Transfers: Why punish teachers?

The Karnataka education department’s decision to compulsorily transfer thousands of teachers working in government schools in the middle of the academic year, based on a new legislation, is totally illogical, unjust and unscientific.

Though the basic objective of the Karnataka State Civil Services (Regulation of Transfer of Teachers) Amendment Act is honourable as it provides for compulsory transfer of teachers who have served in cities (Zone A) for a period of 10 years to rural areas (Zone C), there are several loose ends that remain to be tied.

The rules have met with opposition particularly from women teachers in the 50-plus age group who argue that it is unfair to uproot them from their families at this stage in life and post them in rural areas where they have no support system. The law is also discriminatory as it exempts teachers whose spouse is in government service, from compulsory transfer so that the couple can live together. No such benefit is available to a teacher whose partner is in the private sector, raising questions if the marriage of a government servant is more sacrosanct than that of others.

There are also complaints that the exemption granted on health grounds is rampantly misused by teachers who have submitted fake certificates to escape transfer. Another anomaly is that teachers who have served in rural areas earlier in their career are once again being transferred to Zone C. When the Bill was placed before the Legislative Council in 2018, members cutting across party lines had pointed out that it would facilitate the “business of transfers”. Their fears seem to have come true now.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister S Suresh Kumar has conceded to the fault lines in the Act and has assured that all discrepancies will be set right before the transfer season next year, if necessary through an Ordinance. One of the changes proposed is to exempt women in the age group of 50 years and above and men closer to retirement from the compulsory transfer. The government has also promised to re-evaluate the transfers effected this year and post teachers back to their original schools in deserving cases. But why did the government get into this hotchpotch exercise in the first place when it was fully aware of the inconsistencies in the rules? Could it not have waited until the next academic year, instead of playing with the future of students and the lives of teachers?

The very premise of transferring primary and secondary school teachers, unless a matter of discipline or competence is involved, is questionable. Teachers develop strong bonds with their students over the years and are able to give special attention to needy students. Breaking this teacher-student relationship is not desirable as it breeds an atmosphere of unfamiliarity, creating a barrier between the two. Besides, displacing teachers who do not receive fancy salaries, from the comfort of their families and societies may not always be the best strategy.

Former education minister Tanveer Sait who had piloted the compulsory transfer Bill, argues that it was a well-thought-out process. The objectives were three-pronged: Enable rural teachers to serve in cities so that they get better exposure; post teachers from urban areas to villages to improve the quality of education; fill up vacancies of teachers in rural belts.

While the compulsory transfer scheme may have its own benefits and demerits, a better approach would be to equip teachers especially in rural schools with world-class training if the quality of education has to improve. The government should also consider recruiting teachers at the district-level so that the students can better relate to them as they are familiar with the local language/dialect, culture and ethos. Fully paid rigorous training for a year and periodic refresher courses should be made mandatory for all teachers.

Spend on education

Suresh Kumar, known to be a progressive minister, should take a leaf out of the Delhi government which has revolutionised the education sector, with public schools now outperforming private ones. In the 2019-20 budget, Delhi provided the highest budget allocation of 26% to education with a focus on student development through innovative teaching methods.

According to a paper released by PRS Legislative Research, Karnataka has allocated 12.6% of its expenditure to education in 2019-20, which is lower than the average spends of all states put together at 15.9%. Steps like compulsory transfer offer only a temporary solution without addressing the main issue of enhancing the quality of education. Instead of such piece-meal measures, the government should initiate some bold long-term reforms. The first step would be to increase the budgetary allocation for education so that the poorest of the poor, particularly in rural areas, have access to quality education and are in no way inferior to their affluent counterparts who study in prestigious institutions. Minister Suresh Kumar should take this up as a challenge and ensure that Karnataka emerges as a model to other states.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)

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