By Mariam Khalique, a teacher from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan and previous teacher of Malala Yousafzai.
There is a saying in our national language: a teacher is like an architect who builds the soul and character of a child. Yet Pakistan is ignoring the vital importance of teachers and teaching – and our children are suffering the consequences.
I am a teacher from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. I taught Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl education activist who was attacked by the Taliban for exercising her right to go to school.
Even without the threat of such attacks, it is very hard for teachers in rural and remote areas in Pakistan to provide quality education. In district Swat, where I work, there are about 2,000 schools, but very few are providing quality education. In mountainous areas, where very few schools can be found, many are either ghost schools (the schools exist on paper in black and white but do not actually exist in reality or are not operational at all) or schools with no infrastructure, no system and no teaching learning process. The buildings lack proper facilities, the classrooms are not properly equipped with desks and chairs and there are no toilets in some schools. Let me tell you that it is very hard to teach and keep children’s concentration when they have no chair to sit on, and nothing to lean on to write. In short, these are schools in name only. They provide abysmal learning conditions.
Our schools also fail to give every child the care and attention they need and deserve. Class sizes are out of control in some areas, with one teacher for up to 150 students.
I know how hard it can be to teach if you don’t have the right support. I, too, am frustrated at hearing about so many children who are not learning in school and want to do something about it.
For starters, there is a huge lack of qualified teachers, which greatly hinders children’s chances of learning. For example, in the school where my aunt works, English (as a subject) is taught from grade 5. Although she is a certified teacher, she can’t write in English. My aunt asked me to write a few lines on “My Self” and “My Village” so that she could share these texts with her students. Her students rely totally on memorizing what they are told, rather than actually learning.
Teaching is not considered a well-paid and attractive profession. It often draws only young people with mediocre qualifications. Many teachers are also appointed on the basis of favoritism and the influence of government figures, rather than on merit.
Our education system is also plagued by dishonesty and malpractice. Once I visited a school where I found a mixture of two to three grades of students in the same classroom, with one teacher assigned the duty of just keeping them quiet for five hours of schooling. In such situations, the teacher usually holds a long stick or shouts to keep children silent.
Corruption is also eating away our children’s future. Some teachers receive a salary for teaching in a school that doesn’t actually exist. Others mark the attendance register for teachers who are absent.
We must not only put an end to such practices but also ensure that teachers have the right incentives and are motivated to stay in their jobs. Bangladesh has provided safe housing to encourage women to stay and teach in rural areas for example. In Pakistan, however, there is lack of incentives for teachers to transfer to hilly, remote and underdeveloped areas. This means that many of the most disadvantaged children – and girls in particular – are missing out on their basic right to a good quality education.
The government spends hardly more than 2% of GDP on education. It is reassuring to hear that the government intends to double this in the coming years. More spending is vital, as 5 million children in Pakistan are out of school and two-thirds of our children are not learning how to read and count.
It was well said by a great scholar that a mediocre teacher tells, a good teacher explains, a superior teacher demonstrates, and a great teacher inspires.
The 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report shows how we can offer all children great teaching: by recruiting teachers from a wide range of backgrounds, training them properly, and offering them incentives to teach in difficult areas and to remain in the profession.
Our goal should be nothing less than quality education for all of our children, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances.
Download the new Advocacy Toolkit for Teachers prepared by the EFA Global Monitoring Report, Education International and UNESCO’s Teacher Taskforce for Education for All.