By Marria Qibtia S Nagra:
Contending to reform the Education sector of Pakistan by paying meagre attention to the grave concerns defining its dynamics, is intriguingly idealistic to say the least. This idealism came to be eminently manifested when a couple of days ago, CM Punjab launched the Parho Punjab, Barho Punjab programme, centrally concerned with the notion of increasing the enrollment of children in public schools as of the academic year 2016, which is believed to serve as an indicator of the prioritization of children education by the parents as well as the provincial government.
The initiative, though partially laudable would assume the contours of a misdirected effort if its concerns are solely centered on the mere increase in the enrollment of children in schools to guarantee an educated children population. It is idealistic as well as ironic to note how it is shallowly believed that an increase in student attendance would cause the province to prosper when in reality the teachers , the ones who are to be the agents of this progression are largely absent from the schools in the first place. And even if present, most of them do not take the pain to really educate the children in terms of the instillation of morals and values, something that they grossly violate themselves, as has been prominently manifested by some recently grotesque incidents of teachers violence against children.
For the programme to flourish, teacher attitudes and methodology needs to be observed and assessed to ensure the prevalence of a conducive environment for productive education. Perhaps the first concern that demands immediate amicable tackling with regard to teachers behaviors is that of teacher absenteeism. Teacher absenteeism is a regular phenomenon in developing countries, and Pakistan is no different. It is a problem well realized and well acknowledged due to the conduction of eminent surveys but still considerable efforts are not being rendered to bring it down to tolerable limits.
One such examination conducted by the Pakistan Rural Household Survey (PRHS) evidenced the absenteeism of teachers from schools even when a considerable number of students attended them to seek education. Out of a total number of 206 schools surveyed from 130 rural communities, classes were not being taken place in 34 of them since the teachers did not feel like taking them. Moreover, around 20% of the schools which had considerable student strength, were without any teachers as the teachers had side businesses to render, and could not take out time to visit the schools.
Surveys like these manifest how casually many teachers take their profession to be, without realizing the grave repercussions their absenteeism is inducing in the children. Perhaps the gravest consequence of this absenteeism is the increased drop outs of students from schools. However, another area of concern largely ignored in this context is that of perceptive changes such absenteeism impels students to undertake. Many of them wrongly learn to disvalue time and break their commitments since this is what they have seen their supposedly learned teachers do, the ones who did not hesitate to breach the bond of trust and credibility their profession necessitated.
Another area of concern that demands immediate attention is the non-hiring of subject specialist teachers in government schools. It is a common practice to hire teachers, graduate in subjects repugnant to the subjects they are expected to teach to the students. It needs to be pondered how an Islamiyat graduate could be expected to do justice to his profession by teaching Mathematics to the students, a subject for which he has no solid learning background? Usually such hiring is justified by the excuse of unavailability of teachers, since not many graduates are willing to try their hand at teaching as a profession. This justification does holds true especially in the Pakistani society where very few individuals are ready to “choose” teaching as a profession as it is not deemed as an economically lucrative sector.
It has been seen that most individuals who really do join this sector sort of “stumbled into it” since they had “no other option or alternative”. To combat such attitudes and resultant shortage of teachers, a societal change needs to be undertaken. Teaching needs to be recognized as a noble profession in true letter and spirit to be escalated from its posture of an underrated profession to the one of immense significance, since it is through the teachers that the future generations are groomed and empowered. Moreover, individuals who are really inclined and desire to teach should join this sector since it is only in them that sincerity to teach and reform can be found.
Also, teacher attitudes needs to be reassessed in terms of their harrowing subjection of corporal punishment to children .Defined as the adherence to physical force to control, impinge and correct a student’s behavior and performance, corporal punishment in Pakistan is rampantly practiced. Even though Pakistan being a signatory of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Children is obliged to “take all appropriate …measures to protect children from physical and mental abuse and injury” yet very little seems to be done to eradicate the despicable tradition of corporal punishment.
On a cosmetic level, corporal punishment has been banned by the provincial governments yet incidents relating to the menace still surface from time to time alluding to the lack of dedicated monitoring mechanisms in keeping track of such incidents to curb them. It was only in the previous month that two cases were reported where students were beaten by a bat by their teacher since they had failed to complete the work assigned to them. Further grotesque manifestations of this crime are seen in the physical and sexual abuse of students by their teachers, a case in point being the recent rape of a girl from Larkana by her teacher. Who would have dared imagined in the worst of their nightmares that students in school would be susceptible to such gory advances by teachers, whom they were socially and culturally taught to hold in reverence? Of course, no one could have thought so, yet we saw it happening, saw how a few black sheep taint the noblest of all professions.
Besides socially delineating children, corporal punishment is indirectly responsible for inducing violent tendencies in the naïve personalities of children. If the “Cultural Spillover Theory” propounded by Rohen is to be believed , a theory that maintains that the use of force and violence by society to attain socially legitimate ends impels the involved subjects to resort to illegitimate means to attain their personal ends, then Pakistani society is learning the art of grotesque violence. By resorting to violence, teachers make it seem as a necessary agent in grooming students, which in turn makes the students feel that they too by resorting to it in their personal spheres of influence can get what they want, without being held culpable for their acts.
Amidst such grotesquely inconceivable practices staining the education sector, education clichédly termed as a panacea to social ills cannot render its beatific role, unless the government realizes the fact that it is much more than ensuring student enrollment and attendance in schools. The exigency of the hour is to realize that education is not a mere attainment of degrees or certificates to land one a white collared job, with a six digit salary .It is instead the edification of individuals, which can only be brought about when teachers themselves are morally upright. To really ensure an educated province and an educated nation for that matter, besides other things the government would majorly have to direct efforts towards teacher training to teach the teacher before the teacher is in a position to teach the students, the future of the nation.
The author, based in Karachi, is a freelance columnist with a profound interest in English Literature,International Relations and Psychology.