Iftikhar Khan

PESHAWAR: Concerns already exist over the state of affairs in schools of merged districts. A recent report of Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) painted the real picture of the state of affairs in schools in merged districts. It revealed that more than 50 percent schools in merged districts lack basic facilities of water, electricity and washrooms, while 18 percent teachers and 35 percent students remain absent.

Although the government has announced appointment of 5,000 new teachers to reduce shortage of teachers, but it has also expressed apprehension about not receiving applications for teaching posts from some areas. The government has relaxed the condition of minimum qualification for tribal candidates to matric certificate instead of the previous condition of Bachelor’s degree to make sure that no school remains deprived of teachers. The government considers it a wise decision, but it is also facing criticism from various quarters.

TNN has conducted a panel discussion with tribal districts teachers’ association president Naseer Shah Afridi, government schoolteacher Rehan Orakzai and social activist Wafa Wazir to further explore the issue.

Naseer Shah said the teachers’ association had recently demanded relaxation in minimum qualification of B.A B.Sc for teaching posts of all cadres because tribal areas suffered a lot during militancy and education sector also suffered. He said the chief minister promised us to consider our request and he fulfilled his promise.

“There are many graduate and Master’s level candidates in merged districts, but there is shortage of highly qualified female candidates. Appointment of local women on vacant teaching posts will benefit tribal schools as they will reach for their duties on time and they will face no problem of accommodation,” he said, adding, “We are very thankful to the government to give priority to tribal districts and now local people will be appointed on vacant posts.”

Currently, he said, the female teachers from Mardan, Nowshera and Charsadda, who are serving in tribal districts, have to leave their houses very early in the morning to reach their duty stations in far off areas.

“Despite this cumbersome exercise, many female teachers fail to arrive for their duty on time. Appointment of local women will resolve this problem,” he said.

Naseer Shah clarified that matric passed candidates will only be considered for primary-level teaching posts and they will not be hired for higher classes.

“The government has made this decision to fill vacant posts in primary schools. We are also making efforts to shift fifth grade to the middle and high schools. We are making arrangements to exclude fifth grade from primary-level teachers as we have enough teachers to teach them,” he said.

The teachers association leader said an advertisement was published some time ago for appointment of about 50 to 60 SST teachers in tribal areas and minimum qualification was B.A/B.Sc with B.Ed. About 8,000 candidates applied for that posts and the recruiters were unable to handle the candidates and dispatch question and answer sheets in time.

“We are proud that tribal people love education. People of tribal districts have an advantage that they are away from urban culture and they have calm environment to focus on their studies,” he said.

Besides education facility, he said, students should also be provided recreation opportunities for their good physical growth and character building.

“In our schools, students have no facilities of furniture, shelter from weather and clean drinking water. Students sit under the open sky in all kind of weather conditions and schools close as early as 10:00am in some areas in the event of extreme hot weather or during rain,” he said.

Naseer Shah said hiring of 5,000 new teachers will address the problem of staff shortage. “There are only two primary teachers at each school in merged districts, while similar schools in settled areas have six to 20 primary teachers,” he said.

Wafa Wazir said while taking part in discussion that there are two aspects of reducing educational qualification condition for teaching posts in merged districts.

“Positive aspect will come in shape of job opportunities for women in merged districts. However, it will also have negative impact as children need a strong base at school, which cannot be built with matric passed teachers. Everyone has passed matric exam either regularly or as private candidate and we know that teachers with such low education may not be able to build future of students,” she said.

Wafa said subjects in the schools’ curriculum are not so easy. She said a matric passed teacher may be able to teach primary-level students to some extent, but the curriculum gets more difficult in middle level.

“How can a matric passed teacher teach middle-level English to students? Science and mathematics are also difficult subjects which can never be taught by a matric passed teacher. Therefore, I have reservations over this decision. It may create some job opportunities, but it will impact the future studies of children and they may lag in intelligence and insight and talented people will never be able to come forward in such a system,” she said.

Wafa Wazir said if matric passed teachers are hired under compulsion then they must not be asked to teach students straightaway. “Training must be organized for such teachers through NGOs and other institutions to enable the teachers to teach students properly. Teaching to classes from first to fourth or fifth grade might be manageable, but just memorizing the books is not enough, as conceptual teaching is required to enable the students to become useful members of society. Our youth lag behind because we always focus on memorizing lessons. Such students don’t have vision to compete with other students,” she said.

Wafa said teachers must be trained about techniques to give knowledge to students, which is not available in course books.

The social activist said schools in merged districts are also facing the problem of ghost teachers. She said many teachers may be found on paper, but only one or two teachers perform duty at every school. Previously, she said, people having passion for teaching used to study B.Ed and M.Ed, but now even a matric passed student can apply for teaching posts.

“This will negatively impact the tendency of getting higher education among students. Now a female student will just pass matric exam and then start trying to get a teaching job. A student who reaches B.Ed level certainly learns a lot during the process. Once the youth finds a government job, then they have tendency of not getting further education,” she said.

Wafa said the government should develop infrastructure and take action over ghost schools and ghost teachers. She said check and balance must be maintained to ensure attendance of all teaching staff. Matric passed teacher is not a solution.

Rehan Orakzai said the government will definitely arrange training for less qualified teachers after appointing them in such a large number. He said shifting of fifth grade to middle and high schools is also being planned. He said female teachers in tribal districts come after extensive traveling.

“Some female teachers stay in merged districts, while others prefer to travel daily. There are many female teachers who remain absent for months and students suffer. Schools will benefit if local teachers are appointed and enrolment will also increase. All teachers will not be matric passed as intermediate, Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders will also be appointed,” he said.

The schoolteacher said many people with matric education have left tribal districts and they are abroad for work and only a small number of such people are left. People with higher education are more in number.

Rehan Orakzai said all 5,000 teachers will not be matric passed and will not be weak as such.

“The government has extended the scope of IMU to tribal districts and teachers not performing their duties will face action. Positive developments are happening and things will improve with passage of time,” he said.