Education, Neoliberalism, and Teacher
“Without narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention.” -Neil Postman in End of Education
In the neoliberal tradition of education, maximization of profit and exploitation of labour go hand in hand. This model of education, which became popular in Pakistan in the last two decades, is based on the factory model, where the emphasis is on mass production in order to make the venture viable in financial terms. In order to keep them on their toes, teachers are constantly demonized and exploited in different manners. The exploitation includes economic, physical, emotional, social, and psychological aspects.
In most schools, teachers do not have an appropriate place to sit and work. In their free time, in between classes, teachers sit either in some class or some other empty space in the school. In some schools, the management removes teachers’ chairs from classrooms so that they do not have option to sit during their teaching. Teachers, in private elite schools, are made to work for long hours for classroom decorations, notice board presentations, classroom presentations, students’ activities. For some of these activities they have to come to school even on holidays – for which they are not paid. The salary they get is not worth the work and humiliation they are subjected to in a threatening environment.
The majority of the teachers of private elite schools complain of emotional exploitation. The attitude of the management is usually that of a factory manager who considers it fit to control the workers with an insulting attitude. Teachers’ individual creativity is nipped in the bud and they are soon made to work under the tight shackles of school regulations. They are subjected to humiliating treatment on trivial things, at times disgraced in front of students and at times in front of parents.
Emotional exploitation is closely linked with psychological exploitation where teachers have to live under constant threat of monitoring from unannounced classroom visits by the management to the check of subject coordinators and resource coordinators. The constant fear of being under surveillance and continuous admonishment on minor mistakes in checking of students’ copies, and occasional letters of explanations turn teachers into meek, docile, submissive, and compliant workers who are scared to take any initiative or think out of the box.
In most of the cases, the management does not trust the teachers and treats them on the basic assumption that they are work shirkers and cheaters. There is no job security and a teacher in a private school lives from moment to moment. In most of the private schools, there are no health and transport facilities for the teachers. This suppressive, threatening, and disabling environment affects their self-image in a negative manner and they start considering themselves as inconsequential.
Most teachers are subjected to social exploitation where they are supposed to sit back for school meetings after school hours. Teachers are sometimes called to work on holidays, in the name of planning and preparation. This impacts their social and family life, especially that of female teachers. Female teachers are supposed to fulfil the expectations of their school and their family.
Some schools claim to have workshops and courses for the ‘development’ of teachers. Unfortunately, most of these workshops and courses are narrow in their scope as they focus on skills and strategies and do not try to tap the higher order thinking to bring about a conceptual change. Such workshops are very limited in their scope and cannot promise to inculcate critical reflective skills among the teachers. Instead of sponsoring teachers for such initiatives, schools make them pay to attend workshops and teacher training courses.
In a tight bureaucratic and stifling environment, favouritism and flattery flourish. Conformity and compliance become desired attributes and creative initiatives and innovative practices are discouraged and debunked. The culture of conformity and submission distort teachers’ personalities.
There is a group of people, mostly managers, who like a school environment where teachers are treated as factory workers for enhanced productivity and efficiency. They, however, tend to forget that there is a major difference between the work done by factory workers and teachers. A factory produces identical items at a mass scale in an assembly line and the factory worker is doing his/her bit in a predictable, mechanical and robotic manner.
A school is supposed to help students develop independent critical thinking to reflect and have the courage to challenge some of the taboos in society. Such students would believe in emancipation, peace, coexistence and a comprehensive notion of socio-economic development. How can teachers inculcate such qualities among their students if they are themselves docile, submissive, insecure, yielding and scared?
The writer is an educationist.