Educating Orangi

By Zubeida Mustafa

“Punishment should be reformist in its goal. It should make the child realise his mistake…But punishing a child unnecessarily and aimlessly will not inculcate good habits in him nor will it reform him … Corporal punishment creates hatred in a child for his teacher… It should be avoided. (Translated from Urdu)

These and many more practical suggestions are contained in the Teacher’s Guide published recently by the Orangi Educational Project. The guidelines do not reflect anything radically innovative. But the move to publish a 31-page guide of this nature is definitely an unprecedented step. Some of the trained teachers say they had never been taught many of th42-21-04-1989ese norms in the course of their training.

The publication of the guide speaks of the collective efforts of a handful of schools to upgrade themselves and improve their quality of education. It is not strange that it should be schools in Orangi which should have decided to opt for a self-improvement process. According to Dr Akhter Hameed Khan, the Director of Orangi Pilot Project and the driving force behind the education programme, Orangi is a new settlement and its people have the pioneering spirit of settlers. Hence they are willing to shed old conventions and inhibitions and experiment with new ideas.

Orangi is different in many ways. A katchi abadi of 1.1 million it is said to have a literacy rate of 63 per cent more than double the national literacy ratio. What is more, it is not the government which has been responsible for this commendable achievement of the people of Orangi Town. There are only 30 government schools in the area which is a grossly insufficient number to meet the needs of a people with high educational aspirations for their children. Even-an ordinary thelaywala wants to send his sons and daughters to school.

In the face of the government’s failure, the people have responded remarkably to meet their growing need and opened schools for their children. These institutions began as coaching centres in the seventies when under the nationalisation policy private schools could not be set up. Today there are 534 private schools in Orangi providing education to 172,000 children. They are not the home schools of yesteryears which failed because people were not satisfied with “part-time education” for their children, to quote Dr Akhter Hameed Khan.

Today’s schools are regular ones with a teaching staff, separate premises, furniture, time-table, examinations, academic schedules and so on.

The mention of a private school invariably conjures up in the people’s mind visions of the elitist, expensive and prestigious institutions charging Rs. 700 or so as the monthly fees. But to classify Orangi’s private schools in the same category would be gross injustice to them.

Charging on an average Rs. 30 per month, the Orangi schools are modest concerns. Most importantly they cater to the common man’s children. They cannot provide the same sophisticated facilities as the high-fee institutions. The teachers are not so well-paid — they receive anything between Rs. 400 to Rs. 600 per month depending on their qualifications. Most of them are Intermediates. The average class size ranges from 30 to 40 and the teacher-pupil ratio is between 1:28 and 1:40. The classrooms are small and crowded.

What makes the difference, however, is the motivation and zeal the teachers and principals display. A visit to these schools is an enlightening experience. The sense of involvement and participation their proprietors feel is writ large in their institutions.

Though there is an overall pressure on space, the walls are plastered with charts, pictures and other teaching aids. One of them has managed to have a separate room for art and handicraft with the paraphernalia for art classes arranged neatly in it. Many of them have small box libraries which issue books to the children. Nearly all of them organise extra-curricular activities which keep the students as well as their parents involved. Only recently, four schools got together to hold a science exhibition.

Although they might not offer the same facilities as the high-fee private institutions, the approach of the Orangi schools is progressive and enlightened. Take the case of female education. They do not segregate the girls and co-education is the norm. And yet the female enrolment ratio is higher in Orangi than is the national average. In the ten schools which have come together in the Education Project (EP) there are three girls to every four boys enrolled. Of the 169 teachers, 137 are women. There is no doubt that the women of Orangi Town are more emancipated than the average Pakistani woman. According to the school enrolment figures for the country there are seven boys enrolled in school for every three girls. And only 30 per cent of teachers are women.

Thus the women have created what Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan calls a “virtuous cycle” as opposed to a vicious cycle. With the education of girls the role of women in society and in the economy will be enhanced which in turn will boost female education.

More important than what they have to offer in tangible terms is the spirit of self-improvement of the Orangi school heads and teachers. The schools which are members of EP have 5095 students on their rolls. Their aim is to upgrade themselves by instituting a teachers’ training programme, producing high standard textbooks and funding their physical improvement.

