A teacher’s worth

Courier Briefing
Thursday, January 11th, 2018


 

When will policymaking reflect the value of having good teachers?

 

It remains surprising that the teachers who are not under the government umbrella of “Monthly Payment Order” (MPO) facility have been fighting for their rights since time immemorial. The latest episode of this saga began on December 26, when several hundred people, from non-MPO schools, colleges, madrasahs and technical institutions from around the country, gathered in front of Jatiya Press Club, staging an indefinite sit-in and hunger strike. They demanded nationalisation of all non-MPO institutions and their inclusion in the MPO list.

 

The demonstration was held under the banner of the Federation of Teachers and Employees of Non-MPO Educational Institutions.

 

Lokman Hakim, a teacher at Kumarkhali Ahmadiya Alim Madrasa in Natore’s Barail, lamented teaching without a salary for almost all his life. But it was just not possible anymore, “Our backs are against the wall,” he told reporters on January 2. The teachers’ demands also include entitlement to salary, house rent, medical expenses and retirement benefits similar to assistant teachers. They said they have been working without salaries and benefits from the government for the past 15 years and leading a miserable life, which were leading to a fall in the standard of education.

 

The teachers and staff of the non-MPO institutions have been demanding inclusion in the MPO list for a long-time. While assurances were made of meeting their demands every time, the government is yet to take any definite measure to end their sufferings. This protest was a “protest on the basis of another protest,” as it began a day after assistant teachers of primary schools, who were demanding a wage hike, called off their hunger strike following assurance from the government.

 

By the fifth day of the hunger strike, over 90 teachers had fallen ill. Mokarram Hossain, the organizing secretary of the of the Federation of Non-MPO Educational Institutions’ Teachers and Employees, said four of the teachers had been admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

 

The organisation had rejected the proposal of Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid to stop their hunger strike on January 2. The teachers rejected the minister’s call since Nahid failed to mention a timeframe within which the teachers would be brought under MPO coverage.

 

On behalf of the non-MPO teachers’ movement, an announcement was made on January 3 by the Bangladesh Teachers Association that the protesting teachers would shut down all educational institutions across Bangladesh on Thursday if their demands were not met. However, the protesting teachers said they would demand the MPO inclusion through hunger strike.

 

Basis of the recent agitation

 

Golam Mahmudunnabi Dollar, acting president of Federation of Non-MPO Educational Institutions’ Teachers and Employees, said 98% of the educational institutions they represent were under private management.

 

Currently, there are over 28,000 MPO-enlisted non-government schools, colleges, madrasas and technical institutions in the country where around five lakh teachers and employees work. The acting president said more than 80,000 teachers and employees, without wages, were currently involved in teaching over 20 lakh students in around 6,000 such institutions that have not been included in the MPO list. “If these institutions are not brought under MPO, then most of them will shut down gradually. And that will spell disaster for the education system on intermediate and secondary level.

 

The last time educational institutes were brought under MPO coverage was in the second year of the Awami League-led alliance or Mohajote’s first term in government – 2010. It was part of the admirably workmanlike programme Nurul Islam Nahid started implementing soon after assuming the post of Education Minister in Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet – by far the plummest post awarded to someone outside the League. He has held on to it too, through the two terms, something only Motia Chowdhury can boast of other than him in the present cabinet, that looks sure to close out second term. In 2010, the government included 1,624 institutions under the scheme. With no renewed initiative over the last eight years, the move now looks to have been arbitrary, instead of part of a vision.

 

More anger fueling discontent

 

It is not only the non-MPO listed teachers who have issues against the government, but also those who are listed. Resentment is brewing among non-government teachers and employees of MPO-enlisted schools and colleges as the government last year had decided to increase the amount of monthly contribution from their salaries for their retirement benefits and welfare allowances. Till now, the government deducts six percent of the salaries of teachers and staffs enjoying MPO benefits. Of the 6 percent, 4 percent is cut for their retirement benefits and two percent for their welfare allowances. Upon retirement, the teachers are entitled to double the amount accumulated, with a government contribution matching each teacher’s accumulated amount.

 

In June, the Education Ministry issued two gazette notifications, increasing the amount for retirement benefits to six and welfare allowance to four percent. According to the notification, the decision is supposed to be effective from July. The issuance of the gazettes triggered an outcry among the teachers. “It is completely irrational and unacceptable,” said Azizul Islam, convenor of the National Front of Teachers and Employees (NFTE), a joint platform of national level organisations of teachers and employees. “The teachers are extremely aggrieved and want its cancellation.”

 

He said leaders of the associations were not informed about the matter beforehand. Even they were not consulted, despite more than five lakh teachers and employees bing part of the association, he added. “The gazettes did not say anything about what additional benefits we would get if they cut additional money from our salaries,” he told Dhaka Courier. Azizul said it would be quite difficult for the teachers to support their families if more money was cut from their salaries. For example, he said, a senior teacher gets Tk 22,000 per month and Tk 2,200 would be deducted from her/his salary as per the new decision. If the decision is upheld, the government will have to introduce a pension scheme enjoyed by the teachers of government educational institutions, he said. “We want the education minister to sit with leaders of all associations and withdraw the decision. Otherwise, we will go for a tougher movement,” Azizul said.

