By Zubeida Mustafa
TEACHERS have been in the news recently as it is universally recognised that the quality of education and the learning output of children in any society depend preponderantly on teachers’ performance and academic standards.
Hence considerable improvement can be brought about only if we focus on the teachers on a priority basis. The Children’s Literature Festival has added a day for teachers since its Karachi session in February this year. Once again teachers got a day to themselves before the CLF opened in Lahore last week. Earlier, two reports titled The Voice of Teachers by Alif Ailaan and SAHE’s report on Teaching and Learning English in Sindh’s Schools identified serious problems with the teaching sector in Pakistan.
How the performance of teachers has upset people was clear when some concerned citizens launched a campaign on social media by actually identifying ‘ghost teachers’ who are on the payroll of the education department but do not attend school though they are drawing handsome salaries.
The Alif Ailaan report which is the product of much hard work and commitment identifies two key factors with reference to teachers that are mainly responsible for the rot in the education sector. One is the high degree of absenteeism. Although many teachers try to be conscientious about attendance, the absence of even a few on a regular basis is demoralising for others as it increases the workload of those who show up for work.
Teachers themselves are the product of poor educational levels.
Also responsible is the poor pedagogy and teachers’ lack of knowledge of the contents of the course. They are, after all, themselves the product of a decaying education system. Given the state of teachers they do not have the capacity or skill to find innovative ways of getting round the constraints posed by shoddy textbooks and the lack of motivation in children who do not receive the support from home that makes a vital difference to their education. Ambiguity in the language of education policy promotes confusion and is detrimental to the child’s interest.
Add to these the malnourishment of the students who are not eager learners because of poor health.
At the Lahore event the issue of lack of knowledge emerged starkly. I was impressed by the honesty and courage of a teacher who admitted at a session on history that she did not have sufficient knowledge of the history of Pakistan to correct the myths and disinformation being dished out in history textbooks.
She was responding to a scathing attack by Prof Arifa Syeda Zahra on how those wanting to Islamicise had distorted our history. This teacher wanted the panelists to tell her what she and her colleagues could do to rectify this inadequacy. The same demand was made during a bigger session called Teachers’ Voices.
The Alif Ailaan report makes sweeping recommendations, most of which have been made earlier in other forums and have received scant attention from the authorities. There is a need to be more specific.
One wonders if the teachers have been asked two crucial questions. One, are they aware of the problem caused by their low level of knowledge of the content of various subjects? Two, if they are aware, what suggestion can they make to help them improve their own knowledge and learning? One solution obviously is for them to read books — and not only course books.
Actually a good teacher takes the parents along with her. She has to have advocacy skills to convince them that she knows what is best for the child. The TLF, which was an inspiring event, provided about 4,000 teachers a lot of exposure to new experiences which they will hopefully take back with them to the classroom.
Experts in their own field stimulated new thinking in them. But what was missing was the interaction the teachers, especially from public-sector schools, could have had with the highly educated and trained teachers from some of the best private elite schools of Lahore. These schools have their academic sections where new books and pedagogy are developed. Although some of the elite schools participated in the CLF I found them conspicuously absent from the teachers’ session.
It is the government’s job to provide training facilities of good quality to teachers without which no improvements are possible in the education system. At the teachers’ festival there were a number of activities conducted by resource persons which would have benefited the teachers by giving them new ideas such as the art of reading with expression, critical thinking, using animation, creative writing and project-based learning.
Although such activities could inspire teachers and motivate them, they cannot replace the basic elements of pedagogy or the basic knowledge of various subjects, whether science, maths or history. Should not the more privileged ones consider it their duty to extend a helping hand to the less privileged?