THE issue of ‘ghost’ teachers and ‘ghost’ schools, which is particularly acute in Sindh, eats up a huge portion of funds, which can otherwise be utilised to improve the dilapidated physical condition of government schools and to train and motivate teachers.
Firstly, we need to identify three categories of schools: ghost schools, which exist on paper and where teachers also exist on paper and on pay cheques; ‘moving’ schools, which are running institutions but suffer from lack or absence of facilities, teachers, furniture etc; and model schools, which are good schools which, despite the issues, manage to impart a solid education.
After this categorisation, district authorities should be asked to bring ghost schools to the level of ‘moving’ schools, and moving schools to the level of model schools. The taluka education officers can be asked to formulate the list of schools under the above categories. Additionally, the School Management Information System should be required to provide transparent data about the real number of schools, teachers and enrolment. The district accounts office should be asked to determine the exact budget against spending. For instance, we have to check the total budget for the salary of a particular school through the district accounts office and compare it with the number of existing/available teachers at the school.
Transparent data about schools is needed.
Ensuring proper use of and accounting for discrepancies in the School Management Committee funds, which are normally not utilised and end up in the pockets of principals, head teachers, teachers etc is also essential.
Second, the number of teachers at schools needs to be balanced. The one-teacher-per-20-students formula should be applied. There are more teachers in some schools than the requirement while there are no teachers or fewer teachers than required at some places.
Third, the issue of monetary benefits for urban-posted teachers and lack of benefits for instructors teaching in rural schools demotivates educators who teach in rural schools. This should be addressed at the policy level and this rural-urban divide should end. Educators prepared to teach in rural and far-flung schools should be encouraged with additional monetary reward.
Fourth, the supervisor must visit each school under his/her jurisdiction every week to check on how much of the syllabus has been covered as well as the attendance of teachers and students. They should also check the copies of students randomly and ask them what they have learnt over the week and how many classes went by without a teacher. The supervisor must set a target for satisfactory completion of the planned part of the syllabus every month and assess the students’ ability to see what and how they have been taught.
In addition to monitoring done by a supervisor, a ‘monitoring and school improvement team’ in each taluka or district should be formed to randomly pay surprise visits to schools and submit monthly reports to the commissioner or deputy commissioner about good and bad schools and teachers.
Fifth, parent-teacher meetings should be ensured every month where the monitoring and school improvement team should also directly meet parents and community members. Awards for the best teachers, schools, students and community practices can be a great motivating factor.
Sixth, a system of registering complaints made by the community, parents and students directly with the commissioner or deputy commissioner can be instituted, through text messages or a box in each school to be opened by the monitoring and school improvement team.
Seventh, under the public-private partnership volunteers from O-level and private schools should be invited to teach at government schools. Certificates of appreciation for such students for their service to society can be awarded. Exposure visits for government teachers can also be arranged so that they can observe successful classroom practices at private schools. The teachers can attend these classes to gain first-hand experience of better teaching methods. Volunteer supervisors from private schools may also help check the course. Moreover, extracurricular activities including inter-school art and debate competitions should be conducted.
Eighth, the syllabus in public schools must be updated. Reputed institutions and professionals — national and international — may be asked for help to design the syllabus keeping in view the issue of outdated course material published by the textbook boards. In Sindh, the Sindh Education Reform Programme could be asked to help, along with the Reform Support Unit.
All of the above recommendations should be considered keeping in mind that if all public-sector teachers are tested for primary maths, science and English, there is a high probability that most will fail and that a huge percentage of teachers would not even be able to benefit from training. Hence there needs to be some mechanism to train underperforming teachers, warn them, mentor them, warn them again, issue show-cause notices to them and terminate their services if there is no improvement.
The writer is a Fulbright Scholar and deputy secretary with the government of Sindh.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2015