Teachers working in the most impoverished area of Pakistan, where 66% of the population are in poverty are to strike from tomorrow, if wages and allowances which have been promised to them are not paid.
They work in the Federallly Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which is also one of the most dangerous places to work, being on the border with Afghanistan and subject over the last decades to actions by the Pakistani Taliban, US drone attacks and CIA involvement. The area is one of the main conduits for arms and fighters.
Two years ago after mass protests by contract teachers, some of whom had not been paid for six months, improvements were promised – however to date these have not been forthcoming. One teacher said at the time, “I have to travel two hours every day just to reach the school where I teach. Classes are conducted in a mosque because there is not enough space available for all the students. That may not be a problem much longer since we keep losing students due to the insurgency, which has scared many of them into not coming. I have not been paid in six months. But I still love teaching. I love spreading knowledge to my students.”
The teachers are planning to start boycotting classes, from tomorrow, December 10th. While teachers in settled areas have achieved some improvements in their contractual status, pay and allowances, these teachers working in tribal areas have been ignored despite the extreme difficulty of their working conditions.The All Fata Teachers Association (AFTA) has formed a committee to fight for their rights.
Teachers held a mass demonstration against the FATA secretariat last week. One of their leaders said that the administration, was trying to divide teachers by ignoring those in the tribal territories, who were working ‘at the cost of their lives.’ The tactics seem to have failed however since the FATA teachers have received full support from the Khyber All Teachers Association in the neighbouring province.
It is hard for those of us teaching in Europe or North America to imagine the conditions in which our colleagues in areas like FATA are having to work. They not only cope with conflict but with appalling conditions and poverty pay. Nonetheless they continue to do their best to educate children. The arrogance of world elites, who send people like Pearson’s Michael Barber to Pakistan to ‘improve’ their education service, so that he can prescribe data collection, standardised lessons and testing, performance related pay and all the other neoliberal ‘reforms’ is breathtaking. What teachers need is not the attention of educorporations but support, decent conditions, security, proper pay, permanent contracts and an end to conflict.
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