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Teachers & bureaucrats

Published Jun 07, 2013 05:10am


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“THE education department, believe me, is much more corrupt than the police department.” This is how one teacher put it in a conversation we were recently having about problems public school teachers face.

He wanted to convey the height of corruption; what better department to use for comparison than the police? He knew I was not convinced, so he repeated it two or three times, with more emphasis each time. And then he went on to give examples.

As soon as your name comes on the wait-list of candidates who might be hired as teachers, the clerk ‘mafia’ reaches your home to get a cut for letting your name through. Then, postings and transfers are ‘facilitated’ by clerks, too, while promotions also need paying for. One of the teachers, who works as a head teacher, said that the clerk ‘mafia’ was a blackmailing racket, with female teachers the main victims. She seemed to suggest that money was not the only type of payment that was expected, accepted and given.

According to these teachers the rot was not only amongst the clerks in the education department, it has permeated higher levels as well. There were district education officers who were known to be corrupt; these officers not only took a cut in the various transactions mentioned, they also made money in the procurement of furniture and/or supplies and took a share when authorising the release of funds.

But the teachers were objective enough to realise the other side of the coin. They acknowledged that only about one-fourth of the teachers in Punjab, in their opinion, were in the teaching profession because they wanted to be teachers and enjoyed it. The rest, they opined, were in the profession because they could not find other jobs that were as good and paid as well. They also said that there is corruption in the system because of the teachers, too. So, without going into causality, teachers feed a corrupt system on one side and are victims of it on the other.

A lot of teachers are also close to specific officers, they said, or were recruited on the recommendation of an MNA/ MPA or a local notable. Some of these teachers get choice postings, many do not work hard and since they cannot be disciplined by their respective head teacher or headmaster, they get away with doing nothing.

These teachers had a lot of complaints about society at large. Teachers in rural areas are considered kammies (of a lower order) by the local notables, in some places treated as domestic servants. Some officers also treat their subordinates and the teachers working in their jurisdictions as servants; society at large does not give teachers the respect they deserve.

However, none of the teachers I met said that their salaries were low. Adjustments in salaries over the last few years, at least in Punjab, seem to have addressed the income issue for the time being.

Mainstream parties that have been elected to government recently in Islamabad and in the provinces had, in their manifestos, promised major reforms in the education system. The time has come for them to start work on delivering on these promises.

Most of the parties have said that they will put more money into public education, and devolve the management of the education system to the district and lower tiers of government. While more money is definitely needed and governance does need to go down to the district, tehsil and even school level, many of the points mentioned will not be automatically addressed by merely putting in more money or devolving the system.

There is nothing to stop district or even tehsil set-ups from remaining corrupt or becoming as corrupt as the teachers felt the current system is. And local authorities and set-ups might be even more vulnerable to being captured by local elites than the provincial set-up. The dangers of making the system even worse are quite substantial.

In addition, parallel to the thinking on the land-registration system and the police system, we have to find ways of using technology, and the codification of and access to information, to reduce corruption and the abuse of power that seems very entrenched in the education system. Why can we not have information about all teachers and their career records on computers? Why can we not make the posting/transfer criteria more transparent, as well as the way they are applied to individual cases? If this is done in tandem with other changes such as putting in more money and taking decision-making to lower tiers, automated systems managed out of provincial capitals can become a means of effective monitoring as well.

Similarly, the recruitment process can also be made much more transparent and open. The power of the bureaucracy — and it does not matter if it is the education or police bureaucracy or the patwari — comes from limiting access to information and keeping key systems non-transparent and ad hoc.

Irrespective of whether the complaints of the teachers I met were exaggerated, and irrespective of whether it is the teachers that are more to blame than clerks or the officers in the education bureaucracy, the problems are clear. The proposed solutions, of putting in more money and decentralising decision-making, will not be sufficient to address the issues. They can, in fact, make the system even worse.

A necessary part of the reform has to come from the introduction of very strong information systems that make the criteria for hiring, postings, transfers and other service issues clear and accessible, and make the implementation of these criteria open and transparent as well.

The writer is senior adviser, Pakistan at Open Society Foundations, associate professor of economics, LUMS, and a visiting fellow at IDEAS, Lahore.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (7) Closed

independentthinker Jun 07, 2013 06:23pm
Why does it not come as a surprise - that our education system is corrupt? I don't think any public/private sector in Pakistan is functioning in a proper manner. In order to get things done - even those who want to stay honourable - have to bribe their way. Bribery has become a normal process, by which you get things done. So, is there a way out? Absolutely - but it has to happen from the top-down. Our leaders have to change their thinking and have to rid themselves of the love for money. Once they have transformed themselves, they can start expecting those under them to follow suit. It has to be "lead by example". It might take a few years or maybe even decades - but I am positive it can be done and let our current leaders be remembered as the ones who initiated this positive change in the country.
umer Jun 07, 2013 07:54am
what is the use of wasting so much paper and ink on discussing part of the puzzle. The education sector is but just one exapmle of the complete failure of the state.
khalidmurad1 Jun 07, 2013 08:12pm
If you have 80 % members of your lagislative assemblies with fraud degrees, how do you expect the total system, may that be education, police or revenues to be clear of corruption. We are just beating about the bush. Aren't we waisting time and joking arround?
Tahir A Jun 07, 2013 05:14am
Nawaz Sharif in his PM inauguration speech vowed to get to the bottom of corruption and eradicate it. But it seems the corruption has been so rampant and second nature in their province of Punjab. How can a wrongdoer see a fault in himself? However, let us hope for the best.
Reshma Jun 07, 2013 04:27am
Each and every point made is 100% true. We need a very strong monitoring and evaluation system to make all individuals in educatio accountable for their duties. We need to have appraisal system for all to ensure that those who work well can get their share of promotion and those who do not work can be punished. There is a lot more to do in education system than to just pouring money into it.
nas Jun 08, 2013 03:34am
which sector is not corrupt? there are very less oppurtunities in education system as fr as corruption is concerned.Nip it in the bud but bureaucracy is the pioneer of this culture.How dare a clerk involve in this activity in the presence of an honest officer....? we should not blame the teachers who get only salary and others get "oper ke kamae" and believe it or not these bureacrats dont know how-much and what salary is!
Agha Ata Jun 07, 2013 01:23pm
Corruption seems to be a vast desert in Pakistan with no oases.