SHABQADAR: Being a teacher in the tribal areas is a thankless job. Not only do they and their students have to deal with living in the midst of an insurgency, but the government has not paid their salaries in six months, and has yet to offer permanent employee status to most of them.
On Thursday, several teachers of community schools from the Federal Administered Tribal Areas staged a protest in front of the Fata Secretariat in Peshawar, blocking off Wardak Road, to register their agitation at the treatment meted out to them by the government. They chanted slogans against the government for not paying their salaries or providing them with any sense of employment security. Some of them even lit tyres on fire.
The protest ended only when Fata Education Additional Director Hashim Khan personally assured the protestors that their grievances would be resolved in a week.
The leader of the Fata community schools teachers union, Khanadan, told The Express Tribune that their talks with the Fata Administration had gone well. He claimed that Fata Education Director Fazal Manan had assured the teachers that he would submit a request to offer permanent status to the nearly 1,912 teachers in Fata’s community schools who are currently on temporary contracts.
Hashim Khan concurred with this account, saying that the proposal to permanently appoint the teachers would be submitted to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar within a week, who is expected to approve it. Khanadan added that if the demands were not met within a week, the protestors would return.
The community schools program was set up in 1998 to provide education in Fata at a relatively lower cost. Since the program was initially funded by foreign aid, the project could not be given permanent status and has been renewed every single year since then. As a result, the teachers could not be offered permanent employment either, and were initially appointed on five-year contracts, which were then renewed on three-year terms.
There are currently 742 community schools in the tribal areas, and government officials admit that they are not always able to pay the teachers on time, though they say that the teachers do eventually get paid.
For the teachers themselves, the job seems to be a labour of love. “I have to travel two hours every day just to reach the school where I teach,” said Salem Sardar, a community school teacher from the Baizai tehsil in Mohmand Agency. “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.”
Some, however, seem fed up with the lack of support. Shahzad Khan, another teacher who was leading the protests, said: “We are spreading knowledge in war-torn Fata but our salaries have not been paid in six months. Community school teachers have set up a protest camp outside the Islamabad Press Club since April 2. If the government cannot resolve our problem within a week, we will join them.”
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