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January 8, 2015

‘Politicisation the final nail in public education’s proverbial coffin’


January 8, 2015

Incompetency, derisorily poor standards and a failing system are all, unfortunately, common themes at any conference on education, but speakers at the Sindh Education Foundation’s event on Wednesday managed to underline a central cause for our system’s failings with a meaningful discussion on the politicisation of Sindh’s public education sector.
Amid resonating consensus, educationists speaking at SEF’s ‘Teachers’ Conference 2015: Nurturing Future Leaders’ including Dr Ishrat Hussain and Sadiqa Salahuddin highlighted the distressing effects of political appointments on the already low standards of education in Sindh
Besides socio-economic factors, they observed that the sheer incompetency of the teachers hired for political reasons had expedited Sindh’s public education system’s descent into an absolutely dysfunctional state.
The conference, held as part of the SEF’s ‘Professor Anita Ghulam Ali (S.I.) Discourse Series’, was aimed at recognising the importance of teachers as agents of change and the challenges they face at every level. As mentioned, the event was also an attempt at generating healthy debate regarding the multi-faceted issues affecting the overall structure of the education sector.
Dr Ishrat Husain, the dean and director of the Institute of Business Administration, spoke of a recent personal experience in a village near Dera Ghazi Khan that quite aptly summed up the education system’s present state. “There was public school with its gates locked and a number of children playing right outside the building. Upon my query, the locals told us that all the teachers had gone off to welcome a visiting elected representative who had helped them get their jobs. These were teachers who are being paid at least Rs15,000 per month by the government and who have no qualms over neglecting their duties to oblige a MNA,” he narrated.
“However, just two kilometres away from this school we came across a

decrepit public school where a female volunteer was teaching a class of 20 girls. A matriculate by academic qualification, the teacher was being paid a mere Rs3,000 and had taken on the job only because she cared for the cause,” said Dr Husain, conceding that he was pleasantly surprised to see that the students were actually fluent in reading and writing.
“Her dedication and resolve to educate children in a remote and backward village remains, till this day, a source of inspiration for me, as it should for the functionaries at the education department.”
Teachers, he added, needed to hone their skills to truly inspire their students to learn. “Students must enjoy learning; they must look forward to school and such an environment can only be provided if teachers are actually dedicated to their work,” said Dr Husain.
Lamenting the lost culture of educators willing to teach not just for money, Dr Muhammad Memon discussed the idea of whether teaching, as a profession, should be considered a simple job or a greater cause. “These days, teachers are content to simply follow the set curriculum and shy away from expanding its vision and coverage. This, for me, is one of the major flaws in the field of education,” he observed.
Nargis Alvi, principal of the Habib Girls School, said teachers were one of the, if not the most, important guiding figures for children. “Often, children reject their parents’ views in favour of their teachers’. For a child, our qualifications do not matter; they trust teachers and consider what we say with utmost sincerity,” she said.
Tara Uzra Dawood, CEO of Dawood Capital Management, spoke about the need to empower and increase opportunities for females. Hailing the social media’s impact in this regard, she said it had provided girls a platform where they could express themselves to the world without the need for anyone’s permission.
She said her group was also focusing on this cause and would be providing scholarships to 1,000 girls for trainings, particularly in journalism, under its ‘Educate a Girl’ campaign.
In the day’s second session, senior policy adviser and Sindh Basic Education Programme Manager Randy Hatfield opened discussions on ‘Investing in Teachers’ Education: A Response to the Issue of Ghost Teachers’. He termed the issue as one commanding utmost importance and said that dedicated efforts, with the Sindh government’s help, were being made to redress the problem.
Sadiqa Salahuddin, executive director of the Indus Resource Centre, pointed out that she had observed the effects of absenteeism in person during a training programme supported by the USAID. “Most of the teachers never even go to classes as they actually aren’t competent enough to even answer the simplest of the students’ questions,” she said.
She asserted that merit-based appointments of teachers in the public sector would significantly boost the education system’s capacity. “Among other qualities, a good teacher must have the ability and willingness to learn and teach at the same time,” she said.
Abdul Hameed Memon, former vice-chancellor of the Shah Abdul Latif University, said the depressing socio-economic conditions in rural areas affected the creativity of both, the teachers and students. “We need to promote a conducive and creative environment where teaching and learning takes place in a productive manner,” he said, urging teachers to promote social values and perform their service to humanity in all earnestness.
Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa duly pointed out that not all persistent absentees’ fell under the category of ghost teachers. “Most of these ghost teachers are political appointees; they had never actually intended to teach so not coming into work is what they always set out to do,” she said.
Professor Abbas Hussain, director of the Teachers’ Development Centre, said that teachers must face different types of accountability; market accountability, organisational accountability and professional accountability.
“Market accountability is when people question the worth of knowing or having knowledge and the capacity to teach. Organisational accountability deals with whether you are accountable and loyal to your organisation,” he explained.
“Professional accountability, however, is of the utmost importance; how much they know and how competent they are in comparison with eminent members of the teaching fraternity.”
Tributes to Anita Ghulam Ali
Over the course of the day-long conference, various speakers paid rich tributes to the late Prof Anita Ghulam Ali.
Lt General (Retd) Moinuddin Haider, a former governor of Sindh, related fond memories about the renowned educationist who, he said, remains an inspiration for all.
In his welcome address, SEF Managing Director Aziz Kabani spoke of Prof Anita’s unwavering resolve to improve teaching conditions in schools across Pakistan and hailed the strength of character she displayed throughout her lifetime.
“Anita Ghulam Ali was the embodiment of education advocacy and her humanistic approach to teaching and learning endeared her to many, and served as a cornerstone of her leadership at the Foundation,” he said.
The conference was moderated by Dr Sajid Ali, Assistant Professor at Aga Khan University, and Professor Dr Bernadette Dean, director of the VM Institute for Education. The talks were followed by a question-and-answer session.

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