Madeeha Ansari completed her Bachelors in Economics from London School of Economics last year and currently works for an Islamabad-based development consultancy that specializes in enterprise development programs. She frequently blogs for the Express Tribune and just started her own personal blog.
It took a lot for me to go from Islamabad to Lahore for the Teach for Pakistan Assessment Day. Frantic calls were made, emails were sent, mentors were sought. I wanted to be sure, I said, before bringing inevitable conflict in the household and “making a bigger emotional investment”.
So I went, of course, and had a thoroughly good time. Met a bunch of bright young people (very many from LUMS), employed my new facilitation skills in the budget allocation dilemma, fell in love with the interviewer. Toted a bag of Red Things including a shiny shoe and Winnie-the-Pooh for my lesson on adjectives, in which I am happy to say the class did quite well.
The truth is, however, that Assessment Day might not be the most accurate simulation of what awaits the first batch of Fellows during their two year commitment to teaching in under resourced government schools. For those who have never properly ventured outside Clifton and Defense, the first challenge will be to make sure they fit. It wouldn’t do to stand out, not if one has to be going to the same school in the same locality in a tough city, notorious for its lawlessness and deeply resented chasms of disparity.
Another equally important consideration is acceptance within the school. Although they will of course be facilitated by the TFP team, it will be difficult to determine the dynamics between the new recruits and the older, more experienced teachers who may be falling in a different salary bracket. The young teachers are going to have to be very, very polite.
Then, there’s the job itself. Those with an O’levels background are going to need some serious orientation to the local system, because even the Math is in a different language. Since this is only at the primary school level, things should work out just fine. However, the fact that we don’t have a single standardized board or medium of instruction does make it different from, for instance, Teach for America.
These are generic things that might have to be thought about when offer-holders are taking their decisions, because it wouldn’t be fair to flake out afterwards. For those who really feel it, such concerns are simply fodder for two years of thought. This time is not just going to be about teaching, although that in itself is enough to make life worthwhile. But these two years will set things in perspective, giving this batch of Fellows some real world grounding that would otherwise have taken a very long time. The insights that they’ll get into the local education system will surpass any secondhand, theoretical nuggets they could pick up elsewhere.
The TFP team must not have slept for a very long time in their efforts to cover all bases, offer the right kinds of incentives, pick the candidates with the skills, flexibility and passion to follow through. It’s a beautiful program and everyone in the social sector wishes it was their idea. Now it’s up to that carefully selected set of young people to understand that they can be a meaningful part of something awesome, knowing what they’re signing up for. After that, they can forget everything else they know, to let those seven year olds teach them what the world is really about.