By Faisal Bari
Oct 7 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)
Rizwana completed her Intermediate and then, having no other opportunities for jobs that her family would allow her to do, started teaching at a private school near her home. She enjoys teaching. Her family can do with the income she brings, and they felt that this was a good way of keeping her occupied until marriage.
Rizwana leaves for school around 7.30 in the morning; school timings are from 8am to 1pm and she is back home by 1.45pm. At home, she spends a few hours correcting her students’ homework and preparing for the next day’s classes. The school pays her Rs5,000 per month. She gives Rs1,500 to a van driver for transportation to school and back.
Although Rizwana thinks her salary is low, she has accepted her situation as she feels she has no other option and she knows the school will not pay her more. But she is not going to remain a teacher. She does not know if her future husband will let her teach but, even if he does, she feels that the low salary will not allow her to have a career in teaching and she would rather stay at home and focus on her family life once married.
Do we want only those people who have no alternatives to become teachers?
Shaheen finds herself in a very different situation. She is married, has two children, her husband works as a clerk in a government department while Shaheen, with an M.Ed. degree, teaches in a higher fee-charging private school. Shaheen is paid Rs10,000 a month. After transport and other expenses, she nets Rs8,000 per month.
Shaheen feels that, even with both people working fulltime, they are not being able to provide a good life for their kids and have to compromise on a lot of things, including on their own health and the care she and her husband can offer to her parents-in-law. They delay going to doctors and force themselves to be extra frugal, and never spend money on anything other than the necessities. She feels her children deserve a certain level of entertainment and enjoyment expense too, but they cannot afford it.
Shaheen does not regret being a teacher — “what else could I have done?” But she does not feel teaching is a profession that gives teachers and their families a decent life. She wants her children, both son and daughter, to do something else when they grow up. “They should be doctors or engineers or in computers. Being a teacher will not give them anything,” she says.
All provincial governments have raised teachers’ salaries in the public sector over the last decade. Although the salary levels are not enough to guarantee a middle-class lifestyle for teachers, they have risen enough to ensure a basic standard of living. But the salaries in private schools, left to the markets, have languished. The salaries of teachers in elite or high-fee private schools are higher than even government teachers’ salaries, but these elite schools are a very small part of the overall private school population. Most private schools in the country are low- to middle-fee schools. Across these schools, depending on their fee and location, the salaries of teachers range between Rs2,000 to Rs15,000 or so. Salaries above Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 per month are quite rare in these schools.
How is a teacher supposed to live on Rs10,000 and provide for her/his family? Some recent research has argued that about Rs17,000 to Rs20,000 per month is needed for a family to have a decent basic level of living.
Even the minimum wage, for 40 hours of work per week, is Rs13,000 to Rs14,000 per month. Why are teachers in private schools not covered under the legislation? In KP, teachers have been taken out of the category of ‘workers’ to which the minimum wage law applies. In Punjab, although the legislation covers teachers, the provincial government does not want to implement the law. Even in the case of Punjab Education Foundation-assisted schools, the PEF and Punjab government do not want to implement the minimum wage legislation for teachers.
Some have argued that since teachers are only in schools five to six hours a day, the minimum wage does not apply to them. But teachers work after school the world over and grade homework and prepare for classes. Why should this not be taken into account? And teaching is a fulltime job; why should the time spent in school be the criterion for judging how much teachers work?
Do we want teaching to be a ‘profession’ that gives decent returns and is able to attract people to it? Or do we want only those people who have no alternatives to become teachers? And do we want them to be poor despite being employed fulltime?
Low-fee schools, currently, have a cost advantage over public schools. But this advantage is largely driven by the difference in teachers’ salaries. If we impose a minimum wage or other salary, it will force schools to charge more or shut down if the parents in their locality cannot afford the higher fees. This expected disruption is stopping governments from intervening in the market for teachers. This is definitely an issue that needs careful consideration. But it cannot be a reason for not allowing teachers to have decent salaries.
We, as a society, have to figure out who is going to pay for the education of our children. If we go by the constitutional promise under Article 25-A, it should be the government and the society at large.
But, it seems, right now we want to have our cake and eat it too: education for as many as possible and without society paying for it. This is partly being done at the cost of teachers in the private sector. This, surely, cannot be the solution to the problem; teachers have a right to have decent returns too.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2016
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan