No country for teachers

More than half of the total sanctioned faculty positions in central universities are lying vacant.

While browsing through Google today, it’s likely that many of you see the Teachers’ Day doodle. When you’re at it, try typing, ‘why I don’t want to be a…’ and wait until Google shows its predictions (auto suggestions). One of the hanging ones will say ‘teacher’!

Ask some college students if they want to become teachers. Those of you who are lucky may hear a polite decline. Others may witness a laugh bundled up in a shrug. Few may get a ‘you-must-be-out-of-your-mind’ look.

I will not be surprised. During 2009-11, I travelled around the country giving lectures in schools, colleges and even coaching institutions nudging students to look beyond the mainstream career paths of engineering and medicine. 

In every lecture, without fail, I would ask, ‘So tell me, how many of you would like to become teachers in a school or professors in a university?’ I would wait with some hope lurking in the silence that would follow afterwards. I would see one – two hands at the most – being raised in slow motion. The story is repeated everywhere – more than 200 plus lectures in at least 40 cities of India. I hypothesised, this is definitely one of the unifying sentiments across our diverse cultures.

This is not to be proud of. And if you see the numbers, you will not be surprised either. More than one-third of all faculty positions in Indian universities are lying vacant. Almost half of the total sanctioned faculty positions in central universities are unfilled. Faculty shortage in elite institutions like IITs, NITs and IIMs range from 20% to 40%. If you think these deficiencies seem unreal, speak to any college student and you will know the dismal shortage of full-time teachers in our colleges.

Colleges with huge faculty cr-unch operate through what are known as ad-hoc faculty. They are not hired in any permanent capacity, and like any other contract or temporary appointments, teachers falling under this category get paid much below the scale for permanent staff and are also ineligible for availing government funds for resea-rch. These are UGC guidelines on appointment of ad-hoc faculty but they are routinely flouted.

Contract teachers

For instance, the requirement for appointing contract teachers must be motivated by necessity and there is a cap of 10% on the maximum number of contract teachers that a college can appoint. Yet, in University of Delhi alone, in many colleges, ad-hoc faculty members outnumber the permanent teachers. Worse, many of them have been lurking in these positions for more than a decade. Many teach with lost motivation which feeds into a repulsion for this profession.

Students in these colleges fe-ar entering into this profession, where they think barriers to entry are so high. They also realise that other than the difficulty in finding suitable candidates, the vacancies are also a result of bureaucratic delays, political appo-intments and nepotism. It crea-tes a culture of mediocrity, un-inspiring classes and loss of dignity for teaching as a profession. 

Children growing up attending dull classes do not want to see themselves carrying forw-ard the tradition. Their aspiration to be a teacher is killed before it’s ignited. A cycle is created – poor quality teachers discourage bright students to take up teaching as their profession, and this further exacerbates mediocrity in teaching profession.

Breaking this cycle has to happen at the level of supply. Ad-hoc trajectories must be institutionalised. Their assessment should be done by an impartial body through an objective framework (which may include their class feedback and research output). In no way should the decision to make them permanent wait for more than two years of their initial appointment. Further, the huge salary difference between ad-hoc and permanent faculty must shrink. 

One ought to note that securing a PhD has already set the applicant’s earning years by a few years compared to most of his peers. In the Indian context where impulse to fulfill family’s ambition in becoming its earning member soon, university jobs anyway appear like a delayed, throat-clearing responses. 

The least colleges can do is to close the salary gaps between teachers at the same level regardless of their contracts. High salaries will increase the quality of applicants, obviating the need to delay these contracts indefinitely. Most importantly, it will also cultivate inspired students to join academia.

We need to accord institutional dignity to temporary teachers. Even S Radhakrishnan, whose birthday we celebra-te as Teachers’ Day, could secure only a temporary teaching posi-tion at Presidency College, Mad-ras in 1909 – a professional angst which continued for some years. 

Yet, he was able to teach subjects epistemology and ethical theory and publish his great ideas in various prestigious journals that eventually brought him the George V Chair in Philosophy at Calcutta University, and later Spalding Chair of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford University. And did I mention that according to some accounts, his father wanted him to be a temple priest!

(The writer teaches at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, where he is also the Deputy Director, International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building)

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