Redirecting focus to teacher commitment

Published: February 5, 2016
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The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences in Islamabad. He tweets @abdullah_alam

The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences in Islamabad. He tweets @abdullah_alam

Over the last few years, teacher attendance in public sector schools has vastly improved owing to strict monitoring systems enforced by education departments. We now have teachers present in schools more often than they used to in the past. While teachers’ presence in the classroom is an essential pre-requisite for meaningful learning to take place, it is not the dominant factor that impacts students’ learning. Research proves that the quality of education in schools and student achievement is hugely dependent on teacher motivation and commitment to the profession.

Teacher commitment can be defined as the degree of the positive and affective bond between the teacher and teaching as a profession, and as a means of ensuring student learning. It has been identified as one of the most critical factors impacting the success of education and schools. Teaching is a demanding profession and needs teachers’ personal commitment to the job. While teacher commitment is developing as a research field, it has not been an area of focus for our policymakers.

For my research projects focusing on teacher commitment and being part of the teaching community for a long time, I had the opportunity to talk to many teachers. The majority of those I interacted with lacked the commitment and dedication that is needed for a teacher. Many of them had barely made up their minds regarding whether they wanted to stay on in this profession or not. A common perception that I came across was that teachers in the public sector do not receive attractive perks and remuneration to keep them committed. However, evidence seems to contradict this notion as teachers’ salaries in many cases in the public sector are very much at par with private sector salaries. So poor salaries does not seem to be a major issue. Then what demotivates teachers?

From the teachers’ point of view, their working conditions have a huge role to play in this, which in many cases are not good enough to keep them committed and motivated. If I summarise what I have gathered from my research and experience, teachers have to face a variety of problems that, in one way or the other, have an impact on their commitment towards the education system and the profession. On the one hand, they do not have serious growth opportunities; on the other hand, they have to face social prestige issues combined with a lack of adequate facilities in their classrooms and schools. They are also bound to undertake extra non-teaching responsibilities like election and census duties and so on. Teachers and students are overburdened by an extensive testing culture in our schools. The results of student assessments, rather than focusing on student improvement, are aimed at teacher evaluation and teachers are penalised for these as well. All these factors not only damage the attractiveness of teaching as a profession in the eyes of potential new recruits, they also have an impact on the mindset of existing teachers, not to mention their commitment towards it.

It is time we understood the challenge we are faced with and start preparing for the post-2015 development era where the education of our children has to receive foremost priority. But doing so also means that teachers and teaching conditions should become the focus of our policies. Policymakers must understand that teaching effectively is physically and emotionally demanding — it requires dedication and efficiency on a daily basis. Factors like poor working conditions, lack of development opportunities, and unnecessary teacher monitoring and accountability have an impact on teachers’ morale and commitment, which ends up hurting the students’ learning experience. Such factors should be focused on and addressed as a priority. Rather than focusing solely on forcing teachers to be in classrooms, we need to understand the underlying reasons for their lack of motivation and commitment, and improve teaching conditions so that they value their presence in classrooms.

A large strand of literature has focused on the impact that teacher commitment can have on student learning and achievement. It can be said that student learning is hugely influenced by the teacher and his/her teaching. Teacher commitment needs to be focused on as the first step in reforming the education system in Pakistan. Merely ensuring the presence of a teacher in a classroom means little unless the teacher has prerequisite skills and the motivation to perform. It is time we focused on teachers with a positive lens of improving their working conditions and training, and providing them with adequate opportunities to improve their skill sets. Not only will this make teaching an attractive profession, it will also go a long way in improving students’ learning outcomes and ensuring the provision of quality education to all.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2016.

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