By Zafar Ahmed
Education, especially primary education, is believed to be vital for the success of any society. Free and compulsory primary education is, therefore considered as the fundamental right of every child which the state must provide.
The constitution of Pakistan cites this fundamental right of every citizen. Being the signatory to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and through programs like Education for All (EFA), the state has vowed to achieve universal primary education. However, the practices on the ground suggest that such goals are still far from seeing daylight.
Education in Pakistan is provincial subject giving provinces autonomy in making and implementing educational policies. ‘Uniform education system for all’ is what included in the manifesto of the current PTI government. After coming into power the government took a few steps for reforms in the elementary and secondary education which include recruitment of teachers through NTS and monitoring teachers through the establishment of Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU).
The government claims such steps to be revolutionary in the history of the province like its model police. Notwithstanding with such claims the dismal condition of primary education has a different story to tell.
While this is true through NTS a large number of teachers have been recruited, yet primary education is still ignored as ever. As per the policy, the number of students per teacher should be 40. The primary education, which completes in six years, has six classes with six subjects being taught to every class. To engage all the students every primary school requires at least six class rooms and six teachers. And to have six teachers and six classrooms a school must enroll at least 240 students.
But due to low enrolment rate, majority of the primary schools don’t reach the standard mark. Hence, majority of the primary schools are being run with just two teachers and two classrooms with a single teacher handling three classes in a single classroom in a period of 40 minutes.
“In majority of the primary schools, including my own, there are only two teachers and two classrooms. I am supposed to teach 18 subjects and to handle 3 classes at the same time. A period is 40 minute long, so I have only 13 minutes for each class. What a teacher could do in 13 minutes teach kids, check their notebooks, teach them manners or yell at students who are from other class but sitting in the same room?” says a primary school teacher (PST).
A secondary school teacher had the same views:
“Improvement in education is a very difficult task without reforming primary education where the base is built. Students who enter middle level are too weak. Many of them even don’t have basic skills and knowledge of alphabets, basic mathematics and basic reading skills. At primary level there is a severe shortage of teachers and classrooms.
“I have read your previous article which was critical of teachers but look the woes of teachers and the lack of basic requirements without which effective teaching-leaning could never take place,” he further reiterated.
On the other hand the PTI government is consistent in its rhetoric that education revolution is on its way under her leadership which is negated by the ground realities. The worst results of public schools in matric and intermediate exams have exposed such claims.
Millions of rupees have been spent on Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) to control teachers’ absenteeism. While it is interesting to note that how keeping watchdogs on teachers could improve their performance as schools teachers are highly unmotivated. A mere physical presence of teachers without mental satisfaction is meaningless.Low salaries of teachers is the main reason behind their lack of motivation as reported by Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report 2017-18.
Primary school teachers start with BPS-12 with a net salary of twenty thousand per month and with immense difficult job of teaching kids. Furthermore, in our primary schools shortage of teachers and classrooms and lack of other basic facilities makes primary teaching a very unattractive job.
“I have been teaching in a primary school for two years. I have double master degrees, including the professional degree in medical education. Primary teaching is too tough and very unattractive so I am struggling for secondary school or at least middle school. Jobs in any other department are more attractive than teaching,” narrated another primary school teacher.
In short, the primary education which is the base of education is in deep crisis. The government needs to declare primary education emergency. Teachers should be provided with better incentives instead of blaming them for poor quality of education.
Criteria of one teacher per 40 students should be replaced with one teacher per class so that all the classes will be engaged by different teachers instead of a single teacher managing three classes at a time. If that is expensive, at least private teachers could be selected for specific period till the required enrolment is achieved. Moreover, a primary school should have at least six rooms as per the number of classes in a primary school.
Primary school teachers’ salaries ought to be increased to enhance their motivation and to make them sincere with their profession. At least for primary education the government should not make an excuse of deficit budget. Otherwise, the idea of reforms in education will remain a hoax.
(The writer is Lecturer in Sociology with Higher Education Department,KP).