Hundreds of thousands teachers of private schools are among the worst-sufferers of pandemic lockdown and closure of schools. Writer says ‘Let the children of those teaching our children, not be allowed to go to bed hungry; this could be achieved by giving fees to school authorities.’
By Nazeer Ahmed Arijo
According to Solomon Ortiz, teachers are our greatest public servants, they spend their lives educating our young people and shaping our nation for tomorrow.
Teaching is “mother” of all professions. The seeds of the ‘Science, Engineering and Arts” are planted in a classroom under the watchful eyes of the teacher. It is the teacher who transfers knowledge, skills and wisdom. This is the reason why, those engaged in this prophetic profession are highly esteemed and handsomely paid and are privileged in terms of getting professional rewards and social recognition in other parts of the world. But unfortunately, educators in Pakistan are least respected, under-paid and over-working and they remain neglected, especially those working in private sector.
The COIVD -19 has negatively impacted household income of every section of society in general, and the private school teachers in particular. It has brought in its wake existential trauma, loss of livelihoods permeating psychological pain, alienation and indifference. The shutdown of schools has created acute financial crises ultimately affecting hundreds of thousands of private school teachers, teaching in various educational organizations. Faced with financial crises emanating from extended closure of institutions and subsequent non-payment of fees, majority of educational institutions either have fired their staff or refused to pay their salaries, leaving them in monetary misery. I have identified three categories : 1) big names like the “the Beacon House ,the City, the Educators and Army Public schools having branches all over the country; 2) the IBA community and SABIST schools operating at provincial level, and 3) two -to- three and a single branch schools, which are in majority, employing majority of private school teachers. Elite schools catering to bureaucracy, business tycoons and feudal lords, are charging huge amount and have quarterly-based- fees-collection system in advance; such organizations have enough amount in their accounts hence those are giving salaries to their employees.
Recently a person, after having uploaded a fees voucher given by an elite school administration cried over collection of security fees. He lamented that despite the education institute closed for some months, collecting security fees, making no sense, is nothing but fleecing public.
But, those elite schools are owned by either powerful individuals or mighty institutions hence the parents will have to succumb to demands made in the said voucher. The elite schools’ authorities know how to get their demands fulfilled. According to survey conducted by Alif Ailaan, there are 1.4 million teachers both in the public and private sectors in Pakistan of which 0.6 million teach only in government-run schools; the remaining are rendering their services in private sector. The point to note is that the majority of teaching faculty is working in such small set-ups like one-branch schools, which are the hardest hit in the COVID-19 situation.
They have become penniless because of extended closure of institutions and subsequent to no collection of fees (as a result) these schools have stopped paying salaries to the staff. Only some schools in this category have managed to give half salary to both teaching and non-teaching staff. Having not enough earning, such small organizations keep a month’s salary in their coffers in order to manage financial matters. The economic impact of COVID -19 has so far been more devastating than the virus itself, affecting hundreds of thousands teachers’ struggle for every day survival. The teaching staff working in small organizations, being under-paid, used to visit two-to-three houses tutoring students in order to earn enough amounts to keep home fire burning. Whereas a great many teachers, doing part-time job in a bid to keep the wolf from the door-ward off starvation, were engaged in coaching centers, or tutoring students comprising groups, which have come to a halt following the pandemic precautionary measures.
I was taken aback when one of my close friends, Muhammad Safeer, teaching mathematics in Civil Aviation College Karachi, told that a great many street-schools in the city were hiring employees giving three-to-four thousands salary package. Predators’ trap catches more female working staff given the understanding that they prefer to be inducted in schools near their residency. And, given teeth less regulators, this must be the case all over the country. One can imagine the economic hardships of teaching faculty losing their income in the face of ‘covidised’ situation in the country.
As if this were not enough. Very recently, “No classes, no fees” movement was launched on social media by some parents, thus, adding fuel to the flames.
What the parents did not realize was that refusing to pay fees to schools of their children was akin to pushing the economically impoverished teaching community at risk of destitution. It is this network of disadvantages at play wreaking havoc on those building future of the nation.
Keeping the monetary misery of the teaching community in mind, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) had held demonstrations across the country demanding to reopen schools while introducing some standard operating procedures (SOPs) so that financial difficulties faced by the teachers could be over. Earlier, clusters of private schools teachers had organized demonstrations and demanded of the government of including the former in Ehsaas cash delivery until the reopening of schools.
The priority put in place to protect schooling children from the pandemic, is a praiseworthy step. However, some policy should be put in place, to pull the starving children of teachers out of abject poverty.
One video went viral showing one male teacher deprived of salary, has started selling biryani in Karachi in order to feed his family. This speaks volumes about both crippling economic conditions and survival challenge the teaching community in question is facing these days.
“Another female teacher, a LinkedIn friend nursing an invalid husband, and mother of five children in Punjab province, disclosed on the condition of anonymity that non-payment of salary has left her on the verge of begging. Suicidal thoughts once gripped her, but orphanage of tender-aged children pacified /interrupted the intensified reaction in the brain”, she added.
One Kenyan widow, mother of eight children, after having lost her job, started boiling stones to dodge her children that something was being cooked for them. One of her neighbors leaked it to media, grabbing national attention and subsequently bringing an overwhelming response from the government and countrymen.
The economic conditions of teaching community in Pakistan are not better than that of the Kenyan lady. The teaching community is on the brink of cooking the stones…
These are extraordinary circumstances, and extraordinary measures are needed to give much needed relief to “nation builders” called teachers. Social media movement “No classes, no fees” be replaced with “take fees, feed the faculty.” In these hard times, parents must play their positive role; and the civil society must discourage the narrative of “no fees collection” during the closure of institutions. It is to be noted that it is the well-off, the government employees and business community who opt for private schooling for their new generation; the government servants are drawing their salaries, and the businesses are allowed to reopen and are generating income.
Let the children of those teaching our children, not be allowed to go to bed hungry; this could be achieved by giving fees to school authorities.
Since Asian countries have become the hotspot of the pandemic. And, Pakistan has been not only experiencing the spike in cases of corona virus cases, but also has confirmed a first case of reinfection of corona virus patient. It is likely that the schools will remain closed for longer than expected and announced time period. And, it is this situation demanding those at the helm of county’s affairs to announce urgent economic package for the teaching community while taking schools management and owners on board.
In the wake of economic crises unleashed by the pandemic corona virus, the State Bank had announced wavering of loans and interest -free loan schemes for various sectors so that employees layoff could be prevented. Same can be implemented here.
There should be some Ehsaas-kind consideration for this cash-starved-teaching community at every level. They can be included in Ehsaas-cash delivery. Or, the State Bank of Pakistan should give interest-free loans to cash-starved schools, returnable in easy installments, once schools reopen and start collecting fees.
Let the ignorance extinguishers called teachers be given economic patronage.
One hopes the penny will drop with the state and the society.