Temporary teachers, untempting education

A recent Allahabad High Court judgment, setting   aside the appointment of contract teachers in Uttar Pradesh, has highlighted the politicalisation and foolhardiness of our education system.

The matter before the judges was the engagement of contract teachers by the Mayawati government in 1999. These teachers didn’t have the required qualification and their engagement was willfully kept lower than the regular teachers. Two clear objectives lay behind this. One, appointing full-time teachers for the increased student population was beyond the financial capacity of the Mayawati government and, two, unemployed graduates were ready to do any kind of job. So, one group’s duress became another’s opportunity.

The Union government has laid down a clear-cut criterion for appointment of ‘full- time’ teachers. But, the contract teacher system has become some kind of an anathema. The practice of appointing contract teachers isn’t limited to UP alone. Almost every state appoints teachers on bond. And the classification is amusing, if not outright disgraceful.
Chhattisgarh has Shiksha Karmis, recruited by panchayat bodies and they work on honorarium basis, who very often go on strike demanding regularisation in services and pay scale at par with the regular government employees.

In Madhya Pradesh, there are two cadres of teachers: Samvida Shikshak cadre and the Adhyapak Samvarg. The Samvida Shikshak is a three-year contract cadre, the other – the Adhyapak Samvarg is a regular and long-term grade. Both cadres are recruited and paid by district and Janpad levels.

In Odisha, there are any number of teacher-types: Sahayak Sikshak, Chukti Sikshak, Block-grant Shikshak. All of them are paid by the government directly.

As recent as a week ago, the Raman Singh government rolled out plans to source out teaching services for schools in tribal areas. So, now onwards, private companies, firms and agencies will hire and deploy school teachers. This is a first of its kind experiment in the country. Teaching staff provided by the successful bidders will be known as “Alternative Lecturers” or Vaikalpik Vyakhyata.

Contract teachers (or para-teachers) have been used since the mid 1980’s to provide informal education to children outside the system and also to increase their access in remote areas that did not have enough children to qualify for a formal school.

However, since the late 1990’s, the pressure to increase access and the limited resources have instinctively promoted the use of contract teachers in formal primary schools, to the extent of replacing regular teachers. Interestingly, the southern states don’t follow this system. They have only permanent teachers.

Gigantic problem

The education system in India has been expanding since the 1950’s. Basic education has grown from about 200,000 schools in 1950 to more than a million and enrolments have increased from around twenty million to two hundred million at primary and upper primary levels.

In spite of these efforts, an estimated 60 million children of school-going age remain out of school and around 40 per cent of them entering grade one drop out without completing the five-year primary cycle.

While this in itself is a gigantic problem, the governments across the board are seen caught in the vortex of politics and fickleness while appointing teachers. Sadly, this is happening only in case of those crores of unprivileged children. While quality education is becoming a rare commodity, the contract teacher system has turned out to be an abuse of the worst kind.

In any remote village in northern India, teachers are inferior to even manual labourers. A more pertinent question is, why this desperate system of teacher appointment prevails only in the BIMARU states? One, these states’ population pressure is severe. But more important is their economic condition. There are no industries worth the name and everyone looks forward to a government job – temporary, unrewarding or even ignominious.

The governments too are trying to get away with the problem of acute unemployment by taking stopgap teachers. During Nitish Kumar’s chiefministership in 2007-08 some eight lakh candidates were head-over-heels for two lakh jobs. This gave way to nepotism, corruption and falsification.

What kind of good governance is this? And where are we taking our primary education? The governments, NGOs and the civil society need to deliberate on this predicament. After all, we are talking about crores of children who will be adults in the next 20 years.

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