The year of low education rankings and teachers’ protests

Karachi:January 01: Even with an education emergency imposed in Sindh by the chief minister since 2016, the public education sector in the province failed to achieve any significant improvements in 2017, ending the year at a sour note with an unflattering report card from Alif Ailaan and disgruntled teachers protesting into the new year.

In the Pakistan Districts Education Rankings 2017, a report released by Alif Ailaan on December 14, Sindh was ranked seventh among eight regions of the country for its education scores which were calculated taking into account indicators like enrolment, retention, literacy, gender parity and learning outcomes. That means Sindh came in second to last on the list of provinces and other administrative regions which were scored – just one notch up from Fata, perhaps the most underdeveloped region of Pakistan.

The provincial government and foreign funders have provided huge amounts of money to improve the state of education in Sindh, but nothing changed in the sector in 2017. As the year drew to a close, thousands of teachers were protesting for their right to promotions, regularisation and for release of unpaid salaries while the department officials were busy in photo sessions.

Unenviable facilities

Yet again despite many promises, the department failed to provide basic facilities, including clean drinking water, toilets, furniture, boundary walls and other essential facilities government-run schools this past year.

There were no potable water facilities in 17,280 schools in the province, while 23,239 schools had only one toilet on campus for teachers and students, as per data The News collected from various NGOs and the web portal of the Reforms Support Unit. Similarly, the department also failed to upgrade school buildings. Across the province, 15,769 schools have no boundary walls, while 25,588 schools have no proper building.

Year of the education secretaries

Because of bureaucratic reshuffling, the education department saw three education secretaries in 2017. After the bifurcation of college education into School Education Department and College Education Department, Fazlullah Pechuho, who served the department from 2013 to 2016, was replaced by Jamal Mustafa Syed in 2016. Syed remained in office for hardly two or three months, before he too was reshuffled and replaced by Abdul Aziz Uqaili who then gave way to Iqbal Hussain Durrani in October 2017.

Teachers protest and baton charged

The past year also saw some large protests from four major groups of teachers – the New Teachers Action Committee (NTAC), which comprises those appointed in 2012 and are demanding salaries which have not been paid since they joined; teachers appointed through the National Testing Service on contract in 2014, now demanding regularisation; the Primary Teachers Association, which is demanding promotion to higher grades and a fourth group of teachers who were appointed on contract in 2010 after a qualifying test in Sindh University, and are also demanding regularisation.

Throughout the year, the different groups held various protests across the province and faced violence at the hands of police which usually resorted to baton-charging.

On April 30, NTAC teachers protested for release of their salaries, but faced police violence. On May 7, a group of NTAC teachers held a sit-in outside Nawabshah Press Club. Fortunately, the protest ended without any violence because the group moved to Hyderabad instead. On May 15, NTAC teachers from across Sindh protested in Hyderabad for two days. On May 19, they reached Karachi and tried to move towards CM House; police rounded up 60 teachers while 30 were injured in the baton-charging. On July 25, around 300 protesting government school teachers renewed their demand for salaries outside the Karachi Press Club; police resorted to baton-charging to end the protest.

Similarly on September 12, Sindh police again used power and baton-charged a group of NTAC teachers, who were protesting against non-payment of salaries outside KPC. On September 17, police used water cannons and teargas to disperse protesters of the same group. On November 23, a group of NTAC teachers from Ghotki were baton-charged when police was called to disperse them from outside the Sindh Assembly.

On December 21, a group of NTS-appointed teachers was protesting on Burns Road demanding permanent job status, but as they moved to the Red Zone, police used force and arrested 40 of them. On December 25, another group of protesting teachers was baton-charged when they tried to move to the Red Zone from KPC. That protest has been ongoing for more than a week now. On December 30, the protesters, which include the four disgruntled groups, announced they would move to Red Zone on January 1 (today).

Private education mafia

Meanwhile, because of the neglectful approach of the authorities, the owners of private schools have become tycoons charging higher fees from students with no regulations around to keep a check on them.

In 2017, for the first time in Sindh, parents of children enrolled in various private schools formed the All Sindh Parents Association after receiving fee vouchers with an unannounced 20-25% increase.

The association started a campaign against the illegal fee hike and also raised the issue with Directorate of Inspection and Registration of Private Institutions Sindh. The parents also organised protests, walks and sit-ins in front of private schools.

In addition, some of the association members filed petitions in the Sindh High Court against the private schools and the Sindh government, but the issue had not been resolved as 2017 ended.

Meanwhile, a number of elite schools in Sindh not only brushed aside the government’s proposal of fee structure but also violated the Sindh High Court decision in which the court had decided that private schools not increase fee by more than 5 percent and that too only after the approval of the competent authority.The news.