 

Terming the decision controversial and discriminatory, Abul Bashar Hawlader, president of Bangladesh Teachers Association, said the government had to withdraw it considering the reality. “As the Baishakh allowance, we only get 25 percent of what the teachers of government schools get. Moreover, we did not get the yearly five-percent increment either. This new decision would add insult to the injuries,” he said. The teachers formed human chains in Dhaka, Manikganj and Bogra demanding cancellation of the decision.

 

Shahjahan Alam Saju, general secretary of the non-government teachers and employees’ welfare trust, said there were around 45,000 applications pending for retirement benefits and welfare allowances due to a lack of money. He said as per the rules, when a teacher went into retirement he would get the benefits on the basis of his/her latest scale. Since the teachers’ salary was doubled in the last fiscal year, the amount of their retirement benefits also went up, he added. “Now where would we get the additional money from?” he asked. Moreover, the law on the retirement board and welfare trust does not say anything that the government will have to contribute an equal amount of money to the teachers’ retirement fund.

 

Current overview

 

Things took a turn for the better on January 6, when the teachers called off their demonstration after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina personally ordered the start of the MPO process for those who are not under the umbrella. It was conveyed by the Prime Minister’s personal secretary Sazzadul Hasan.

 

Md Shamsuzzaman, the headmaster of Nagerhaat Girls’ High School, said, “We are returning home with the hope that the assurance made by Hon’ble Prime Minister will be implemented soon. I have been teaching for twenty years without salaries.” Another teacher Waliul Islam said, “We hope we will see the light this time as we have been leading inhuman life.”

 

Nasir Uddin, the superintendent of Koroibaria Yatim Manjil Girls’ Dakhil Madrasa, lamented, “I have been imparting education for eighteen years without pay. Hopefully, our Prime Minister will implement her assurance as soon as possible.”

 

“We will return to classes from tomorrow. We hope that all of the educational institutions will come under MPO coverage this time. We have been told the process has started,” Binoy Bhushan Roy, general secretary of the teachers’ federation said. He added that they have been campaigning for over 18 months for their inclusion in the MPO facilities. They have submitted written memorandums to the prime minister and the education minister on several occasions, but no changes have been made in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal year in this regard.

 

But all is not quiet on the agitating front, as another group of demonstrators are still continuing with their sit-in topped up by hunger strike. The Ebtedayee madrasa teachers under the banner of “Independent Ebtedayee Madrasa Teachers Association” are continuing their programme in front of the National Press Club to press home their demand of nationalisation of all registered institutions under the Madrasa Education Board.

 

The government is likely to bring more private educational institutions under the Monthly Pay Order scheme. The Education Ministry has already sent a draft of the revised MPO policy to the Finance Ministry which is now reviewing it, said sources in the two ministries. Though the revised policy is focused on giving the MPO facilities to more teachers from institutions already on the MPO list, it will open up scope for bringing new institutions under the MPO scheme once the Finance Ministry approves it, they said.

 

The Education Ministry has also provided the Finance Ministry with a list of 170,000 teachers of MPO-listed institutions for providing them with the facilities, added the sources. Jabed Ahmed, additional secretary in the Secondary and Higher Education Division of the Education Ministry, said they would start the process of including new institutions in the MPO upon approval of the policy.

 

He, however, said it is not possible to bring a large number of institutions under the scheme at one go, as it involves a huge amount of money. It would take more than TK 2,400 crore a year to include around 5,000 institutions in the MPO.

 

“The number [of institutions to be included] will depend on budget allocations,” Jabed added. The government now spends more than Tk 7,000 crore a year for MPO-listed institutions. More than 400,000 (4 lakh) teachers and employees of 26,340 secondary schools, colleges, madrasahs and technical institutes get the MPO facilities.

 

According to the existing policy, in a rural area, no institution will be included in the MPO if it is situated within three to six kilometres of another MPO-listed institution. However, new institutions may get the facilities under special consideration. If the education minister wants, any of the provisions can be relaxed, says the policy.

 

In 2010, the provision regarding geographic boundary was relaxed, and more than three institutions were included from every constituency under special consideration.

Demand from MPs

 

Before the announcement of budget every year, a significant number of lawmakers raise demands in parliament for including more institutions in the MPO and increasing allocations for the purpose.

 

The Finance Minister, however, remains very strict on any talk of expanding the MPO list, and stresses the need for bringing reforms to the MPO-listed institutions as well as the policy before including those in the MPO.

 

On several occasions, he said every MPO-listed institution has to conduct thorough audits as the government gives 100 percent basic salary to its employees, and a portion of the income has to be deposited with the state exchequer.

