Learning to survive

By Sher Ali Khalti
Tue, 07, 20

Teachers are adapting to a host of exhausting new challenges during the coronavirus, sustaining their livelihood is one of them. You! takes a look…

The country’s snail-paced economic progression to slow the spread of the coronavirus has depleted resources, and, in turn, for schools. While other critical needs such as health, water and sanitation are more or less being responded to, educational needs cannot be forgotten as these have an equally detrimental impact if left unaddressed. The education systems are probably the hardest hit during this pandemic, and the teachers being the most neglected aspect of them all. Teachers are adapting to a host of exhausting challenges during the coronavirus. The transition to working from home has not merely involved a location shift for teachers – it’s a completely different way of working. If they still have a job that is. Many teachers are struggling every day to keep their jobs and find a way to make ends meet.

Najma is a school teacher of a small private school with a salary of 10,000 PKR. When the coronavirus pandemic began, she had mixed feelings about it. “I didn’t know whether I should be happy or sad. My husband does labour work so during the lockdown, his work stopped. My salary isn’t enough to feed my children but I was hopeful. I believed I was going to get my salary from school under the government Ehsaas programme. Moreover, I thought I would be given some additional amount and receive ration through the Tiger Force. Things were looking up, I was also glad that I would now have time to spend with my husband, many years after our marriage,” she tells. “The first 10 days passed by easily but soon I was out of money. Government couldn’t provide me with ration and I was refused financial aid from the Ehsaas programme due to their strict policies. Then, one day, I received a call from the school that its administration cannot pay my salary as the parents did not submit the fees. So, while I didn’t get my due salary, neither did my colleagues. I don’t know how will I keep running the house,” laments Najma.

Qurrat-ul-Ain from Dera Ismail Khan narrates a similar story, “My salary is 12,000 rupees per month and I spend around 4000 rupees on commute. I wasn’t given the minimum wage which was announced by the government, but I had no option of leaving the job as well since most private schools offer the same salary. I am a graduate and underpaid. An uneducated factory worker makes a better living compared to me. It was not easy to run the house with measly amount of money, so to meet my expenses, I had to give tuitions at my house. After the lockdown happened, that source of income also went away. Parents were afraid to send their children and I was worried about the health and safety of my children. Even before this pandemic happened, there should have been an established writ of the state to end the exploitative behaviour of such institutions.”

Another private school teacher was fired from her job when the lockdown started. Sehar shares, “My management just told me that they couldn’t pay salaries anymore while my colleagues from other schools complained that 20 per cent of their salaries were cut. Some schools have also ordered teachers to take online classes which is a challenge for many of them.” Saima, a teacher at an elite school, affirms that she was told that her salary would be deducted by 20 per cent if she wanted to continue her job. Saima had to accept the condition since she had no other option.

These are just a few of the many stories of teachers from Pakistan, who are struggling to sustain their livelihood. Especially in a time of a pandemic, one cannot even look for alternatives. And when all fails, they are left at the mercy of the government that doesn’t seem to have an adequate response.

According to Kashif Adeeb Jawadani, President of All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association (APPSMA), 90 per cent of our employees are women in private schools and the retention rate is 100 per cent. In other professions, most women tend bid farewell to their jobs after marriage. However, teaching is one job in the country that has a highest chance of women returning to it. There are 70,000 private schools in Punjab; 12,000 private schools in Sindh; 18,000 private schools in KP and 5000 private schools in Balochistan that are providing honourable livelihood to women.

Regarding this ongoing crisis, Jawadani expresses, “There are 70000 schools that registered with the government of Punjab. If a teacher is paid 10K to 12K, they can earn more – more than 20k – through home tuitions from the same school. No doubt, they are underpaid, but they don’t come under labour laws as they work six hours instead of eight. Many people lodged complaints on the PM Complaints Portal against private school owners without knowing the whole story. They don’t know how hard it is to pay salaries to the honourable teachers if the fees aren’t being paid. There are many school owners who sold their gold and jewels to pay the teachers’ salaries.”

He further informed that school owners met with the government of Punjab to get loans so they could pay teachers’ salaries. After getting the approval from the government, they visited the banks but didn’t get the loans on the agreed three per cent interest rate.

However, the president of APPSMA still believes that the issues these teachers are facing can be resolved if the government and parents of students cooperate with private school owners, “We demanded from the government of Punjab to provide teachers internet packages at cheaper rates as it was given to students in the past. It will be very helpful for students, teachers and administration as well during lockdown. We can then cover the loss through online education this way. The government can help by subsidising electricity bills and such,” suggests Jawadani.

“Moreover, parents need to change their attitude toward school fees. Most parents don’t pay fee during June and July. Last year, parents were defaulters for Rs 900 million. Students studying at private schools often switch schools after vacation to avoid the fee. I suggest that the government should devise a policy and make a portal for students. If a student is a defaulter, they shouldn’t be issued a ‘Leaving certificate’ and not given in the next school without it,” he adds.

These are anxious times for students, parents and teachers. Uncertainties about when life will return to ‘normal’ compound the anxiety. Even as institutions make the changes required to teach in different ways, all should give the highest priority. Individuals should be reassured that we are all in this together. This can only happen if there is meaningful government intervention. To keep the education system upright in this time, we need teachers. And to keep them, their incomes must be ensured.