Teachers as social reformers

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

OF ALL the components of education, the key one which determines the success or failure of a state in educating its citizens is the role of the teachers. Their professionalism, knowledge and pedagogic skills mould the minds and personalities of the generations of tomorrow.

Needless to say these have deteriorated over the years and partly account for the rot in the education sector in Pakistan. But there is another element which is equally important, if not more. That is the degree of motivation and commitment of the teachers. This factor goes into the making or breaking of an education system.

This conviction was further strengthened when I visited the education project of the Indus Resource Centre which runs 54 schools in various districts of Khairpur, Dadu, Jamshoro and Sukkur and is educating nearly 3,000 children (2,325 of them girls). True, this is no more than a drop in the ocean.

What is, however, remarkable inspiring about the programme is the motivation of the teachers. There are 114 of them and they do not treat their work as a career job — as a ladder for personal gain and monetary benefits. Probably, they have never heard of trade unions and would be shocked if they knew how they operate. The teachers I met in Sehwan and Khairpur demonstrated a lot of zeal and dedication and their performance went far beyond the call of duty as perceived by many of their more highly educated colleagues in Karachi.

Enlisting the services of such highly motivated teachers is the biggest achievement of the IRC that was founded seven years ago by Sadiqa Salahuddin with the motto of mainstreaming the marginalised. Sadiqa, who describes herself as a development professional, very soon discovered that not much would be achieved by simply opening schools with teachers present to teach.

Though in itself this would not have been an insignificant service considering the fact that 7,442 government schools in Sindh are non-functional, an NGO worth its salt would have to aspire for much more to justify its existence.

Recognising a universally accepted development principle, IRC adopted a holistic approach to education. Therefore it incorporated three basic elements in its programme, namely, education, participatory governance and economic initiative. It would like to include health care as an active component but has so far not succeeded given the expertise and resources that would be called for. But health awareness, environment sensitivity and gender equality are “cross-cutting themes” to quote the IRC’s profile document.

All this is possible only if social mobilisation, networking and advocacy is undertaken on a massive scale. This is where the role of the 114 teachers — as well as a hundred or so social mobilisers, trainers and other staff — comes in. Take the role played by the two coordinators — Farzana and Aasiya who are based at Sehwan and Khairpur respectively.

They travel all the way from their villages to their office every day leaving home early in the morning and work till late in the evening. They are visiting the schools under their care to check on the attendance and performance of the teachers and to keep a record of the needs of the school — be it for chalks and stationery or for reinforcing the teachers’ skills and knowledge. This might require them to organise workshops in different subjects to upgrade the teachers’ competence.

In the process the coordinators and the teachers would initially encounter resistance at the social level. Poverty was so entrenched that for many families it was a burden to even send their daughters to school. There were some who did not want their daughters to travel to a neighbouring village for reasons of personal security.

On many occasions Farzana and Aasiya were required to go to the villages and talk to the parents and persuade them that no harm would come to their girls, especially when transport was arranged for them.

One major apprehension of some fathers was that their daughters would go to school, get educated and then “run away” from home. The teachers and coordinators have managed to change mindsets on many occasions by putting themselves up as an example. They are smart, articulate, confident and, above all, highly motivated. What is more, they have not run away and continue to live with their families while supporting ageing parents financially.

The IRC has played its cards well by not being hamhanded in its approach. When a teacher had to be sent to attend a training programme in Sehwan/ Khairpur the doubting Thomases were reassured by encouraging aunts and mothers to chaperone them.

The IRC has gone to all extremes to reassure sceptical parents that educating their daughters would not be a disaster. The reluctance has stemmed mainly from the fact that not every village has a school. While official negligence has been a major factor there is also the fact that some of the villages are no more than small settlements and it would not be feasible to set up a school in each of them.

The determination and motivation of the teachers are remarkable. Many of them have themselves fought a hard battle to convince their families that education is good for them. They feel they are changing the lives of the little girls who come to them to study. They transmit their own motivation to their students and that acts like magic. The students are motivated too and they all have dreams of becoming doctors, teachers and even lawyers one day. When these little girls make their dreams come true they will return home to change the life of rural Sindh.

Where does all this motivation come from? The monetary inducements are not all that big to make them starry eyed and committed. It is an interactive process. As the cultural barriers come down, the teachers discover that they are winning the respect of the village communities with whom they identify themselves and from whom they are not alienated.

This process goes all the way up. Their ‘madam’ — the founder and secretary of IRC, Sadiqa Salahuddin — provided the spark to light the flame of commitment in them. They are now passing on the light to the little girls who dream of a bright future. Their dreams inspire the teachers to sustain their motivation and each of them ensures that this chain is not broken.