Fate Of Schools Uncertain After Passage Of Punjab Local Govt Act

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The public sector schooling system of Punjab is facing an uncertain future after the passage of Punjab Local Government Act 2019, with teachers objecting to structural, financial and administrative control being handed over to local governments. Ammar Sheikh and Arsalan Haider scratch the surface to reveal what really concerns the stakeholders.

lthough teachers have objections to the law, they are still unclear of its implications, as the law is vague and does not answer many of the concerns pertaining to the status of schools. Still, teachers are critical of the new law given that the previous such attempt ended in a disaster.The Punjab Local Government Act 2019 and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019 replaces the Punjab Local Government Act 2013 and the existing local governments now stand dissolved. The new laws are a departure from the old ones and envision a local government infrastructure at the tehsil, municipal and the panchayat level in rural areas instead of the local governments at the district level.

For education, the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019 has devolved some responsibilities to local governments. The responsibilities of managing facilities of primary, elementary and secondary schools have been given to the local government at its tiers. Similarly, the responsibility of enrolment and universal education is also the responsibility of the local governments, besides that of establishing pre-schools. 

Existing School Education Setup

The already existing school education setup is a centralized system run from the provincial capital through the Punjab School Education Department. From the centralized system, the management and administration of schools is run and at the district-level District Education Authorities (DEAs) manage the setup. Interestingly in its last budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, the Punjab government earmarked a large percentage of its development budget for District Education Complexes for DEAs. This money will be used to construct buildings, while the allocation for District Education Complexes was Rs 273 billion in the previous budget.

The DEAs do not operate under the local governments and report to the provincial government department. This has caused confusion among the public schoolteachers, as to who and how would they be reporting after the local governments are set up. Furthermore, the schoolteachers in the province are Punjab government’s employees, this too is a cause of concern as they don’t want to loose their status as civil servants and become local government subjects.

Concerns Of Government Teachers

The government teachers have a variety of concerns with regards to local government system vis-à-vis schools, ranging from the change in status of their employment, financial and job security, administrative control over day-to-day matters, finances for development, educational and administrative capabilities of elected members of local governments among others.

The Punjab Local Government Act 2019 and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019 envision a local government infrastructure at the tehsil, municipal and the panchayat level in rural areas instead of the local governments at the district level

Talking to Academia Magazine about the reservations of teachers, Punjab Teachers Union General Secretary Rana Liaquat said the local government system had never been successful in Pakistan and the act (The Punjab Local Government Act 2019) was quiet vague about public schools. He said the primary, elementary and secondary school management had been handed over to local governments. “Which means the whole infrastructure of schools has been handed over to the local governments,” he added.

Liaquat said DEAs were not under local governments and were directly under the provincial government headed by the minister and the secretary. “But, when you hand it down to the tehsil level, the municipal officer would practically head the system. The chairman of the panchayat and neighborhood would also head the school councils,” he added.

He added that there was also a problem of increased political interference, as councilors and nazims used to interfere in the affairs of schools in the previous local government setups. Giving an example, he said in the earlier experiment, some [local government representatives] inducted their voters as teachers and others made teachers to work for them. “Furthermore, if a nazim himself was a private school owner, how would he let the public school system run successfully?”

Employment Status

One of the major concern of the teacher is the status of their employment. Rana Liaquat said schoolteachers were civil servants. “How can we be inducted into the local government system?” he asked, adding that new recruitments would be made under the local governments rather than the provincial government. Then there is also the questions of salaries of teachers. He argued that the teachers would then have to be paid by tehsils through their own funds. “If they lack funds, then they will decrease salaries or shutdown schools,” he added.

The concerns of schoolteachers stem from previous iterations of local government systems where the status of teachers changed and later on the system was abandoned for which the teachers had to face the consequences. Liaquat said the government previously reverted its decision to let the local government run the provincial level functionaries during the Musharraf era. “The earlier experiment failed because consecutive governments changed the local government system and structure according to what suited them and no system was allowed to run”.

“What guarantee is there that the next government will let this local government system run after the next general elections,” he probed.

He said municipal corporation cadre teachers were still facing problems upon retirement and faced a hard time receiving their pensions. In the previous local government, their services were handed over to municipal corporations and the cadre was later declared dead. “Those transferred had to run from pillar to post to get their pensions and other dues, for they were left confused about who to approach – municipal corporations or district authorities. The same will happen to teachers working now,” he commented. Teachers believe that these ‘continuous experiments’ should be stopped and the education system should be run under the provincial governments. “All schools should be run under a single system and recruitment should be done under the same rules as civil servants,” Rana Liaquat said.

Private Schools

In a conversation with Academia Magazine, Private Schools Association President Kashif Jawdani said such an experiment was also implement by previous government for a few months as they handed the registration of private schools to deputy commissioners. “The idea flopped because DCs had their busy schedule and they couldn’t give time for registration and other related matters of private schools,” he added.

Jawdani said due to non-availability of DC, the registration matters remained uncheck and process got very slow. He was of the view that due to such certain reasons, the decision was rolled back. Talking about proposed setup, he said in Lahore, the government had appointed a private school representative who belonged to an elite private school. He added that there are 6,000 private schools in Lahore and among them there are only 200 elite schools. “So how can a representative of an elite school know the problems being faced by small-scale schools?” he added.

Public sector teachers have a variety of concerns with regards to LG system, ranging from the change in status of their employment, financial and job security and administrative control over day-to-day matters

He opined that the government should appoint a representative of small schools as the private school representative for he would be in a better position to address the problems being faced by smaller schools. Another important issue that Jawdani highlighted was that all staff of DEA that would check the registration process and visit schools were government school staffers. “The government must appoint one member from private sector to ensure transparency.” 

Silver Lining

Teachers are not entirely against the local government system being enacted in Punjab. They agree that the responsibility of enrolling students and development works in schools should be the duty of the local representatives, as proposed in the act. Liaquat said the reason for this was that the local government representatives were elected from the area and they knew the people of the locality well. He, however, said that what the teachers really had a problem with was giving administrative control of schools to local governments.

By and large the schoolteachers are not willing to work under the local government, as is intended under the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019. Liaquat said, “We want education to function under one umbrella and demand that the schooling remains under the provincial government’s control and should be taken out of the local government system.”