Disclaimer: The following piece focuses ONLY on the per-elementary and elementary levels of education in Pakistan. The focus is on private institutions and is no way linked to government institutions.
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alas, the standards of education in Pakistani Society do not live up to these words. One sees many activists promoting education for girls and for the underprivileged but is there anyone out there who is keeping a check on the large private schools with 1001 branches among the major cities of Pakistan?
Why do 90% of the parents belonging to upper class of the society prefer sending their children to these schools? Is it the brand name? Or the deceptive façade which makes them feel that they have chosen the ‘best’ for their offspring? Let me burst your optimistic bubble: these schools are nothing but vast, money-making organizations that are ever ready to rip you off any chance they will get. What is my point, you ask? Following is the reason why I urge people out there to break this monopolizing trend of massive private schools:
It has been a little over three years since I chose teaching as a full-time career. The number of people who questioned my choice is rather dismaying. Friends, family, well-wishers, everyone wanted to know why I was ‘limiting’ my growth by choosing to become a teacher, and that too, a preschool teacher. Being a kindergarten teacher has been the most gratifying job I could have ever asked for. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, I was compelled to look around for more options since the salary of a preschool teacher became far from sufficient.
An opportunity (read: misfortune) to join one of the large private schools in Islamabad as an English teacher for the Primary Level stumbled into my lap. I was quite overwhelmed because one, it happened to be the institute I attended during my O and A Levels and two, they had offered me a handsome salary package.
Little did I know about the horrors that I would face in the upcoming years. The list is long and I honestly have no clue where to start from.
- The school is no less than a factory: Nearly 300 students in each grade were divided into a few sections. There is no room for their individuality, creativity and character development. It’s all about the quantity and there is absolutely no focus on quality.
- The attitude of the administration: This is what put me off the most. The hypocrisy of the administration is astounding. Sweet and approachable in front of the parents, while no short of monsters for their staff. They will demean you every moment of the day; in front of the students and in front of the parents. They will insult you for their own mistakes. They will take credit for your accomplishments. All in all, the teachers have respect equal to zero. And no, you cannot complain about the administration to anyone as they’re related to the owners/people in charge, hence invincible.
- The negligence of the Human Resource Department: They will hire the most mismatched teachers, either basing their preferences on the outlook of the teacher, i.e. looks and clothing or on the least expected salary range. What does that result in? Islamic Studies graduates teaching Computers and Business Administration graduates teaching Science.
- Curriculum: The curriculum is an epic example of a copy-paste-from-the-internet failure. Yes, you heard me right! It’s ill-suited as per the levels of the children and not clear for the teachers. Necessary resources such as books and other additional material is also inadequate. Many teachers are left to experiment on their own. This results in an M Phil in Physics teacher trying to teach adverbs that she, herself, is unfamiliar with.
- Teaching standards: The teachers are NEVER actually judged on their hard work or innovative ideas. They are always judged on…. quantity! Or of course, like I stated earlier, their outlook. So if you’re wearing the latest designer clothes, you’re the “Teacher of the Month” but if you’re like me and don’t wear makeup to school—you’re in for a bumpy ride. You will also see piles of copies filled with work, but none of the students will have any clue about the work that was actually done! Wonder how that happens?
- Unethical practices I: Teachers are told to give the parents the true picture of their child whilst sugar-coating any glitches… you are to mark the students strictly but ensure that they DO NOT score less than 80% whatsoever. You are to deduct 0.25 marks for 4 mistakes on a spelling test. You are to NOT mark them for subjective questions… but the assessments need to include 75% subjective questions. You are to put students in groups for projects by ensuring that the weak students are paired with the brighter ones so that they can get complimentary marks. You are to give them full marks for homework even if they don’t do it. You are to give more attention to any student whose parent is more involved and will call or visit the school regularly … not a lot of ‘red’ should be seen on the copies (read: feel free to erase the work and do it yourself to avoid checking it in red)… the list is endless!
- Unethical practices II: One day before the final exams, the teachers are told that any more than 3 failures in their subjects would result in serious consequences for their career (read: feel free to walk into the exam halls and guide your students or ask the invigilator for favors so that your students don’t fail). One day before the result is handed out, you are asked to change the percentages of all failing students by 30-50% so that the parents do not take their child out of the school!
Stated above are just a FEW of the horrors that I could relate to. I can’t begin to narrate my anxiety levels when I was asked to go with these unethical changes. That is when I decided to quit; for I am passionate about my teaching and I could not put up with a revenue stream that was far from ethical in my eyes. I could not stand there and lie to parents about their child’s performance. I could not let the children move on to higher classes without having any sense of responsibility or performing satisfactorily. Every time I showed my apprehensions, I was either given extra duties or just humiliated for being an inadequate teacher. If refusing to do the wrong thing makes me a bad teacher, then yes, I am a VERY bad teacher. But I COULD not sell my soul in exchange for a handsome salary package.
I had made my decision (I am quite strong-headed, probably too much for my own good). But when I looked around, I saw a room full of teachers who were needy and could not take the same step. They were forced to choose the unethical path in order to safeguard their livelihood. They were forced to neglect the true essence of their profession and be slaves to this corporate culture that is now embedded in these private schools.
I returned to the school where I had begun my career. It may not have a brand name (yet) but it has the quality that the brands lack. Every day that I go back to work, I realize the difference in this school and the previous one. It’s truly heart breaking that the school I received my education from has now become such a disappointing factory. The students in my current school are actually the fortunate individuals who are given separate attention. They have the manners and etiquette that my ex-students lacked. They started reading at the age of 5, while the students in the larger private schools face difficulty reading even in Grade 5.
As a teacher, my honest opinion to all parents out there is to STOP falling for the fake progress of these schools—the pictures, advertisements and events are nothing but a marketing tool. If you really want your child to build his intelligence along with character and excel in all paths of life, choose a smaller setup where he will be given individual attention as opposed to being one of the 300 students of his batch!
Reviewed by Sundas Sajid, Junior Editor – Youth Correspondent Magazine