By Momina Afridi, University of Toronto
Low fee private schools under the umbrella of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in education in Punjab, Pakistan are increasingly being embraced by international donors, international non-governmental organisations and the government.
In 2016, the provincial government decided to meet the rising demand of schools in both urban and rural areas of Punjab by funding low fee private schools (LFPSs) rather than investing in building new public schools.
However, there are serious concerns about access, equity and quality of education in LFPSs. Within these larger debates about systems and providers in education, a very important actor, the teacher, is ignored.
This is thought provoking, as both the critics and supporters of LFPSs know that they are financially viable and cost-effective due to the exploitation of female teachers “as cheapest source of labour” (Andrabi et.al 2008).
Moreover, the claim that at the primary level the use of under qualified, untrained, poorly paid, and predominantly female teachers in LFPSs may not compromise quality, needs to be questioned and tested through research. One needs to ask: How do such working conditions of teaching, especially for females in the Pakistani context, affect their work, motivation, aspirations and careers?
In addition to the focus on teachers’ work, gender is also important in the discussions of teaching and learning in LFPSs. Given that women make up the majority of the teaching workforce in LFPSs, it is vital to look at the gender dynamics within such schools and question how the treatment of female teachers may affect gender equality and empowerment in and through education.
My study on female teachers in LFPSs in Punjab has been an attempt to bring teachers and gender into the discussion on PPPs and LFPS, by zooming in on teachers work in schools. Interviews with school owners, principals, teachers and civil society actors revealed a number of important findings.
Working conditions for Teachers in LFPSs
Teachers in LFPSs are forced to teach in cramped, multi-grade classrooms and struggle with teaching a syllabus they are not familiar with. Teachers complain that there are hardly any opportunities to get training in LFPSs. Teachers work under a lot of pressure to deliver results and often feel policed by the principal. The high turnover rate of teachers is a cause of concern for all LFPS owners, principals and teachers.
While it was reported that for young, single and female teachers a major reason for leaving employment in LFPSs was their inability to work after getting married, many teachers argued that a low salary, along with the tough working conditions, often caused young educated women to move to other schools or to another profession in which they are offered more salary.
Many teachers saw teaching as a temporary job. Those who wanted to stay within teaching were trying to get into the government schools due to better salary, secure employment, career development and benefits such as pensions.
Gender and labour market
While LFPSs have a workforce largely composed of female teachers, the working environments and treatment of teachers are far from promoting gender equality. A gender analysis of LFPSs shows that a patriarchal relationship of power around male principals in their relation to female teachers affects the work and careers of women.
Working under mostly male principals, female teachers hardly have any participation in decision-making both at the class and school level. By virtue of their gender, female teachers are paid lower salaries, face a different attitude from management, tend to be more pressurized, and are mostly restricted to teaching primary level grades, as compared to males in LFPSs. These differences reflect the gender division of labour in the larger Pakistani society.
Looking at the labour market conditions, teacher and principals’ testimonies show that LFPSs capitalise on the low labour force participation of women and the increasing segregation of women into teaching in Pakistan.
The lack of choice and presence of constraints, such as domestic labour and cultural norms restricting women’s mobility and work that often push women into teaching in LFPSs seems to work as an advantage for school owners and private entrepreneurs in education. While LFPS have been speeding up the feminisation of teaching in the Pakistani context, they are also responsible for creating a category of ‘low salaried, untrained, temporary’ teacher in the teacher labour market.
Teachers in LFPSs do not feel like role models for their students and report that the attraction of being a teacher is no longer there for young girls due to the diminishing image of a teacher. Moreover, in the absence of job contracts, a salary much below the minimum wage and no benefits, employment in LFPSs constitutes as informal labour for women.
The precarious nature and dismal conditions of employment in LFPSs for female teachers raise important questions of labour and human rights.
Andrabi, T, J. Das and A.I Khawaja (2008). A Dime a Day: The Possibilities and Limits of Private Schooling in Pakistan. In Comparative Education Review, Vol.52 (3): 329- 355.