Two news stories today have given me cause to reflect upon and celebrate the dedication of teachers. Yet both also present tales of terrible tribulation and could provoke a feeling of despair. However it must be said that despite great adversity, the professionalism of some teachers shines through.
The well respected Pakistan daily newspaper Dawn, today carried an article written by Syed Ali Shah with the headline A dismal state of education in Balochistan (1st June 2015). Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest province covering more than 40% of the country’s land area. Its provincial capital Quetta is the largest city in the region where the University of Balochistan is located, with an Institute of Education and Research which has a proud history of training teachers. Despite this apparent commitment to education, the Balochistan government has recently declared an education emergency in the province.
It is reported that there are more than 7,000 single room schools in the province, each with a single teacher attempting to address the needs of children across a wide age range. The dropout rate from schools is high and two out of every three girls in Balochistan never have an opportunity to attend school. Teaching conditions are clearly less than adequate, and teachers are struggling with minimal resources and a lack of clear policy direction.
A separate news item, covered by several sources including the Guardian and Reuters news agency describe how children are returning to school following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal. In some areas of Kathmandu and other districts parents and volunteers have built wooden makeshift classrooms, and elsewhere have erected tents in order that children can gain some shelter and return to some semblance of normal education. Parents and children have expressed their joy that schools, even those in temporary accommodation, are once again opening their doors, however, many have also stated their apprehension about separation of children from parents, even for the short duration of a school day.
One eleven year old girl named Sabina told a reporter that:
“It’s better to be in the school though I am scared of another earthquake.”
For those of us living in comfort it is difficult to fully appreciate the fears expressed by this girl.
These two news stories highlight the tragedy and trials of people living in desperate situations. It would be easy to see only negative features of the items that have caught the attention of the world’s press. However, I believe that there is another aspect of these situations which we could easily miss.
Teachers who are working in the dire school conditions in Balochistan, and those who are attempting to rebuild educational provision in Nepal are showing a dedication to their task which could easily be overlooked. They will attend their schools each day with minimal resources, and with little knowledge of what the future holds, but with a commitment to ensure that their pupils are provided with opportunities to learn. It has often been said in my own country that the school is at the heart of a community. It is at schools that lifelong friendships begin. They are places where children develop a passion for sports or art or music, and where hopefully they are enabled to learn the skills, knowledge and understanding that will equip them for the rest of their lives.
Those teachers in Nepal and Balochistan who went to their classrooms this morning have received relatively little mention in the news items highlighted in this blog. It is almost taken for granted that they will continue to provide the service that is expected of teachers in far easier situations. I am sure that they too, just like their students, have apprehensions with regards to their safety and the ways in which they will teach in far from adequate conditions. I am equally sure that they will continue to demonstrate the professional integrity which ensures that they will continue to focus upon the needs of their students.