ISLAMABAD, On the eve of World Teachers’ Day — when the world was paying tribute to the teaching fraternity for the role they play in an educated society — hundreds of teachers running community schools in far-off areas were sitting under the open sky in the federal capital demanding their salaries and service structure.
Dozens of teachers, both men and women, hailing from different cities have been staging a sit-in in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad for several days to impress on the relevant authorities the urgency of their concerns.
The teachers, who operate non-formal community schools, said that they have not been paid for the past seven months and have been working for years without any service structure, hence there is no concept of promotion or upgrade.
Around 13,300 teachers work in the non-formal primary education programme called Basic Education Community Schools (BECS), imparting education to around 600,000 students.
The programme runs in all provinces and regions of the country, primarily in rural areas where formal schools do not exist within a two-kilometre area. Operating under the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, it prefers to enrol girls and employ women to impart education in its schools who have a ratio of 60 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.
Teachers at these schools have been demanding their rights for years but are still without any job security while working on the meagre salaries of Rs8,000 per month — around half the minimum wage.
“Teachers [working in these schools] are hand-to-mouth and now our relatives and neighbourhood shopkeepers have refused to lend us any money or grocery items on credit,” complained Naimatullah, the general secretary of BECS teachers’ representative body.
“Only God knows how we have been living without any money as our families depend on this meagre fee which has not been released for the past seven months,” he cried, adding that while they are burdened with ‘building the nation’ through basic education, they get paid less than a day-labourer.
Later at a news conference, the teachers said they have are all qualified with professional degrees but after working for the schools for 14 to 22 years, they have yet to get a service structure.
While various courts decided in favour of their regularisation, the government has been reluctant and has challenged those decisions in the Supreme Court.
Women BECS teachers complained that they were not allowed to set up tents outside the club and have been forced to stay under the open sky, adding that they did not have sufficient money to even take up rooms in any of the motels in the federal capital.
They added that a senior, elderly teacher fractured her foot during a stampede during their protest but they do not have any means to treat her.
Later on Thursday, State Minister for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi met with the teachers and heard their issues.
Conceding that their predicament was a failure of the state that old and frail teachers were protesting on the roads demanding their unpaid salaries, he ensured them that their issues will be resolved.
The minister conceded that when they were on the roads during their four-month-long protest against the government, they used to think that matters could be resolved by simply pressing a button. However, after taking over as the minister, he had learnt that it takes time to effect changes since certain procedures need to be followed in every government matter.
He added that a meeting will be arranged between a representative of the teachers and with the education and finance ministers to resolve their issues