Education Needing a new approach

By Manzoor Chandio
Written on Sept 17, 2006
WHETHER or not the Sindh government will be able to quell the teachers’ protest with regard to the ban on teachers’ unions remains to be seen but one can certainly foresee that the future of education in this country is rather bleak.
It is egregious that teachers have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s arbitrary decision of banning associations.
The question is, does the ban really serve as a driving force for recovery of the province’s dismal education system?
The government’s premise that education in the province has deteriorated because of unions seems ad nauseam.
A closer look at the situation provides insight that banning teachers’ association is a problem far too complex for the government.
It has failed to overhaul structural flaws in the education system itself.
Teachers’ associations are accusing the authorities of the closure of about 7,000 primary, lower-secondary and secondary schools in Sindh.
These schools are being used as autaks (guest houses) and warehouses of feudal lords in the area.
About 3,000 schools in the province are without buildings and more than 15,000 schools are without power, water, furniture and better learning materials in classrooms.
The province faces a shortage of 10,000 primary and secondary teachers while 2,000 posts of lecturers are lying vacant. We must not forget that children from the disadvantaged segments of society study in government-run schools.
It would have been better if the government had taken efforts to reopen closed schools and adopted measures aimed at improving teachers’ salaries and skills.
The best way for the Sindh government to deal with the situation would have been addressing the interests of teachers instead of brining them at loggerheads.
Against this background, it is now obvious that the government-teacher antipathy has created a problem rather than providing solutions to the underlying issues that afflict the education system in Sindh.
The teachers have now become more politicised and government’s failure to depoliticise them seems esoteric at best.
The unions have started showing their mettle and the protest movement is rapidly gaining momentum, thus paralysing already fragile education system.When they gathered outside the chief minister’s house to as a sign of their protest, the government used force against them, baton-charging and tear-gassing them, and this was condemned by people from all walks of life.
There should have been a ban on strikes and not on associations, since other professional organisations like doctors’ medical associations and lawyers’ bar councils are functioning in the province.
The ban has deprived the academic community of their right to collectively bargain. They remain steadfast in their determination to continue protesting till the government rescinds the ban and the Removal from Service (Special Powers) Ordinance.
Undoubtedly, the unions have not achieved anything significant and for that reason, Sindh finds itself in a most awkward predicament.
The province lags far behind in education as compared to other provinces of the country — Punjab churns out most of the civil and military bureaucrats.It is regrettable that in a province where the government-run education system has already gone haywire and is teetering on the verge of collapse, teachers-government relations have reached a standoff with academicians threatening to go on an indefinite strike.
The impasse has triggered the debate whether or not banning associations was the only way to reform education.
The Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) appealed to the Sindh High Court, challenging the ban. The case is now sub-judice. The SPLA said that the Removal from Service (Special Powers) Ordinance was promulgated in violation of the Constitution and basic human rights. Political parties and human rights organisations have termed the ban illegal.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) calls for an end to all restrictions on unions, including those of students.
The perpetuation of teachers’ protest contributes to the stifling environment and is causing increased frustration among students. The government continues punitive action against office-bearers of unions and several of them have been sent on forced leave accusing them of indulging in subversive activities.
A major fear now is that parents will lose their faith in educating their children. Already there are millions of children out of schools due to abject poverty. Many parents do not send their children to schools as they are helping them to make ends meet.
Education for the downtrodden needs a major impetus for tackling poverty and for narrowing social and economic gaps. The protesting teachers belong to government-run schools and colleges and the action has affected almost the all academic activities in the province.
This has virtually paralysed the education system in interior Sindh where there are few private schools and colleges.
Parents in urban areas have choices and will somehow manage to admit their children to private schools.
The government has never offered incentives to the private sector to open new schools in rural areas and the latter has no interest in the poverty-stricken rural Sindh. The ban serves no real purpose other than causing anarchy in the Sindh’s education system where the government has taken some stopgap measures in the name of implementing reform programmes.
Few realise that teachers alone can not be held responsible for the deterioration of education in Sindh. Bureaucrats are the real culprits behind pushing the province back to the Dark Ages.
Nationalists say education in Sindh is being destroyed through a conspiracy of sorts. They quote the policy of well-educated Germans who closed down all education institutes beyond class four during their rule in former Soviet Union —according to recent declassified papers, Hitler wanted Russians to be illiterate to perpetuate German rule over them.
Nationalists say there are certain forces who want rural population of Sindh to be “rustic” so that people from urban areas could prolong their rule over Sindh. It is a well-known fact that the bureaucracy in this country has no desire or inclination to solve problems.If the government has trained teachers and systematised what it calls “reforms” under an expert-led initiative, it might have got better results.
The ban will not only discourage teachers from producing results but will also cause the education system of Sindh to collapse.If the government genuinely wanted to reform education, then there should be reforms with no sacred cows. Changes should be made in the mechanisms that have proved obsolete and are not serving the purpose.
In this regard, a Japanese saying comes to mind: “The only way to repair a shaky building is to tear it down and build a new one from scratch.”
There is no other way today for the government to invite teachers for a dialogue. The question the government is now faced with is this: can it afford teachers’ protest when it already faces many other impending political problems?
Pushing teachers against the wall will only make things worse and that will make it difficult to come out of the education anarchy.

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