 

Sources at the Ministry of Education and other relevant departments, requesting anonymity, told Dhaka Courier that currently there is a trend for “racing” among the lawmakers. They demand schools from their municipalities to receive MPO based on their influence and power within the government. “If one MP calls us and demands MPO for 3 schools in their district, the news spreads among their peers, with other MPs lining up and demanding to include their preferences for MPO as well,” a source revealed.

 

Md Sohrab Hossain, secretary at the Secondary and Higher Education division, refuted such claims and declined to comment further on the topic.

 

Agitations catalyst for quick actions

 

After a suspension by the then BNP-led alliance government for around six years, the MPO facility was revived by the Awami League-led government in 2010 as it was one of the electoral pledges of the AL. A total of 1,624 secondary and higher secondary private schools and colleges were also included in the MPO.

 

According to leaders of Non-MPO Shikhya Pratishthan Shikhyak Karmachari Federation, there are 5,242 non-MPO educational institutions, where around 80,000 teachers are working without any pay, some for more than a decade.

 

Additional woes

 

Further controversies have risen in recent times, given how minister Nahid’s sensational comment created a furore among the general masses. At a recent laptop distribution ceremony, he advised the education officials thus: “Take bribe, but keep the amount reasonable.”

 

“For god’s sake do some good work (for the education sector). My request to you is that you take bribe, but keep the amount reasonable. It won’t work if I tell you not to take bribe,” Nahid added. Nahid, a former leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, also spoke about the bribery menace plaguing the country. “It’s (bribery) prevalent in different places; in fact, it’s prevalent everywhere. Not only are the officials thieves, but ministers, and I myself, also fall in the same category. It’s turning out to be the norm of the world, but we will have to change it,” he said.

 

The success rate fall in the JSC examinations has once again exposed students’ weakness in English and mathematics — two key subjects that always make a difference in the pass rate. But a lack of qualified teachers specialising in English and maths at the secondary schools is also to blame for this situation prevailing in the country for years, said experts and educationists. According to the latest government report, around 88 percent of the 78,415 teachers giving English lessons at secondary level did not study English as a core subject at graduation and Master’s levels. Only 4.4 percent have done BA (honours) in English while 6.9 percent have done a Master’s in English, says the Bangladesh Education Statistics 2016 publication, brought out by  Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (Banbeis).

 

Educationists say children are not acquiring the required base in English and math for a lack of skilled teachers. Also, the training teachers are getting is far from adequate. All this impacts the results of most public examinations like SSC and HSC every year. The latest JSC exam also had this reflection. The pass rate in the Junior School Certificate (JSC) exams under the eight general education boards dropped to 83.1 percent, an almost 10 percent drop (9.8 to be exact) fromm the fall, that of the previous year.

 

“English and mathematics are associated with skills. It may be possible to teach subjects like Bangla for a teacher who majored in other subjects. But it is not possible to teach English and mathematics for an alternative teacher,” said renowned educationist Rasheda K Choudhury. The lack of skilled and subject-based teachers is a major problem particularly in rural areas, where most schools are non-government schools, she said. “In developed countries, you won’t be allowed to enter classroom without proper training. You have to take part in a test to prove your skill and quality before being registered as a teacher. This is absent in our education sector,” said Rasheda, also the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE).

 

Light at the end of the tunnel?

 

Help is on the way, slowly, but surely. The World Bank, for example, has recently pledged $510 million in loans to help improve the secondary education system and students’ performance in Bangladesh. The Transforming Secondary Education for Results program will benefit 13 million students in grade 6-12, the Washington-based lender said in a statement released last December.

 

The program will enhance quality of teaching and learning as well as improve the access to education, especially for girls and children from poor households, it said, adding that the program will support modernization of curriculum and ensure professional development, management and accountability of teachers.

 

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has also rolled out its action plan for 2018 where it says curbing graft in the country’s education sector will be on its prime agenda. “We will focus on curbing graft in the education sector in 2018,” ACC’s Chairman Iqbal Mahmud told reporters recently. The ACC has already taken steps, recommending the government to take action against some coaching centres and teachers of reputed institutions involved in coaching business.

 

According to Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury, informal education outside the classroom manifests only when formal education inside a classroom fails. He said: “The growth of coaching centres indicates the failure of our national education system. Now more than ever, it is about results than actual learning.” He went on to criticise teachers who have patronised coaching centres as a source of supplementary income.

 

“We need to immediately reform the faults that currently exist in our education system to ensure quality education for future generations. Results are more important to secure jobs in our society. It appears education is now just a commodity that teachers are selling which students and their parents are buying,” Prof Serajul said.

 

Prof Dr SM Wahiduzzaman, chief of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), said the lack of appeal of classroom education was a key reason for their unpopularity. He said: “Students and guardians have grown to be more dependent on coaching centres because teachers fail to teach in classroom in a productive manner.”

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