Saadia-1 for PE

“The CM has only promoted numbers. Cultural activities have diminished in public schools. Nobody asks about any learning, culture and values — all that matters are grades,” say teachers from public schools, adding, “People follow the religion of their ruler, meaning attitudes travel down from above.”

“We are living in an age of ‘Careerism’. That time is gone when people would talk about communism and socialism,” says Hafiz Ghulam Mohyuddin, Central Secretary General of the Punjab Teachers Union.

So what kind of a nation are we preparing? Scared of speaking the truth and concerned only with keeping up appearances? How will they seek truth in such a scenario?

Teachers are transferred four districts away without show cause notice or any warning, overlooking all the good they did during the years at their school. Teachers union demands that when teachers are transferred they shouldn’t be posted out of division. The government needs to take into account that teachers too have families.

Where is the right to dignity promised in the Constitution of Pakistan. The Punjab government is certainly not treating teachers in a dignified manner.

There are 54,000 government schools in the Punjab. “30,000 of them are single-teacher primary schools,” says Hafiz Ghulam Mohyuddin. Some public schools are being merged.

The government had formally announced transfer of public schools to private sector on December 13, 2015. Now Public School Support Programme (PSSP) is in its 3rd and final phase.

5500 schools were handed over to private sector in the first phase. The government is paying Rs550 per child to the private sector that is handed over a school. The Punjab government spends Rs1500 per child and finds it difficult to manage so it is giving away schools to private sector to lessen its burden. AB Qaisar, a head teacher from Sargodha questions, “What will happen when the aid ends?” Is this policy sustainable? And what about the school land in private partners’ hands. Is that safe?

Bhutto put three things in the Constitution’s concurrent list; education, health and security. These were areas where the federal government was helping the provinces. They have been particularly affected after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

“The federal government was overseeing a common curriculum. It would give guidelines on which provinces would develop their own curriculum. The provinces had varied degrees of sophistication. A sense of equity prevailed. It was a three-tiered approach to curriculum. Now curriculum development is up to the provinces,” says Ather Tahir, a senior civil servant who was also a former federal education secretary.

He says, “What you teach a child in primary school stays with him for life. Country heads have to plan a generation ahead. You don’t get immediate results here. If policies are sound and followed in a consistent manner, you get to see results in ten years.”

Absence of a single curriculum is fracturing the federating unit. “The idea of Danish schools in itself is noble but the execution is poor,” he says. It started without teachers trained for such a school.

There is a suggestion to send Danish school children to the top mainstream schools. That may help them adjust better in the society.

Tahir says, “The disabled children need not be educated in exclusive schools. If they study in regular schools with normal children, with little help they will be able to adjust better in the society.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan is an education laboratory where successive governments have been testing new ideas at the cost of the people. The country doesn’t come first.

Saadia Salahuddin

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The author is a staff member. She may be reached at saadiasalahuddin@gmail.com

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