Since November 1988 when it was reorganised and became a going concern, the EP has held five lectures for their teachers by eminent educationists, organised two workshops and arranged four visits to other schools in the city and to the Teachers’ Resource Centre. The aim is to expose the teachers and administrators to new ideas, help them interact with one another and broaden their outlook. In addition, the first part of the teachers’ guide has been published, a monthly magazine has been launched and an Urdu textbook is under production.

Another significant feature of the EP is the revolving fund of Rs. 100,000 set up with a grant from the Orangi Pilot Project. Member schools can borrow money from the fund to finance expansion, repair and maintenance of their buildings.

The Education Project is expected to grow rapidly. Already a large number of other schools have applied for membership but the Governing Board, which boasts eminent names such as Professor Karrar Hussain and Dr Hameed Khan, has decided to admit a maximum of 20 institutions every year.

As Dr Akhter Hameed Khan pointed out in a lecture to the school administrators and teachers EP has a dual role to play. First it should work to upgrade the schools through cooperative efforts. The focus should be on in-service training of teachers, creating audio-visuals and setting up libraries which can alone inculcate an interest in books in the child.

The second important objective, which he emphasised, should be to lobby for the cause of the low-fee private school. Not only do these private schools need to have their role in the education sector formally recognised, they also deserve due encouragement.

“It is really unjust that most of the country’s resources earmarked for education are being spent on the education of a small minority while the big majority should be neglected. Justice demands that the private institutions educating children—a task which the government has failed to accomplish — should be given a subsidy. The criterion or index will have to be determined but it should be based primarily on the number of children being educated in a school,” Dr Akhter Hameed Khan observed.

Financial constraints are not the only problem that the low-fee institutions face, although this is a major one. Their role in the educational system has so far not been acknowledged. Lacking the social and political clout and financial backing of the expensive private schools, the operators of the smaller institutions find themselves at a serious disadvantage in many respects.

The education authorities treat them with contempt, driving them from pillar to post even for minor tasks of a routine nature. The bureaucratic red tape creates hurdles for them making their smooth functioning difficult. For instance their monthly fees — ranging from Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 — were fixed eight years ago when they were registered. Now they cannot raise their fees by even Rs. 5, which is the maximum the parents could afford. The rules of the Directorate of School Education require them to get their accounts audited by a professional auditor, which is beyond their means.

The charges they have to pay for electricity, water and other services at commercial rates are backbreaking. Over and above those are the unofficial “tips” they are forced to pay to the petty officials of the Directorate for even simple jobs as getting a childs’ Transfer Certificate counter-signed.

The school administrators point to the Directorate’s requirement that they must deposit in a bank six months’ salary of their staff in advance. Virtually living from hand to mouth, they find this an impossible demand. “If we had that much of money, wouldn’t we employ an accounts clerk rather than pour over the ledgers ourselves to save money,” the administrators ask.

The difficulties are so daunting; that some school proprietors are reported to be winding up their establishments. They are also haunted by a severe sense of insecurity born out of the authorities’ indifferent attitude. Although the possibility of nationalisation is held to be remote, the proprietors fear that such rules and regulations could be laid down as to make it impossible for them to operate their schools.

It would be a pity if the low-fees schools in Orangi — as well as in other low-income localities — are forced to close down. They certainly fill the vacuum created by, the government’s inability to I expand the educational system sufficiently.

The existence of these schools is important in another way. They are community-centred and serve as a focus of activity for the neighbourhood in which they are located. Not only are the children from the same locality, the teachers are also mostly women living in the vicinity of the school. Many of them had studied in the same schools where they now teach.

It is this bond of kinship and sense of belonging which distinguishes the Orangi schools from the. prestigious institutions in the city, where children from all over Karachi are enrolled.

Being community-oriented, the schools participating in the Education Project have a social welfare approach. More than monetary benefit, their primary consideration is the uplift of the community. It is this approach which prompts: the teachers to work for such low salaries even though they have other options available to them. Their quest for self-improvement is rooted in their commitment to the cause of education of their children: in which they take great pride. By working for a song, the teachers of Orangi have made it possible for the schools to keep their fees so low which enables the thelaywala to educate all his children.

Source: Dawn 21 April 1989