Teachers in Pakistan, especially government school teachers, are often blamed for virtually everything that is wrong with the country’s education system.
In fact very little is known about ordinary Pakistani teachers; the challenges they face and the support they need to jo their jobs properly. A new study launched today by the education campaign Alif Ailaan aims to change that.
The Voice of Teachers, a study of Pakistani teachers, highlights the struggles of men and women who are charged with the task of educating this country’s children, often under the most difficult circumstances.
Conducted by the Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE), in partnership with Alif Ailaan, the study is based on an extensive survey of more than 1,250 teachers and head teachers in government and private schools across the country.
“Teachers have a central role to play in efforts to reform the country’s system of education,” said Abbas Rashid, Executive Director of SAHE and one of the co-authors of the study.
“Our survey is an attempt to find out what teachers think about the problems plaguing the education sector and, importantly, about their role in providing quality education to Pakistan’s children.”
The survey interviewed 1,264 teachers (823 teachers and 441 head teachers) from 634 government and private schools in 15 districts, covering urban and rural areas in all four provinces. Its findings challenge many of the myths surrounding Pakistan’s teaching workforce.
The study also delves into issues that have received public attention in recent years: political interference, the role of teachers’ associations, recruitment, transfers and postings. Here too, what teachers have to say is surprising. Most government teachers state that they were hired on merit, with just 20 per cent reporting that their recruitment did not follow official procedures and just 1 per cent using political influence.
Among the issues that hamper a teachers’ ability to perform effectively are overcrowded classrooms, multi-grade teaching, poor quality textbooks, and the lack of facilities and equipment. For government school teachers, non-teaching duties are a major concern. Teachers in the survey claim that they spend an average of 53 days a year on non-teaching duties.
Despite these and many other challenges, an overwhelming majority of teachers surveyed report that they are satisfied in their jobs. “It is easy to blame teachers for the failures of the education system,” said Saman Naz, Alif Ailaan Research Director. “But our findings tell a different story. While there are teachers who renege on their duties and abuse the system, they are by no means in the majority.”
The vast majority of government school teachers acknowledge that absenteeism and ‘ghost teachers’ are a serious problem, saying such practices give honest teachers a bad reputation and make their work more difficult. Similarly, most teachers state that it is not their salary or benefits that motivate them but rather the status of teachers in society and a desire to work with children.
Teacher absenteeism is viewed as a problem by the vast majority of teachers in every province, except Punjab. Those reporting to duty say they suffer the most from teacher absenteeism.
In the case of government teachers, the variation between responses from teachers in Punjab and those in other provinces may indicate that the incidence of absenteeism in Punjab has been curbed.
Political connections, links with teachers associations and even outright corruption allow some teachers to remain absent without official leave. Teachers explain that absenteeism is a problem because it adds to the burden of those who do report to work.
The widespread use of corporal punishment, for example, affects a child’s willingness to go to school and their behaviour in the classroom. Worryingly, teachers across the board seem to view corporal punishment as useful.
An overwhelming majority of teachers (73%) either agree or strongly agree with the statement that corporal punishment is useful. Overall, the proportion of private school teachers (78%) who strongly agree exceeds that of government teachers (73%).
Government teachers are frequently assigned tasks that keep them preoccupied and away from the classroom. The time they would otherwise use to plan lessons or mark papers is spent in activities such as invigilation.
Government teachers in the survey report say that they are required to spend around 50 days a year, on an average, performing tasks that have nothing to do with teaching. Overall, teachers in Punjab and Sindh are required to spend more days on non-teaching activities compared to their counterparts in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In some cases, this is not simply an issue of time. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for example, a teacher in the survey pointed out a worrying trend of targeting school teachers during polio vaccination campaigns. School enrolment drives are usually carried out by teachers.
Teachers request transfers/postings due to logistical difficulties
Poor residential facilities, the cost of travel, the absence of safe and reliable public transport, security issues, and cultural barriers to working far from home are all factors that lead teachers to pursue ‘favourable’ postings.
In the qualitative interviews, many government teachers point out that logistical difficulties contribute to absenteeism.
The majority of teachers in our survey report that they want to work in their home towns (27%) or that they experience mobility issues (20%). Next in importance are the schooling of their children (16%) and the availability of health care facilities (13%).
When asked about their satisfaction with their current posting, however, an overwhelming majority of teachers in all provinces report that they are satisfied.
54% of government teachers say that salary is an important or very important motivating factor, as opposed to 38% of private school teachers. For both government and private school teachers, the status of teachers and the desire to work with students are far more important motivating factors.