During Covid-19 crisis, despite all the abrupt transformation, innovation and rationalization in the education sector of Pakistan, there remains a constant: neglect of leadership roles of teachers in crisis mitigation.

Non-lucrative job offers, low income and scare training have relegated the teachers to a low social status where their ‘expertise’ is not considered essential in countering the modern-day challenges of the country. Their roles as the community leaders are hardly acknowledged; they are perceived insulated from the real world problems and the application of the solutions.

This neglect of teachers’ potential leadership role in society is not a novelty. Our electronic media has thrived well on it. Recently, I came across an old PTV play from the 90's in which the veteran actor, Abid Ali, is seen struggling to convince his to-be father-in-law and his prospective wife for acknowledging his teaching career. Little impressed, instead they expected him to become a ‘Collector’ or a ‘Commissioner’ so it can “benefit” the entire family. Sadly, the perception still prevails today where the educators are never seen in the role to lead, strategize, adapt and develop.

The pandemic came with the Silverline; highlighting the need of the leadership roles of the educators in crisis mitigation. The parents, school owner and the government are perturbed over the learning loss of the students. The teachers are constantly called for help. They responded in no time with creativity and innovation; leading the creation of a virtual learning environment overnight.

Most took the initiative quite selflessly using remote learning, supporting vulnerable populations and ensuring that learning gaps in the curriculum are minimised. They resorted to the internet, mobile phone, television and radio broadcast to deliver instructions to the students. Some posted their lessons on YouTube for the benefit of all; others check-in with their students through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. In far-flung areas with poor or no connectivity to the internet, educators prepared take-home packages for their students.

In areas where online learning is not an option; teachers acted like postmen, picking homework from the students’ homes in the morning and returning their feedbacks in the evenings. The frontline workers of the education sector are showing great ability to lead an ever-evolving situation to keep children and youth learning; all without pedagogical support from the education authorities.

Now with schools and varsities re-opening across the country; teachers have an added responsibility of paramedical and nursing staff. They help disinfect classrooms, ensure safe social distance amongst students, store testing kits, maintain testing records and deliver the results. This enhanced dependency of our future on the educators demands that the policymakers must tap their leadership potential to shape the future generations.

Multitude of challenges faced by our country: pandemic, stunted growth, child labour, sectarianism, terrorism, internal displacements, refugees, climate change, floods and earthquakes greatly overwhelm the lives of our students in particular. Their daily routines, classroom attendance, motivation and physical and mental wellbeing is greatly impacted. In 2014, after the APS grotesque attack, teachers were trained for using the firearms; to protect their students and school in case of a potential terrorist attack.

Many argue the low status of teachers is attributed to their low level of qualifications and training. Those who are considered ‘unfit’ for the corporate world join the teaching profession. Only a few are rightly trained for their jobs. Para-professionals and volunteers in tuition centres fill the gap left by the teachers in schools and many are not equipped with information and communication tools. While these arguments carry weightage; the solution lies in capacity building of the educators rather than stripping them of their leadership roles in the society. Policymakers must identify the right balance of policy options to professional and personal development through incentives, support and motivation for educators to develop as leaders.

Teachers are the first line of interaction with the future generation. Aptly including them in the reformation and policy-making can make a huge impact on our ramshackle national progress and security conditions. Exclusion of educators from the policymaking at the local, regional and national level will result in loss of opportunity to develop a new cadre of talented teachers with a leadership mindset.