Friday, April 30, 2010

Where is my teacher?

" I am in school today to study but our teacher is absent for the last two days", says this beautiful little girl who was playing in the school with other girls because their teacher was absent . True, many teachers in remote villages of Punjab either arrive at least two-hours late to school or remain absent without any prior information simply because there is no check and balance in place. Teachers' frequent absenteeism in schools definitely have serious repercussions not only on delivery of education but also on the objective of keeping these girls' students in schools. Currently, poor parents, in remote areas such as Rohjan Tehsil, District Rajanpur, despite their poverty are sending these girls' to school only because they want their daughters to be educated. But teachers' absenteeism could let parents think otherwise. Are we going to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015 with frequent teacher absenteeism in schools of remote areas? Who is accountable here?? Government? School Teachers? 

Energy Conservation Drive: Is passing of orders good enough to bring behavioral change??

Recently the incumbent government, as part of its energy conservation drive, has announced two weekly holidays and 9:00am-8:00pm market timings across Pakistan. The logic behind this hasty policy decision is that by implementing these steps the government will be able to reduce consumption of electricity / fuel and overcome the worsening power shortage in the country. Some people (of course government officials) are cherishing this decision while others (traders and common consumers) are criticizing it. This made me think: are we civilized enough that we will change our behavior by mere governmental orders?

I was in Multan the day when this decision was notified by the government. The next day (Saturday), I had a visit scheduled to few basic health units in Muzaffargarh. At around 8:30 pm on April 23rd, I received a telephone call from a district officer informing me “Please plan your visit on some other day as Saturday’ is an official holiday and hence all the basic health units would be closed on April 24th “.

The district officer appeared quiet excited on the prospect of getting two days off each week and simply said ‘We have to follow the government’s decision government” when I asked him perhaps there is some misunderstanding in interpreting the government’s order as how the government could order closing down of health facilities for two days each week?

I was amazed at how swiftly this decision was implemented by the government officials, despite the fact that their source of information was TV and they had not received anything in written.  It is also pertinent to note that these government officials do not work the whole day and their normal practice every day is arriving one hour late and leaving one hour early. I asked the district official why all the government officials don’t follow government’s timings with the same enthusiasm. In response, I heard ‘laughter’ and I felt as if I was hitting my head against a wall. Let me add something ironic here, health centers remain closed on April 24th and later on I read in the newspaper this ‘Saturday’ holiday was not meant to be implemented in government hospitals and health centers.

The same night, I received many telephone calls from the government officials (health and education departments) I liaison with on daily basis. The crux of all such telephone calls was ‘Woohoo, we’ve also got two weekly holidays’. I was utterly amazed at the welcoming of the ‘two weekly’ holidays by the government officials particularly when we all know the productivity of these government officials.

Let me give you an example of how serious they are when it is about ‘work’/ or to what extent work is their prime priority. Yesterday, I had a meeting scheduled with two of the government officials, X and Y, of the education department in my office. Mr. X did not attend the meeting and continued furnishing one lame excuse after another when I called him to inquire whether he is going to attend the meeting or not. Later on Mr. Y informed me that Mr X was busy dealing with his ‘family’ issue during office hours. Mr Y had shown up for the meeting but he was completely un-prepared. Consequently, I had to push him to agree on certain deadlines and apprise me by Friday of the progress. Before leaving my office, Mr Y informed me that he would be visiting his sister now instead of going back to office. Well, yes one meeting a day is too much of a work for the government officials and despite getting one more holiday they will not deliver what is expected from them.

On the other hand, traders and consumers appear very concerned on new market timings of 9:00am-8:00pm. Traders have shown their reservations quiet blatantly and have demanded the government to take remove this time limit. I know from my experience of living in Australia the normal market timings are 9:00am-6:00pm and there I never saw neither traders nor customers complaining about narrow market timings simply because they are organized and follow rules and regulations.

Nevertheless, here in Pakistan 9:00am – 8:00pm market timing limit has made both traders and consumers unhappy. Traders are not following the newly introduced timings and small market shops remain open as late as 11:00 pm. I talked to few working class women to get their views on early closure of markets and get their response as “After office, it is too hot to go outside and shop.

The option of shopping at night suits us more and also we are used to it now. Why government is making such a ‘stupid’ decision’. Irony is that neither the traders are willing to logically think that if they open their shops at sharp 9:00 and close them at sharp 8:00pm then by hook or by crook their customers will get used to it and hence it won’t have any impact on their sale. Similarly, the working class also fails to see that they are already getting ‘ Saturday’ as a holiday which they can utilize for ‘shopping’ and  it is only that they have to organize their daily routine .

Certainly, behavioral change is not that easy.  Introduction of two weekly holidays for government officials does not mean that government will do away with their other ill habits such as not following official timings and not delivering when it is required. Similarly, we are not sure whether the new market timings will be implemented in true spirit because people who are responsible for getting them enforced are themselves ‘government officials’.

At the end I really would like to ask a question from the government: Should we expect three days off per week next year if the power crisis continues at the same frequency?