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January 2, 2015

Teacher absenteeism is only part of the problem


January 2, 2015

Much has been said and heard about absent teachers and ghost schools in Sindh as well as the rest of the country.
Sindh education officials have themselves admitted the presence of more than 40,000 ghost teachers and 6,700 non-functional schools in the province eating up around Rs131 billion of the annual education budget.
According to figures obtained from the education department, there are a total of 150,000 schoolteachers in Sindh.
With 40,000 missing from duties, this leaves 110,000 teachers for a total of 47,394 schools in the province where, according to the government, 4,249,033 study.
Via simple arithmetic we can find out that this leaves two teachers per functional school – too much work for any teacher. But then the term functional is downright dubious because it can also mean a facility with a building without walls or a roof, let alone a bathroom or clean drinking water.
Even if an honest teacher – who has to travel for an hour every day to teach in a language he or she does not know after receiving any sort of professional training or administrative help and then also has to perform election duties – wanted to change things, he or she wouldn’t be able to achieve much without any infrastructural support.

Flawed attitudes
The teachers – both present and absent – are merely part of the bigger system which has failed to enjoy ownership by both the government and society, writes Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, director of University of Karachi’s Pakistan Study Centre, in his paper on the post-devolution status of education in Sindh.
Yes, the teachers are incompetent, but their incompetence reflects a deeper problem in the system which fails to equip them with the necessary professional training and resources to help them be better at their jobs.
He attributes it to a lack of political will on part of the provinces for expanding and improving their resources.
After the passage of the 18th

amendment, free and compulsory education became a basic human right of every child below the age of 16 years. Yet, the constitutional change hasn’t been fully accepted by the political leadership, a good part of which still believes that devolution is a threat to national unity.
According to Dr Ahmed, the lack of teachers was not as detrimental as incompetent teachers. “Even if you revise the curriculum, if the teachers don’t know how to teach properly then the effort becomes fruitless.”
Matters are not helped by spurious criteria for appointments, a fact owned by education officials. More than 15,000 teachers were illegally appointed by the previous education department against a small number of vacancies.
A report titled ‘Voice of Teachers’ by education advocacy group Alif Ailaan states that around 20 percent of government teachers in Pakistan, most of them from Sindh, are hired without advertisement of the posts while a one percent admitted to using political influence to get these jobs.
Sindh Education Secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho candidly admitted to this phenomenon. “In one instance 840 teachers were illegally recruited in Naushahro Feroze District. Around 40 percent of the schools are shut and more than 100,000 teachers only draw their salaries without working.”
On the other hand, a teacher can’t do much if the students don’t attend schools or are often absent, since, according to a recent report submitted to the chief minister, 60 percent of the schools in Sindh don’t have drinking water, 50 percent don’t have toilets, 40 percent lack electricity, while 35 percent have no boundary walls or roofs.

Valuing the profession
Dr Muhammad Memon, professor at the Aga Khan University’s Institute of Educational Development, believes that the rampant absenteeism of teachers reflected the degradation of values of the education system.
Factors which equally deserve the policymakers’ attention are the values associated to the teaching profession – ultimately shaping the attitudes of people who join it and their reasons for doing so.
“How teachers are inducted, what salary they are offered, how they are certified and trained and how their performance is measured – all contributes to the bigger problem,” he said. “The government has held many training programmes for teachers with the help of foreign donors, but why doesn’t it help improve the standard of education? It is because the teachers, if trained, are churned out like technicians. They need to be educated to allow activity-based learning and encouraging questioning as compared to the prevalent system of rote learning.”
Abbas Hussain, a teacher trainer, also echoed Dr Memon’s opinion. He said the government teachers he had come across seldom resisted learning new teaching techniques. “But they were scared of implementing them because they said the headmaster didn’t allow it.”
Dr Memon said that among colossal educational challenges faced by the country, one simple change which can help transform the standard of education imparted in public schools is shifting focus away from rote learning. “But to be able to achieve this, teachers first have to reclaim their lost status in society.”

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