Teachers in the Punjab region of Pakistan are engaged in a programme of protest, including demonstrations and strikes against plans to reform the education system. The plans include punishments for teachers, if their pupils' results are not good.

Teachers say that one of the main factors in poor standards of education is the system whereby teachers have to do all sorts of jobs which are nothing to do with teaching. This is common in South Asia, with teachers having to do everything from vaccination programmes and health records to election administration and census taking. It is one of the most commonly cited grievances among teachers, who say it prevents them from doing their jobs properly. It is of course ignored by the World Bank as a serious issue, when it accuses teachers of being absent from their lessons or in class and not teaching. Teachers are never covered when they are undertaking this kind of work so pupils are frequently left on their own.

One primary school teacher said of a health campaign, which she had to undertake: “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."

Another major problem is that the medium of instruction has been changed to English. Not surprisingly this has caused many students to leave education altogether, since English is not the home language. The writer of this post has witnessed, in India, teachers and pupils struggling with English medium education - the pupils, all from extreme low-income backgrounds, had various different home languages as well as being expected to know Hindi, the national language and Urdu, if they were of Muslim heritage. The spread of English as the 'language of aspiration' is promoted by organisations like Teach for All (the umbrella body of the Teach for America franchise), debasing the local culture and language and seriously disadvantaging children from low income backgrounds. This is not confined to the Global South, recently we reported the struggle against the changeover to English as a first language of instruction in parts of Spain.

The Punjabi teachers are also bitterly opposed to the setting up of District Education Authorities, which would consist of seven local councillors with almost unlimited powers over local education. They fear this could lead to bullying of teachers, particularly women, and also would see education controlled by people with no knowledge of it. This devolution of schools to local 'communities' is another policy promoted by the World Bank. Like many such policies it is couched in the language of democracy and accountability, but in fact frequently has the opposite effect. It fatally weakens the ability of unions to bargain for their members and to advocate for education. It also devolves education funding locally, which in the global South often means parents having to foot the bill themselves for teachers' salaries, thus neatly absolving the state of its responsibilities.

The Punjab Teachers Union gave the state till December 13th to come up with an answer to their objections to these reforms, all of which have been decided without consultation with teachers. 

As though teachers in Pakistan did not have enough problems, they have also been bothered by education reform guru, Michael Barber, who has been largely responsible for the kind of measures to which the teachers are opposed. He was paid $7000 a day under the auspices of the UK Department of International Development to advise Pakistan on the improvement of its education system.