Feb 23, 2009

Exploitation of teachers

Without narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention. — Neil Postman in End of EducationIN the neoliberal tradition of education, maximisation of profit and exploitation of labour go hand in hand. This model of education, which became popular in Pakistan in the last two decades, is based on a factory model where the emphasis is on mass production in order to make the venture viable in financial terms. In order to keep them on their toes, teachers are constantly demonised and exploited in different ways, be they economic, physical, emotional, social or psychological. In private English-medium schools, teachers are little more than robots, which is akin to being in a factory assembly line. In most of these schools, the punch-card system is in place and teachers are interrogated, insulted and penalised for being late. A common practice is that if a teacher is late for two days, a day’s salary is deducted. Their physical exploitation involves long working hours. In some cases a teacher is asked to teach five to seven classes a day. In most schools, teachers are not even given an appropriate place to work when not taking a class and often end up sitting in some vacant corner of the school. There are school managements that have gone as far as removing teachers’ chairs from classrooms to deprive them of the option of taking a seat during class. On the other hand, some private elite schools also make them work for extended periods of time on classroom decoration and presentations, noticeboard presentations and student activities. For some of these, they have to forego their holidays for which they are not compensated. Needless to say, their salary is not worth the work and humiliation that they are subjected to in a sometimes threatening environment. A large majority of teachers in elite schools complain of emotional exploitation as the attitude of the management is one that seeks to control its workforce through intimidation. Teachers’ individual creativity is nipped in the bud and they are forced to work within the tight shackles of school regulations. This emotional exploitation is closely linked to psychological mistreatment where tutors have to live with the threat of unannounced classroom visits by the management. This bureaucratic and hierarchical system suits the top management — they keep their teachers at a distance and use coordinators to exert control by checking their work and movements. In most cases, the management does not even trust teachers, and assumes that they are either shirkers or cheaters. Also, private institutions do not provide health cover, transport facilities or retirement benefits. In short, there is no job security and a teacher in a private school has to live from moment to moment. This suppressive and disabling environment makes them helpless, and compliant implementers, acting as tiny screws in a big machine. It is, unsurprisingly, more taxing for female staffers who are supposed to fulfil expectations of work as well as family. Another ill is that English is considered a panacea for all educational woes. Private schools are obsessed with proficiency in the English language. As a consequence, the hiring, promotion and worth of an individual depends on his/her command over the language. It is abysmal that in a particular private school chain, teachers are actually fined Rs100 each time they are spotted speaking in another lingo. Some highly intelligent and competent candidates are deprived of selection as they are unable to speak in English. However, some schools do claim to have workshops and courses for the ‘development’ of teachers but most of these exercises are not without a catch — they are limited in their scope as they focus on skills and strategies rather than on conceptual change or inculcating reflective skills among instructors. Instead of sponsoring teachers for such initiatives, schools make them pay for teacher training programmes. In a rigid bureaucratic environment, favouritism and flattery flourish; creative initiatives and innovative practices are discouraged. This culture of conformity and submission distorts personalities as staffers are treated like factory workers for enhanced productivity and efficiency. They, however, tend to forget that there is a major difference between the work done by factory workers and educators. A factory produces identical items on a mass scale in an assembly line and the worker is merely doing his or her bit in a predictable, mechanical manner. A school is supposed to develop individuals with independent, critical thinking abilities; who can reflect and have the courage to challenge the taboos of society and who believe in emancipation, peace, coexistence and a wider notion of socio-economic development. How can teachers inculcate such qualities in their students if they end up becoming submissive, insecure automatons?
By Dr Shahid Siddiqui The writer is a director at Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

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