Sunita Sharma had been working as a science teacher at a private school in Rohini for the past 14 years. Till February last year, the school paid her Rs 28,500 by cheque as salary every month. But she had to withdraw Rs 6,000 and give it back to the school in cash.
There was no record of the second transaction. She was removed after she demanded her dues during a medical emergency. The court reinstated her but the harassment continued. She tried slashing her wrist in the school corridor last month.
Sanskrit teacher Asha Rani had a bank account she never opened. Every year, she received a new cheque book that she had to sign in one go. Her school would keep all the cheques. The school would withdraw the Rs 32,000 she officially received in her account as salary and pay her Rs 10,000 in cash. The court’s intervention stopped the practice in 2010. But for the past four years, she has been getting no work. She sits idle all day and anyone found talking to her faces action.
Being a school teacher in the capital is not easy. From temples of learning, schools are turning into profit-making enterprises not necessarily following the best practices. Despite the Sixth Pay Commission, teachers are often arm-twisted into accepting meagre salaries. Any dissent and they are shown the door.
Financial exploitation isn’t the only challenge teachers working in nearly 1,000 private unaided schools of Delhi face. Their working conditions directly affect the quality of teaching and learning.
“Our school hiked the fees for students enormously when the Sixth Pay Commission came into force. The idea was to channelise the extra funds to pay teachers, including arrears from 2006,” said Neelam Rathore, a post-graduate teacher (PGT) of biology. Thirty-five teachers of the school moved the court in October last year as they were not paid. “Our school has still not paid up despite the court ordering in our favour. When we last calculated in 2011, the school was due to pay around Rs 8 lakh to every trained-graduate teacher,” she said.
Every year, teachers or groups of teachers who can muster courage seek the court’s intervention to end their exploitation. Most cases pertain to the non-payment of dues as per the Sixth Pay Commission. Many others are about how teachers are forced to sign that they are getting full salaries out of fear of losing jobs, but actually get a fraction of the amount.
“Some time ago, a school’s director was arrested after a bank noticed consecutive withdrawals from an ATM by a man using multiple cards. He would go to an ATM after 11 pm carrying the ATM cards of all the teachers and make back-to-back withdrawals. Those were the salary accounts of teachers created and operated by the school,” said Khagesh Jha, a lawyer with Social Jurist that deals with 10-12 cases of teacher exploitation every year.
Balance sheets of several private unaided schools accessed through RTI revealed that they had not even spent 10% of their revenues on teachers’ salary, Jha said. The Delhi State Education Act makes it compulsory for all recognized private unaided schools to pay the same benefits to their teachers as government teachers.
“Earlier, schools would be run by educationists for philanthropy. But now businessmen, property dealers and families run schools. They deal with teachers the way they would treat their other staff. They have made recruiting teachers as simple as hiring an office boy for just Rs 10,000 a month,” Jha said. Many schools do not provide house rent allowance or even dearness allowance.
“If teachers say something, they are rebuked in front of students. I am a graduate from Miranda House. I am not sure of the educational background of our principal. After I asked for my dues to undergo a knee replacement surgery, they started humiliating me. Last month, they made me sit in the corridor for one and a half hours, accusing me of corporal punishment. I was so scared they would insult me again that I cut my wrist and called the police,” said 51-year-old Sunita Sharma, who taught in a popular Rohini school with multimedia-enabled air-conditioned classrooms. She has been suspended.
Even in schools that are not involved in financial embezzlement, teachers are made to walk the tightrope. “Teachers are no longer allowed to sit in classrooms. Sometimes, I have to take four periods in a row, which means I have to continuously stand for nearly three hours. I get so tired that it becomes difficult to attend to every child with equal enthusiasm,” said a political science teacher from a south Delhi school. Many teachers said they do not have proper appointment letters. They do not get pay slips, indicating schools can conveniently show them the door whenever required. “They do not even return my original certificates. Neither can I apply elsewhere nor can I quit,” said a teacher in an east Delhi school.
Teachers complain they are burdened with administrative work with little regard for their intellect and qualification. “Our school has removed conductors from the bus. Teachers have to safely pick and drop students now. So a teacher living in Janakpuri has to reach the school in Rohini on her own at 6.30 am and then go on the bus to get students. She is also the last one to be dropped,” said Neelam Rathore. There is also a compulsory stay-back of 30 to 60 minutes after the students leave for home. “It is for either checking the copies or for nothing particular,” said a teacher. Teachers have to put in a total of 45 working hours per week as per a government rule.
The Action Committee of Unaided Recognised Private Schools has recommended that the government should make categories of schools according to their income and paying capacity. S K Bhattacharya, president of the committee, said schools violating rules should be brought to book by the Directorate of Education. “It’s the responsibility of the state to check for these things before granting recognition. The department of education doesn’t look serious to carry out inspections. Why doesn’t it send notices for de-recognition if some schools are violating rules?” he said.
Government teachers equally burdened
While there is an acute shortage of teachers in Delhi government-run schools, many of them are deployed in the Directorate of Education and district offices as clerks and assistants. They get posted in these departments due to shortage of staff there even as they continue drawing salary from their respective schools.
While Director of Education Padmini Singla said she could speak about the issue only face-to-face next week, the government teachers association admitted it was a problem irking them for long.
“Teachers who have studied law work as legal assistants across different zones. Others have been working in accounts and general filing work in the deputy director’s office or with education officers. There must be about 150 such teachers, including vice-principals and PGTs,” said C P Singh, president, Government School Teachers’ Association (GSTA).
In its reply to a letter sent by GSTA earlier this year, the government said that there was a serious shortage of ministerial staff and out of 906 vacancies, only 200 had been filled. GSTA general secretary Ajay Veer Yadav said a teacher’s grade is higher than the ministerial staff. Teachers working in schools also have much more to do than just teach. They manage websites and track and reply RTI queries. The special educators hired by the government also have to go to different localities to find children for enrolling in school.