Hundreds of teachers blocked traffic on The Mall in front of the Punjab Assembly on Thursday, demanding that the provincial government withdraw plans for the formation of district education authorities (DEAs).
The Punjab Teachers’ Union (PTU) had planned to lead a rally from Nasser Bagh all the way to Chief Minister’s House, but the protest started late and only reached Charring Cross at 1pm, an hour behind schedule, to find that police had cordoned off the area with barbed wire to prevent the rally going further. The protesters staged a sit-in and a truck carrying union leaders blocked the road till around 3pm.
PTU officials said that they were giving the government 15 days to meet their demand, failing which they would consider putting their members on strike.
The protesters chanted slogans and carried placards condemning the treatment of public school teachers. They said teachers were forced to spend too much time on non-academic activities, often on Sundays, their only weekly holiday.
Many of the protesters were reluctant to reveal their identities, saying they had been told not to attend the rally. “The EDOs threatened to take action against us if we participated in this protest,” said a primary school Arabic teacher from Lahore.
She said the past few months had been “miserable” for teachers across the province. “We have not come out to protest by choice, we have been forced to do so by the government,” she said.
The teachers complained that the Schools Education Department and executive district officers issued them show cause notices on petty issues and they were being assigned jobs which had nothing do with schools.
“We are humiliated by residents when we go on door-to-door dengue campaigns. This is not what I signed up for when I took up teaching,” said a teacher at a primary school in Shahdara.
PTU General Secretary Rana Liaquat Ali said that the government was even refusing to come to the table for talks. He said that the union would give the government 15 days to meet their demands, failing which the PTU central committee would decide a course of action. “We are considering boycotting all academic, examination and local election duties if the government does not respond before the deadline,” he said.
PTU Senior Vice President Muhammad Sarfaraz said that district-level education bodies would hinder the true devolution of education. “Unless people actually involved in the education sector are included, the body [DEA] will only politicise the education sector,” he said.
Sarfaraz said teachers should not be forced to participate in non-academic functions like the anti-dengue campaign. “If teachers are to engage in these campaigns at the cost of teaching children, they might as well just wind up the Education Department completely,” he said.
He also criticised the government’s enrolment drive, questioning how it planned to accommodate new students in a “crippled” education infrastructure that was insufficient for the current student population.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2013.