Address teacher gap in govt schools

There is a shortage of five lakh teachers in govt primary schools, a National Education Policy report finds.

 Janaki Murali

Can we really expect our demographic dividend to contribute to the growth of the Indian economy, if we continue to neglect the 25 crore children of school going age (6-15 years) and allow the government education system to slip into a coma?

Poor quality of education, lack of infrastructure, student drop-outs, skewed pupil-teacher-ratio (PTR), huge gap in teachers — the list of woes of the government education system are overwhelming. But, if I were to choose the first issue to be tackled by the government on a war footing, then it would be to address the gap in teachers — for it’s the school teacher, who after the parents, has the most impact and influence on the emotional wellbeing of a growing child.

According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD)’s National Education Policy’s ( NEP) Report of the Committee for Evolution of New Education 2016, there is a shortage of five lakh teachers in government primary schools; and 14% of secondary schools don’t have the prescribed minimum of six teachers.

Recruitment of government school teachers is done through the Public Service Commission and it can take anywhere between one to two years to complete this process. Add police verification and other mandatory tests and an appointee ends up waiting for three years before being assigned a posting.

But, schools still have school terms to complete, so many of them take on contract teachers. But sadly, this hasn’t worked well either — for the contract teachers cannot be held accountable for student results. These teachers also contribute to teacher absenteeism, which is the other major issue that plagues government schools.

While the NEP report states that teacher absenteeism had plagued the school system for many years, it lays the blame at the door of unionism and political influence, which had led to lack of political will and administrative initiative to remedy the situation. The report adds that while some states were trying to address the malaise by strict vigilance, monitoring, use of mobile phones and bio-metric attendance recording, the situation was far from satisfactory.

The report’s findings may be true of some teachers, but it is not fair to paint all teachers with the same tainted brush. Government teachers have genuine grievances that have not been addressed for years. Poor service conditions, delayed salaries, lack of infrastructure and absence of teaching aids have contributed to low morale.

At a local government school in Shantinagar, a neighbourhood in Bengaluru, where I volunteer, the school had not received their quota of textbooks and notebooks for the children two months into the academic year. This school has classrooms with broken benches which have not been replaced either.

Then, there are many government schools which don’t have working computers, leave alone computer labs. The reverse is also true, many schools don’t have trained teachers to teach even basic computing skills to students. Often, computers donated by corporates to government schools lie shrouded under plastic covers. Many schools don’t have trained teachers to teach science or maths either. 

Teachers’ grievances also include being called in for non-academic duties like election duty, census duty, Aadhaar card registration, voter identity card — and these are just some of their non-academic duties. They are also called in to manage the mid-day meal scheme and open bank accounts for their students. The NEP report talks of thousands of cases filed by teachers concerning their service conditions which are pending in courts.

Additional duties

There is more — the NEP report says that 8% of all primary schools in the country are single teacher schools. So, these teachers not only have to teach children of varying age groups, they also have to take on the additional role of administrator, mid-day meal scheme manager and attend to other non-academic duties. During a visit to a single teacher rural government school some years ago, I found that the teacher was awaiting her transfer back to the city. She commuted to the school daily from Bengaluru which took her around three hours both ways. So, how do we expect her to stay motivated and also teach a class of varied age groups.

The Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009 states that the schools have to maintain a 30:1 PTR and has also laid an injunction against deploying teachers for non-academic activities.  But legislations are only as effective as their implementation and the government has to take immediate measures to do so.

The government has to appoint contract teachers; make those on contract permanent; stem absenteeism by setting up a fast track system to address teacher grievances; free teachers of non-academic duties by appointing support staff; and merge single teacher schools with other single teacher schools in the same area. 

But, while we expect the government to implement these measures, do we as a member of civil society have a role to play? We certainly have. For one, we can volunteer our time and offer our skills to a neighbourhood government school. For, civil society has as much stake in nation building as the government has. It starts with us. 

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