As exams approach, some Delhi teachers are “better than nothing”

A Mariyam Alavi
Burhaan Kinu

Anuj Gupta, a Class 12 student at the Government Boys' Senior Secondary School, was not surprised last month when the difference between his best and worst first-term exam results was nearly 50 points.

Anuj scored a 76% in biology, but only a 29% in chemistry. Physics, at 43%, wasn't much better.

This wide divergence was not the result of a lack of effort or aptitude. "I did not have a teacher for these subjects, you see," said Anuj, "so I had a feeling I might not do too well."

The Government Boys' school, known locally in Sangam Vihar as the pahadi school, does not have permanent, qualified teachers in chemistry or physics for 12th grade boys. Until two weeks before the first-term exams, called the Summative Assessment 1 (SA1), Anuj's class of 13 students didn't have anyone to teach them chemistry or physics. The teachers they did finally get had only undergraduate degrees, meaning they lacked the level of education technically required to be a Plus Two teacher.

Sushil Kumar, the temporary physics instructor who normally teaches science to 9th and 10th graders, says himself that he is not qualified for the job. He has neither prior experience teaching 12th graders nor a master's degree.

"I have not seen the Class 12 material since I graduated in 2006," said Kumar. "Even if we say, 'I must have read it during my college days,' that was in 2009. I am out of touch. I get stuck on certain concepts now."

Anuj and his classmates were not the only ones to struggle on the SA1. According to a letter written by the education minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, to the lieutenant governor, Anil Baijal, obtained by Hindustan Times from a Delhi government spokesperson, only 43% of 12th graders who attempted the SA1 managed to pass this year. Parents, educators, and students all know that the SA1 pales in comparison to the upcoming board exams, which determine college placements.

Still, according to Atishi Marlena, an advisor to Sisodia, the lack of adequate teachers is a dire problem, affecting much more than just SA1 results. The range of scores earned by Anuj, who is one of the brightest kids in his cohort, represents the consequences of the dearth of teachers for public-school students.

No teachers for subjects such as Physics and Chemistry means bright students like Anuj are on their own.

Teach yourself

Last week, during a session the physics class spent in a lab trying to determine the focal point of a convex mirror, students turned to Brijesh Kumar, the pahadi school's lab assistant since 2007, to answer their questions.

Kumar stayed on in a corner, watching and observing the class silently.

Why didn't the students direct their questions to their teacher? "It wouldn't do much if we asked him for help," said one of the students of Kumar after he left the room.

During the previous lab session, the class was meant to complete the convex-mirror exercise, but Kumar said it had taken him all of that class just to set up the experiment.

Since he started in August, Kumar has found it difficult to answer some of his students' questions. During his first week, while teaching a chapter on electrostatics, a student asked for help with a numerical problem that dealt with the practical applications of electromagnetic fields. Kumar was stumped.

"I tried to get the smarter students involved in the discussion in the hope that they would be able to solve it," he said.

All this is in stark contrast to Anuj's experience in biology, the subject in which he received his highest score. The teacher is KL Bairwa, a postgraduate who has prior experience with the class.

"He studied in a Hindi medium school, so he cannot explain many things in English," said Anuj. "But he knows the subject. He can explain things, even if it is in Hindi. This definitely made a difference to my biology score."

49% topper

For the first four months of school, the physics class treated their daily period as free time. They were frequently left unattended.

After Kumar took over, the students learned, they were still largely on their own.

"Since that first week, we rely on ourselves and our peers for help in class," said Ahmed Raza, who scored a 73% in maths and only a 44% in physics. "For the rest, we have tuitions."

Instead of using tuitions for revision, as they are intended, Raza and his peers rely on them for a first exposure to the concepts they will be tested on.

Kumar said that he had tried to help in any way he could, and emphasized his distribution of study materials to his students ahead of the SA1. Students in the class, however, said that these were for only one chapter, and did not seem relevant to their actual syllabus.

With almost half of the 61,674 posts for permanent government teachers lying vacant in Delhi, the pahadi school is far from the only one with a shortage of fully qualified teachers. No new hiring has taken place since the 2014-2015 school year owing to legal and political standoffs.

In September, the Delhi high court stayed all hiring of new temporary teachers. Meanwhile, the government has not been hiring new permanent teachers, waiting until there is a legal way to regularize some of the approximately 17,700 current temporary teachers.

"If there are no teachers, then why should one come to school?" asked Marlena. "We had even started the process of hiring more guest teachers, but that was interrupted by a High Court stay order. There would have been teachers in all the classrooms within the week otherwise."

Sangam Vihar, which is congested with traffic and hard to reach, has a particularly hard time securing qualified teachers. The large number of vacant postings in Delhi schools makes it easy for potential hires to find a more convenient alternative.

According to Lakhan Singh, the vice principal of the school, a less qualified teacher is better than no teacher. "The bigger problem here, is not his degree, but that this is his first batch. Any new class can seem scary."

So, Singh with a shrug, "something is better than nothing."