Most teachers in our society feel marginalised, underappreciated and underpaid; this statement is more accurate for teachers working in the private sector. Teachers in private schools are facing exploitation similar in nature to the exploitation suffered by manual laborers in our textile mills and brick kilns, and yet very few people realise the extent and scale of this exploitation.

Our private school sector is thriving, and with one time investment on building construction and running costs of staff salaries, is making mammoth profits. Private schools have seen growth in our country like no other business; many chains of schools have emerged with ever increasing number of branches and with ever increasing wealth of the owners of these enterprises. This lucrative business of education has made some people obscenely rich by turning this service of education into a commodity which it is not

Fees in private schools are being increased at an astronomical scale but teachers serving in these prestigious schools have been reduced to the status of salesmen of some products. This is an open secret in our society that our teachers are exploited by the private sector in the worse possible way. Even in the most expensive schools a teacher’s monthly salary is less than the monthly fee paid by a single student.

A very high percentage of our private sector teachers are dissatisfied with their working conditions, poor salaries, lack of say in academic matters and autocratic administration. These are the eight things that are the hallmark of our private schools environment that oppress and exploit teachers.

Absence of a service structure

Teachers serving in the private sector have no service structure; this is the single most important reason due to which private (for profit) educational enterprises are able to employ teachers at ridiculously low salary packages. School administrators (or school proprietors to be more precise) pay their teachers crumbs while earning mammoth profits themselves. Teachers are unable to receive any old age benefits, study leave or maternity leave due to lack of service structure or a fair employment contract.

Induction of untrained teachers on less pay

Private schools usually prefer to induct untrained teachers to reduce cost of hiring and staffing. This practice of private school closes the doors of employment for experienced and trained teachers. Untrained teachers are easily manipulated and coerced into working on low wages.

No job security

Private school teachers have no job security in most private schools even in the most prestigious ones. They can be easily fired or dismissed for frivolous reasons or no reason at all. Teachers are often fired by most private schools just before the long summer vacations only to save expanses despite the fact that schools charge and receive fees in advance for these vacations. This most unethical and exploitative practice has become a norm and a trick of the trade in the private sector education.   

No salary during long vacations

Most (but not all) schools pay no salaries to their teachers during long vacations, thus teachers are deprived of a means of livelihood for an extended period. These private schools simply don’t care what happens to these teachers without salaries during vacations. Employees in other organisations are entitled to paid leaves but not the teachers in the private sectors this is an injustice that financially cripples teachers who are already underpaid.

Gender discrimination

Private schools preferentially hire female teachers not because they are on a mission of women empowerment, but because women in Pakistan are available for teaching jobs at a nominal remuneration. Women in our society are not required to earn for livelihood due to traditions, and most of the highly qualified women prefer a life of house wife or home maker. Women opt for getting a job for the sole reason of supporting their parents or husbands and as such they are more vulnerable to workplace exploitation. So private schools can hire women at very low wages thus saving millions of rupees annually by exploiting the compulsions of needy women and societal norms.

No on job training

If you are a private school teacher don’t think of getting any professional training or workshops, because educational managers at private schools are neither interested nor believe in anything like employees capacity building, the things that interest them is using and treating teachers like beasts of burden and maximising their profits. With the exception of some prestigious mission oriented schools, no private school administrator is interested in teachers’ capacity building because it is deemed as unnecessary and wasteful.    

Private school teachers are not allowed to form a union

Private school teachers can’t form a union without risking their jobs in Pakistan. Thus teachers at private schools are deprived of this democratic right of forming a professional union. Private schools owners and proprietors have a union of their own to protect and lobby for their business interests but teachers working in these institutions have no professional union this is another reason why oppression and exploitation of teachers goes unchecked in private schools.

Private school teachers are always at a probation period

This seems somewhat outlandish but it is a reality that teachers working at a privately owned school in Pakistan are seldom permanent employees; with very few exceptions most of the private schools don’t hire teachers on a permanent basis. Being in probation period means a teacher can be dismissed from service at any time without any notice what so ever. Due to non existence of a fair employment contract and service structure teachers are forced to serve in these trying conditions just to earn their livelihood.

Inhuman workloads

A very high percentage of teachers in private schools feel that they are over burdened. They work for longer hours and they have to work even after their duty hours to complete their tasks. There is enormously excessive amount of paper work for the teachers to perform and non teaching chores are routinely assigned to them by the administrators. Teachers have to comply with the instructions only to save their jobs.

If you are teaching at a private school your experience is a disadvantage

Some call it the paradox of private education but it is a truth, the more time a teacher spends at private school the more costly his services become for the school despite the nominal yearly increments in his salary. The schools have to invest more in their experienced teachers in terms of salaries and administrators don’t particularly like to increase their expanses, this makes experienced teachers like personae non gratae. Such teachers are treated like a burden and are more likely to face intimidation, humiliation, and threatening behavior of the administrators.     

So what needs to be done on the part of the government to end this vicious circle of exploitation and abuse? Government can do at least these three things to improve working conditions for teachers in private schools.

I. Regulation of teachers induction process in the private schools by establishing a teachers hiring and accreditation agency

Ministry of education must establish an independent directorate to help private schools hire teachers with suitable qualifications. For hiring of teachers ability test must be conducted in a transparent manner. Private schools must not be allowed to appoint teachers without proper ability tests and suitable qualifications. Hiring of teachers must take place by an independent employment agency to minimize to ensure transparency in the process. Schools must be required to award a fair contract of employment to teachers.

II. Service/employment structure for private school teachers

A service structure must be awarded to private schools teachers guaranteeing a respectable wage, job security and old age benefits. Schools must be legally required to pay teachers according to the category a school is placed in. schools which charge higher fees must be required to pay teachers accordingly.

III. Documentation of private schools via an e-portal for better enforcement of rules

An information technology system or an e-portal must be established to carry out registration and documentation of private schools for better supervision and compliance with the rules. It is a well known tactics of certain private schools (and some privately owned cadet colleges) to get registered in the name of some fake welfare organisation to avoid paying taxes; such illegal practice of tax evasion by the wealthy can be checked introducing a regulated and rigorous process of registration.