Education minister Naeem Akhter has started a contentious debate on the teaching in government schools by making the screening test mandatory for the Rehbar-I-Taleem teachers after they complete five years of their contractual employment. Teachers have already protested the decision and observed two days of shutdown against the decision. Their contention is that the government should have conducted the screening test at the time of the hiring of the ReTs and not after they have put in five years of their contract. This is a valid argument. For the test in the latter case is not only against the initial terms of their contract but also a fraught proposition. Should he fail in the screening test where will an ReT in his twenties or thirties go after giving five precious years of life to teaching at a government school. Perhaps nowhere. There will be a big question mark over his future career prospects. So, the teachers are right to contend that while government is right to test the ReTs before their appointment, it isn’t fair to do so for their regularization.
But there is an equally compelling argument advanced by the minister. That is, should a teacher who is not able to pass a standard screening test be inflicted on the generations of the students? Answer to this question can never be in the affirmative? Such a teacher will be a baneful presence not only in the system but also in the society as a whole? It will be a grave injustice to the children, a significant number of them from the economically poorer sections of the society and thus not able to afford expensive private school education.
A good teacher is the pillar of the education system. And if he happens to be poorly qualified and incompetent, even the teaching system with otherwise best resources and the infrastructure will turn out poorly educated students – something that is ruinous for any society. In fact, this is also the story of our government schools. The disgraceful results being produced by them have hardly ever been the major concern of the government, let alone their teachers. Or for that matter even that of the Teachers Forum which is at the forefront of the agitations in the state – all of them about the issues which have nothing to do with the quality of the education provided in government schools. As rightly pointed out by Akhter if the private schools with their poorly paid teachers and basic infrastructure can lead the results, why can’t government schools where teachers have permanent jobs and draw handsome salaries. Therefore, we can’t but appreciate the minister’s concern for the improvement of our long neglected public education system.
It is necessary to build foundations of our future prosperity and the quality of life. The quality of our schools and enabling every child to achieve success affects us all. So the community can’t remain alien to how our schools are run. There is no doubt that building better government schools entails building better teachers. But employing well qualified and competent teachers is just the beginning. And they will not automatically make good schools. To achieve this, we have to do more. We have to institute a system of accountability whereby government schools are reckoned for their performance on a yearly basis and suitably rewarded for a visible and objectively certified improvement. Changing education system for the better is a long haul and we hope Akhter stays the course.
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