Schools be damned. That seems to be the only message that keeps getting hammered with every disheartening report on the status of schooling in India. If last week it was the severe step of having to file FIRs against teachers in the face of a staggering number of cases of abuse of children, a Unesco report has found that 25 per cent of teachers do not bother with attending school. Absent teachers result in a whopping 22.5 per cent of education funds being wasted. Add to this a previous report compiled by the Ministry of Human Resource Department that shows 23,000 schools across India have no teacher, and the picture is frightening. The cataclysmic deterioration in government education services, coupled with corruption and a bureaucratic set-up that dissuades many private players from starting schools has at its crux one issue: the lowering standards of teachers in India.
The bar is so low today that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) proposal to expand the definition of corporal punishment to cover any form of adverse treatment meted out to schoolchildren is actually welcome. The Delhi High Court banned corporal punishment six years ago. According to the panel, school officials may be jailed for scolding students or calling them ‘stupid’ or ‘mindless’. The commission has also asked parents to fearlessly file FIRs against teachers and officials if their wards are rapped on the knuckles, made to run on the school ground or kneel for hours, beaten with a ruler, pinched and slapped. The restrictions may seem severe, but we can get some perspective once we consider that sexual abuse of minors is one of the most reported crimes today. States have been cavalier in enforcing the ban on corporal punishments, despite the fact that the National Policy on Education’s recommendation of banning physical punishment more than two decades ago.
India’s teacher problem is multi-dimensional. From recruitment to training, from remuneration to accountability, the teaching community has failed schools on most counts. Until teacher reform is addressed in a far more aggressive and scientific manner, there is little hope that the much-flaunted demographic dividend can ever be utilised for a knowledge economy.