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Who will teach the teachers?

At the state teacher-training institute in Rajinder Nagar in the western part of New Delhi, the teachers are an unhappy lot, report Swaha Sahoo and Chitrangada Choudhury.

delhi Updated: Oct 16, 2009 00:34 IST

At the state teacher-training institute in Rajinder Nagar in the western part of New Delhi, the teachers are an unhappy lot.

The institute is facing an acute shortage of instructors, and fighting an outdated curriculum that hasn’t been revised for over 10 years now. Teachers also complain of not being treated on a par with university teachers since they have not been given salary increments following the Sixth Pay Commission revisions.

With government schools catering to a high number of children from poorer families, teacher-training deserves much more importance than it has got so far. And the problem assumes even more importance from the point of view of the fact that the government is addressing the problem of disparities, and this cannot be done without education for the poor.

While the intake of the institute has doubled from 150 to 300 over the past few years, the number of its regular teachers has fallen to one-third its sanctioned strength, which is 17.

“We have just six regular teachers against a sanctioned strength of 17. We are trying to fill the gap with contract teachers, but it is difficult to find good quality teachers,” said a faculty member on condition of anonymity, since government employees are not authorised to speak to the media.

The story is similar in the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) in various states. The DIETs, which are instrumental in training elementary teachers and catering to a district’s education needs, have a large number of vacant posts – for instance, 180 out of 364 sanctioned posts were vacant in Delhi, 364 out of 761 posts were vacant in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal has filled only 261 of its 400 positions.

According to official estimates, India’s government schools are currently facing a shortage of 700,000 teachers, despite the fact that 986,000 teachers were recruited under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education for All) till March 2009. The all-India teacher and pupil ratio for primary schools in 2005-06 stood at 1:46. But states like Bihar had a teacher to pupil ratio of 1:104, Jharkhand 1:79 and West Bengal 1:50.

The demand will only increase in the coming years as the recently legislated Right to Education law alters the pupil-teacher ratio from 1:40 to 1:30. The over 700 state teacher-training institutes including the DIETs are therefore critical to the success of the new law, which makes universal secondary education a legal entitlement.

But as a year-long evaluation by the National Council for Educational Research and Training of India’s 1987 Teacher Education Scheme catering to the country’s government schools has revealed, there is widespread decay in teacher training institutes.

Many states including Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have hired para teachers, many of whom have not had any training.

For instance, only 3,941 of the 13,954 teachers in Arunachal Pradesh are trained, a majority at the primary level. In Chhattisgarh, 30 per cent of primary teachers and 33 per cent of secondary teachers are untrained.

The findings also reveal that 87 per cent of ‘Colleges for Teacher Education’ in states do not have the requisite staff, with most of them having less than 50 per cent of the required manpower. For example, Allahabad’s College for Teacher Education has only five of 17 academics. And none of these has the requisite academic qualifications.

The State Councils for Educational Research and Training too have become an extension of the government. According to the report, 65 per cent of them did not avail a Rs 2 crore central grant meant to improve their quality, because the state governments did not match it with equal finances.

“The original vision with which the country had set up these teacher-training institutions has gone berserk. The child is bearing the consequences of this systemic damage,” said educationist and former NCERT Director A.K. Sharma, who had helped conceive the 1987 Teacher Education Scheme.

Private institutes often did not have qualified trainers. The National Council for Teacher Education – which recognises such institutes – has woken up to the problem and recently derecognised 400 of these across the country.

While Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has repeatedly said that teacher training is a big challenge, the ministry has yet to come up with any concrete plan to address the problem.

The issue goes beyond the shortage of trainers for teachers. The curriculum of most state DIETs and SCERTs is outdated and not in sync with what is being taught in schools.

“A major restructuring is required all over the country. Teacher education should be linked with practice and how children understand. The current syllabus in DIETs is completely outdated,” said Anita Rampla, professor in the Department of Education, Delhi University.

But hiring more people to teach the teachers is just the first step in the reform process. If the government wants to increase the quality of its schools, the content of teacher education will have to go through a sea change. Teacher training institutes will need infrastructure upgrade, more teaching material has to be made available and stricter norms have to be put in place to ensure quality of teachers.

Till that happens, government schools will remain poor cousins to their elite private counterparts.