Sit-ins of academic staff belonging to the Social Action Programme (SAP) schools completed a fortnight on Saturday, while authorities continue to turn a deaf ear towards their concerns.
Teachers demand regularisation of jobs and a pay raise as promised in the past.
“The authorities will never understand our suffering unless they undergo a similar plight,” said a female teacher while addressing the demonstration on Saturday. Forced by circumstances, the teachers took to the streets two weeks back and set a camp at Ghari Bagh Chowk.
In the biting November cold of Gilgit, more than five dozen teachers including women have been protesting from morning to evening every day. Many of the participants belong to remote villages of Ghizer, Astore and Hunza-Nagar. With no hope in sight, they were forced to come to Gilgit. Some of the female teachers have also brought their children along.
“We will die but not end the strike. We want our rights no matter what,” said another female teacher. The irked academic staff knows that if the current government, which is completing its tenure in December, does not address their concerns, the issue will be sidelined for months.
Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) education department opened community schools under the SAP back in 1994 with promises of regularising faculty within three years, provided their performance was satisfactory.
Almost two decades later, the system continues and at least 1,465 SAP teachers still earn a pittance compared to their counterparts from public schools. According to a protester, he is paid a salary of Rs4,000 each month. The schools provide primary education in all districts of G-B.
“If it cannot accommodate us, the government should simply let us quit through schemes like the ‘golden handshake’,” said Ghulam Akbar, an office bearer of SAP teachers association, adding that the authorities are neither willing to fulfil promises nor letting them quit.
The last re-haul
National Education Foundation (NEF) took control of around 1,100 SAP schools along with more than 300 Basic Education Community Schools (BECS) in September 2009, all of which are paying the price of the government’s nonchalant attitude towards the sector.
Teachers at these schools too are paid far lower than the minimum wage of Rs11,000 per month fixed by the government, despite serving for over 10 to 15 years.
The future of over 40,000 students currently studying in the SAP schools and 13,256 enrolled in the BECS is at stake.
Passing the buck
“The SAP is a subject of the federal government but the chief minister is taking interest and wants the issue resolved,” said a spokesperson at the chief minister’s secretariat. “The chief minister is currently in Islamabad to raise the issue with the federal authorities,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2014.