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Monitoring assistants in Sindh are protesting for promotion in their jobs

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ppointed to monitor primary schools in remote areas of some districts of Sindh, including the drought-stricken Tharparkar desert, the recruits may have been delighted at getting government jobs. Today, they are protesting lack of promotions and denial of hardship allowance.

Sikraj Lakhani, 30, has a Grade 14 job with the School Education and Literacy Department. He is responsible for monitoring 116 primary schools in Diplo tehsil of Tharparkar district. He says, “in the tehsil where I have been appointed, most of the schools are located in remote areas. I have to visit all these schools, no matter what the circumstances are.”

Lakhani smiles and adds, “our protest has nothing to do with how our job is defined; the problem is that there are no roads to access these schools. As a result, I cannot reach the schools easily. The government should provide four-by-four vehicles for visits to the remote areas. Unfortunately, they don’t.”

Lakhani says, “we produce a monthly monitoring report and send it to the district education officer (DEO). The annual report is compiled at the head office and is sent to the secretary.”

During the 2020-21 academic year, the monitoring coverage achieved was 100 per cent. 47,551 schools were visited out of a total of 47,806 schools.

District-wise absconders and habitual absentees report 2020-21 showed that among the teaching staff 64 were found absconding and 344 were habitual absentees. Among the non-teaching staff, 34 absconders and 135 habitual absentees were reported. In all 30 districts, there were 3,077 absconding teachers and 7,143 habitual absentees. For the non-teaching staff the numbers were 1,444 and 3,805, respectively.

Lakhani says that following his appointment, “20 ghost schools were identified and made functional. Around 40 schools were closed, but after monitoring, more teachers were appointed on a need basis. There was a shortage of furniture in several schools. Some of the school buildings were found damaged and have been repaired.”

According to Lakhani, ten of the absentee teachers were sent on early retirement. He says seven schools were vacated. Besides, around 150 out-of-school children were enrolled following his meetings with their parents and guardians.

There are about 40,000 primary schools in Sindh. 385 monitoring assistants were appointed in Grade 14 in 2016 to keep an eye on their functioning. A Monitoring and Evaluation Department was established within the Education Department for the digitalisation of schools data and monitoring of ghost teachers with support from the World Bank during the tenure of former education Secretary, Fazlullah Pechuho.

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In the first phase, monitoring assistants were recruited for 14 districts on April 17, 2016. In the second phase in 2017, assistants were hired for 15 more districts.

The monitoring assistants are tasked with visiting the schools to ensure teachers’ biometric attendance and inspect students’ attendance. They also inspect and report on the condition of school buildings, compound walls, furniture and washrooms.

“Personally, I appreciate the demands put forth by the monitoring assistants,” said a government official from Tharparkar district, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Considering that the medical staff is getting a desert area allowance, I think they, too, should get it.” 

Imtiaz Rahamoon, 31, tells TNS that monitoring assistants’ attendance and infrastructure data and footage have to be taken and conveyed on SSMS, i.e. (Sindh Schools Monitoring System) on a regular basis. They also report on utlisation of SMC funds, free books and scholarships paid to girls. Rahamoon was appointed to keep an eye on 136 schools in Chachro taluka of Tharparkar district.

The assistants are provided bikes, mobile phones and biometric devices. Lakhani laments that seven years after his appointment, the devices have not been replaced. Even those that have developed some fault have not been repaired. He says they are provided a set amount of petrol for the visits, which is insufficient in the current circumstances. In many districts, he says, the assistants are forced to bear a part of the cost out of their own pockets.

In Tharparkar and Umarkot districts, he says, most of the schools are in remote areas. Only dirt tracks and sandy roads lead to some of the schools. However, according to Sikandar Lakhani, “we were given bikes meant for paved roads. In these areas, the monitoring assistants should be provided four wheel-drive desert vehicles. Otherwise, the bikes should be replaced regularly and funds should be provided for their maintenance. Besides, petrol should be provided on the basis of kilometers travelled.”

Promotions is another issue. Seven years after the appointments, the contracts have not been upgraded. Meanwhile, office assistants recruited the same year, have been promoted from Grade 14 to Grade 16. Some of them have been promoted to Grade 17 after having worked for five years.

“Upgrade and promotion are fundamental rights,” Lakhani says. “Only a few monitoring assistants have been promoted. The rest remain in Grade 14. We are demanding an upgrade to Grade 16 and a clear service structure.”

“Personally, I sympathise with the demands put forth by the monitoring assistants,” says a government official from Tharparkar district, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Considering that the medical staff is getting desert area allowance, I think they should get it too.” Expressing satisfaction with the performance of monitoring assistants, he says, that the performance of schools has improved due to the monitoring system. The attendance of teachers and students has also improved significantly, he adds.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist. For over a decade, he has been writing on climate change, wildlife and marginalised communities

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