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A teacher's freedom

Sep 3: In almost every seminar and conference on education there is a common note of dissatisfaction with the quality of education. A number of reasons are given which are responsible for the decline in standards of education. Similarly a number of projects have been launched to improve the quality of education. The ultimate outcome of most of these initiatives, however, is not very significant. It is relevant to understand the common notion of quality in education. For instance it is useful to know what common masses think about a quality school.

A very common notion of a quality school is the school that shows good results. The school that gets maximum number of A grades is considered to be a quality school. Another criterion of a quality school among the masses is its 'Englishness'. Fluency of English language in a certain accent impresses the parents and tends to believe it an important criterion of quality school. Similarly the exterior and interior of campus is also considered as an important factor for a quality school.

Ironically the above factors are not only considered important by parents but also by our policy makers. So, one can see the obsession with English in our educational system. To improve the quality of education the whole emphasis is gone to the introduction of English from class one. The ministry of education believes that by making this announcement would resolve all our educational problems.

Similarly the government has decided to encourage certain schools and teachers for their performance. The only criterion of the performance of a teacher and school is the result of students. If a school has shown a large number of A grades it is considered as a good school. Similarly a teacher is considered good teacher if s/he shows good results.

It is important to note that common misnotions about quality school are also cherished by the policy makers at higher level. Most of the initiatives to 'improve schools' are to do with results of a school or construction work of school, or putting extra emphasis on fluent English with special accent. This notion of quality of education and school is incomplete, misleading, and therefore naïve. It confines the view of education and curtails its objectives.

This notion of quality, however, is very popular among the policy makers and administrators as it is relatively easy to demonstrate. Therefore most of the governmental and NGO efforts are geared towards the external aspects of quality as they are quantifiable. A large segment of educational system is based on private enterprises where the above discussed attributes of quality are practiced and demonstrated as a matter of pride. Private educational institutions are largely modeled on corporate sector.

In private educational institutions fluency of English language is considered as a synonym to competence. Fluent spoken English is viewed as a major criterion in hiring of faculty in private schools. Similarly an attractive façade is preferred on the essence of the educational institution. A superficial aura of efficiency is created to impress the visitors. In most of the initiatives to improve quality of education the role of teacher is not appreciated properly. Our assessment system and our corporatized version of educational institutions have drastically reduced the creative role of teacher. The ponderous corporate structure has forced the teachers to believe that they are helpless creature who is there as consumers and implementers of ideas.

A number of ways are used to stifle the individual freedom of teachers. Multiple levels of monitoring are in action. Some of them are legitimized and visible but some of them are invisible and unethical. The pressure of invisible monitoring that you are watched is tremendous. This cripples the creativity of teachers. In the wake of excessive 'classroom observations' the teachers tend to engage into socially desirable activities to satisfy the 'observers'. Another popular trend in chain private schools is to provide readymade lesson plans to the teachers with the expectation that they should be followed religiously. Using lesson plans, made my somebody else, in diverse contexts is tantamount to underestimating the significance of context on the one hand and on the other hand individuality of the teacher.

Another source of scare which has a direct impact on teachers' individual freedom is the state of uncertainty of their job. This uncertainty emerges from short term contracts for the teachers. This uncertainty about the jobs keeps the teachers 'on toes' and they keep on doing this work in school putting their head down. The suppression of their own voice demotivate the teachers and whole teaching process turns into a mechanical activity.

In a typical private school culture teachers are exploited in terms of heavy work load and unjustifiably low salaries. For instance the number of copies checked by the teachers, the number of classes taught by them, and the co-curricular activities organized and supervised by them are some of the responsibilities a teacher expected to carry out. This is a typical exploitation of labour model of neoliberalism.

The status of teachers in a typical private school is not certain. A head clerk or secretary, they are close to the corridors of power enjoyed by administration, enjoy more prestige than the teachers as. It is interesting bust sad to observe that how a clerk in administration wield his/her power on the teachers. This situation leads to a feeling of helplessness and teachers' self image gets tarnished. Teachers in such a scenario do not try to move beyond the track determined by the administration as it is the only safe way to survive.

To bring a meaningful change in this situation we need to revisit our notions of quality education and quality schools. The policy makers need to know that results and school building are important but the main actors engaged in the process, i.e., teachers are of central importance. The idea of school improvement remains incomplete if the whole emphasis is laid on just institutional development and personal professional development of teachers is ignored. The institutional and personal development are complementary to each other and go hand in hand.

The professional empowerment of teachers ensures an effective process of teaching and learning. The policy makers need to realize that process is as important as product. To make this process more effective and meaningful it is important that teachers are provided spaces to exercise their academic freedom and it is only possible when they are viewed as change agents and not mere salespersons catering to the needs of customers.

Dr Shahid Siddiqui: The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities & Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics. Email: shahidksiddiqui@ yahoo.com (The News)
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