So-called teachers who have never stepped inside their schools but are regularly drawing their salaries from the country's exchequer are being identified and are shamed on Facebook and Twitter.
As the government drags its feet on action against these ghost schools/teachers, I believe this campaign has given a voice to the suffering students and parents. Sindh's education secretary has also confessed that about 40 per cent of school teachers in Sindh fall under the 'ghost' category.
Just a few months since the start of this social media campaign, residents of Sindh already seem to have witnessed one instance of change: In November 2014, 77 ghost teachers were suspended in Khairpur district.
I belong to a small village of Sindh and have seen some very dedicated teachers working under harsh conditions. On the one hand, we have teachers like Asu Bai, a differently-abled lady who has worked voluntarily and against all odds for the betterment of the society we are living in. On the other hand, we have scores of ghost teachers.
Also read: ‘Ghosro Master’
Let us explore the reasons why these 'ghosts' are so reluctant to attend their schools and how they are being encouraged by the society for not performing their duties.
If it's in the village, it belongs to the landlord
It is true that the feudal system is one of the biggest structural impediments to education in the rural areas. Landlords are mostly averse to letting any person become more important/powerful than them. They're unable to digest the popularity of dedicated teachers at work in their villages.
This one time, I learned a very interesting reasoning given out by a landlord: since the land belongs to them, therefore the government should only send those teachers to the school who were nominated by the landlord. Any other teacher was just not acceptable.
Lack of interest by the community itself
Hardly ever do we see complaints lodged by parents against ghost teachers. The community believes that since they are not paying the teachers, therefore they have no right to question them or complain against their regular absences from school.
Another factor which hinders the community members from raising their voices is the strong biradari (community) net. People believe that if they complain against their fellow tribesmen, they may end up alienating themselves.
Social acceptance of ghost teachers
Most of the ghost teachers identified on social media are famous names. They advocate the importance of education on national and international forums and portray themselves as paragons of education without showing any concern or interest about their own duties at school.
Society has shown an acceptance of this criminal act. No more are these people shamed or questioned for their hypocrisy. Obviously, the ducking of duties flourishes in this conducive environment.
Babus living in a different world
People in the education department and most key political figures hardly ever leave their air-conditioned offices to check what's happening in the schools. That is true for at least most who are involved. And the few who do go out tend to avert their eyes and hide beyond excuses to avoid confronting the massive challenge that lies before them.
And why shouldn't they? The children of these elites study in top notch private schools and universities abroad — they don't feel responsible for correcting something for which they are not the supposed stakeholder.
Nepotism and cronyism in appointments
Since education is a huge department, there is lots of space for cronies to be stuffed into. Countless appointments are made of persons with all levels of qualification. Everyone from those promised jobs prior to elections, to those who have failed in securing jobs anywhere else, are welcome, and are somehow adjusted in the education department.
No wonder, then, that from the higher officials down to the teachers, few people have real knowledge of the subjects. Interestingly, history was made in 2013 when, female candidates were given extra 20 marks for "gender relaxation".
I, despite being a woman, believe that it is nothing but an utter injustice to male candidates.
To-do list for improving the situation
- Education department should make a complaint cell for lodging complaints against ghost teachers, ghost schools and insufficient facilities at the school. Education department officials should be accessible to people via email, telephone and post. It should also be ensured that the identity of the complainant is kept strictly confidential.
It's time that the community as a whole stand up for education. Any teacher whose attendance is not regular should not be allowed to stay in that school. Villagers should put pressure on the local education authorities for not sending any such teacher to their school who is unable to ensure his/her attendance. It's time to realise that school teachers are not just answerable to the education department but also to the pupils and to their parents for their apathy to the school.
Any person who is found guilty of being a ghost teacher should not be invited to speak at forums or gatherings. We have to be selfish in order to get our children educated. Forget about them being your nephews or cousins. If they are not taking your children's future seriously, you should stop taking them. Isolate them.
Also read: Balochistan government suspends 260 teachers
Many of the ghost teachers are working in private institutes. The government could impose a fine on any organisation hiring ghost teachers and asking them to work for them during term time. It is also important that education department makes a district-wise list of all the teachers and make this database publicly available via their website. This will enable private organisations to check if a person is already employed by the education department.
Babus sitting in their offices in the provincial capitals should seek monthly report from their subordinates from every district and taluka regarding schools. It will do them no harm if they go out in the field for a few days and pay surprise visits to different districts every month. Strict action should be taken against those who are not taking their duties seriously.
Also read: Monitoring system to trace ghost schools: CM
- Appointments should be made only on merit. I am a woman and a teacher and I don't think women need 20 marks in charity. They can very well prove themselves. If the complaint cell is functional, people will be able to register complaints against anyone attempting to bribe them for appointment.
Teachers play a vital role in building nations, we'll never build ours if our teachers are not up to the task.
While we have had plenty who devoted their lives to this cause, becoming role models for the next generation; the elimination of ghost teachers is the need of the hour.
I am afraid if we don't act fast enough, these ghost teachers will become the role model, in fact they might already have. In any case, the social media campaign is a positive development to the end of countering this trend. It has had some positive results and if nothing else, at least proves there is a will to change the system.
Time is running out. Do the authorities care?