Truant teachers, students and schools
The voice at the other end was unfamiliar, crisp and not interested in inanities or introductions. It came straight to the point. “This is a message from school. A student in your household in grade 11, named ——- was absent on January 12 in period 3. Please call the school or send a note to provide an explanation.” “While I had heard and known that the schools did operate automated systems to inform the parents if a student was to skip a class for any reason, I could not believe how efficient and amazing this system was.” This is how a taken aback parent described his experience when his child skipped a class in a small town high school in Canada.
Originally introduced by Mark Miller of SynreVoice Technologies, the truancy tracking system allows schools to phone or e-mail parents when students decide they would rather be elsewhere. It is now used by more than 8000 schools in Canada and the US. This early warning system has played a major role in reducing chronic absenteeism and the schools have reported a 30-50 % drop in class skipping within two weeks of a new installation. In many schools 90% kids stopped skipping almost instantaneously.
The system is simple to understand and operate. Attendance is taken by the teacher on a standardised form, which is then scanned into the school’s computer, which in turn activates the automatic phone calls / e-mails. The school computer keeps a record of calls made for each kid and can generate helpful statistics such as the most skipped student, teacher, subject, or school during any selected period of time.
The education bureaucracy of Pakistan, for all these years, has neither learnt a lesson from how other nations run their schools nor shown any indigenous initiatives of its own at improving the management of public schools. There are some 30,000 schools reported by the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, that exist on paper only but continue to draw regular funding from the state exchequer. There is no evidence of any other country in the world that comes even close to this benchmark of incompetence and absurdity. Truancy is rampant amongst underpaid and ill motivated teachers. Only a week back, a minister of NWFP government acknowledged that only in one district (Mansehra), 8000 of the 14000 teachers have remained absent from their duties for past several years, and have also been receiving their salaries every month. (Dawn Nov 20, 2008). Even if the teachers in other districts are two times more conscientious than the missing links of Mansehra, one can estimate that about 25% of all Pakistani teachers do not appear in schools on any working day. The students’ attendance is yet more abysmal. According to a UNESCO report, Pakistan is second to Nigeria in the number of children not at school (total 6.5 million) and 80 per cent of them have never been enrolled in a school.
Pakistan could make major improvements in school management, if it was to attend to at least one basic issue. It is to introduce some basic concepts of monitoring and tracking how the schools are run. Currently the government has an outdated machinery that does not even pretend to be serious about finding missing schools, absent teachers and truant students. It is ironic that while there are countries that can track a student missing for even one period a day, we do not even know that the 30,000 schools that draw regular monthly funds, in fact do not exist. Pakistan could easily develop and install computer-based school, teacher and student truancy tracking systems, to monitor and control the first prerequisite of education – a school that is open, a teacher who is available and a student who is present in the class.
Dawn 26 Nov. 2008