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Teachers’ travails: Battling crowded classrooms and non-teaching duties

Crowded classrooms,acute staff shortages, irregular pay, and a long list of non-teaching duties, ahead of Teacher’s Day, HT looks at the condition of government school teachers in India

india Updated: Sep 04, 2016 18:44 IST
Namita Kohli
teachers

A file picture of a teacher taking class at a school in Badarpur, New Delhi. Many teachers in government schools such as this are forced to take classes outside the classrooms because of lack of space. (Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times)

Ram Chandra Dabas, principal of a government school in Delhi’s Janakpuri, has a unique task list for his teachers. “Housing survey, economic survey, industrial survey, Census duty, voter identity card duty,” he rattles off, before pausing to catch his breath. There are other tasks lined up too: Aadhaar card registration duties, opening bank accounts for school children, and managing the mid-day meal scheme.

“Tell me, is this what teachers are for?” asks an irate Dabas.

The long list of such tasks or “non-teaching” duties is just one of the many issues that confront government school teachers in the country. At 46 lakh – out of a total of 77 lakh teachers – government school teachers constitute a bulk among teachers in the country.

Despite these seemingly huge numbers, an acute shortage of teachers continues to plague government schools. According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, there are 5.84 lakh vacancies in primary schools alone, and an additional 3.5 lakh posts are vacant in upper primary schools.

Teacher shortages are not new though, particularly after the Right to Education (RTE) Act led to a rise in school enrolments and a demand for teachers. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Pupil:Teacher Ratio (PTR) was set at 40:1, or, one teacher for every 40 students. In 2009, with the RTE, however, the ratio was revised to 30:1. While the average PTR in the country at the primary level stands at 25:1, experts say that the ratio obfuscates the real story of shortages: first, it doesn’t reveal the inter-state, as well as intra-state disparities in the country. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the average ratio is close to 40:1 (the state also has 2 lakh vacancies for teachers), while in Punjab, there’s one teacher for every 17 students. Also, some schools in Delhi report more than a 100 students for a single teacher, says C P Singh, president, Government Teachers Association, Delhi.

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Besides, as Vimala Ramachandran, professor at the Delhi-based National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) says, the ratio doesn’t reflect the acute shortage of teachers in subjects such as Maths and Sciences, especially at the secondary level, where the crisis turns severe.

Last month, when a new report tabled in Parliament revealed that more than 1 lakh schools in the country were run by a single teacher (who also doubled up as clerk, mid-day meal manager, administrative staff, and filled in for other functionaries that a typical school requires), the crisis only became more apparent. “In Delhi alone, there are 13 such schools that are run by a teacher single-handedly, sometimes operating out of just a room. One can only imagine the conditions in remote areas in the country,” says Dabas, president of the All India Primary Teachers Federation.

Quality matters

The crisis in the teaching profession also reflects in the shortage of trained professionals. Ambarish Rai, national convenor of the RTE forum, says that 6.6 lakh teachers in the country need training. Rai says that the lack of well-trained teachers is evident from the fact that less than ten per cent of candidates who appeared for the Teachers Eligibility Test (TET), managed to crack it. The TET was introduced after the enactment of the RTE Act, when the National Council of Teacher Education laid down the minimum qualifications required to become a teacher, and introduced the test as a qualifying exam. While the percentage of those who cleared the test varies across states, in some states such as Maharashtra, only 2 per cent candidates managed to clear the test.

Read:Student ethics, values going downhill, feel Delhi teachers

Many such as Krishna Kumar, professor of Education at Delhi University, say that the lack of trained professionals can be attributed to the rampant commercialisation in teacher training – close to 90 per cent of the teacher training institutes lie in the private sector, where standards of training are low. States such as Haryana, for instance, have institutes that offer teacher training with price gradations depending on whether a candidate would like to skip classes or design teaching aid kits, and even forego the mandatory training in classrooms, says Dabas.

To recommend suggestions to reform the teacher education system, in 2011, the Supreme Court appointed a committee under former chief justice J S Verma. The committee came out with a three volume report in 2012, and most of its recommendations are yet to be implemented.

  • 105,630 schools are run by a single teacher. The teacher performs a range of tasks in these schools.
  • 5.86 lakh vacancies for teachers in India. Teacher shortages have increased after the Right to Education Act in 2009.
  • 46 lakh is the number of government school teachers. There are 10 lakh government schools in India.
  • 28:1 average pupil: teacher ratio. The ratio can be as high as 100:1 in some schools though.
  • 4.18 This is the percentage share of the country’s GDP that is spent on education.
  • 5,000 crore is the budget cut for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2015. This year, it was restored by only 500 crore.
  • 13% teachers in the country are on contracts. They are low paid, and at times, not qualified enough.
  • 90% close to 90 per cent teacher training institutes are in the private sector Many are low on quality.

Kumar says that the current crisis in the profession can be traced to the late ’80s and ’90s, where, pushed by a fiscal crisis, states started to ignore regular appointments, and instead began to hire contract teachers. These teachers were paid a fraction of the salaries paid to regular teachers, were often not qualified, and had less rights and accountability within the system.

Despite pressures from the teachers’ unions, court judgments and RTE norms of qualified professionals, many states continue to flout norms and rely on contract or “para” teachers, says Rai. In Jharkhand, for instance, close to half of the teachers are on contract, according to a nine-state study done on teachers in India by NUEPA. Despite a 40 per cent vacancy rate in Jharkhand, the state government has decided that all new recruitments will be of contract teachers, says the report.

The move to regularise contract teachers never happened on the ground, at least in Delhi, claims Singh. “The trouble is that guest [contract]teachers have no responsibility. For example, they are not accountable for students’ results,” he says.

Missing in Class

On their part, even regular teachers are also often accused of shirking responsibility, and teacher absenteeism is common, especially in remote areas. In some states, for instance, there has been a trend of “proxy” teachers — where teachers appoint someone on their behalf, according to the NUEPA report.

The report says that one of the “most recent authoritative” research studies on teacher absenteeism was the World Bank National Absence Survey (2004), which found that roughly one in four teachers were absent in rural areas. Only four per cent of the absences were owing to official “non-academic” duties, the study says.

A file picture of a state government-run school in Ranchi, Jharkhand. In Jharkhand, close to half of the teachers are hired on contract, instead of regular teachers. (Parwaz Khan/HT)

Ramachandran, one of the lead authors of the NUEPA report, says that while teachers often tend to exaggerate their “non-teaching duties,”counting even things like maintaining registers as not part of their jobs. She concedes, however, teachers are often the subject of the administration’s high-handed attitude that reflects in, for instance, ad-hoc transfers. In many states such as Rajasthan, if a government changes, a huge number of teachers appointed by the previous government will be transferred randomly, she says. “Some states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have a policy on transfers, where you get points for serving in a rural area. This makes the transfer policy transparent. But most states don’t have a policy,” she says.

Read:Minor reforms in education will not work, need major overhaul, say experts

Aside of transfers, the NUEPA report cites other reasons such as “overcrowding in classrooms, poor infrastructure, lack of adequate training, and the decline in the social status of the profession” to explain the lack of motivation.

Many such as Saugata Basu, joint secretary of West Bengal Government School Teachers Association, feel that the delays in recruitment are frustrating and also affect motivation. “The recruitment of government school teachers is done through Public Service Commission which takes about two years to complete the process. The school education department takes another year for police verification and other mandatory tests. Deserving candidates find it hard to wait for three years for a job,” says Basu.

For others, a delay in salaries also affects a teacher’s motivation. In Delhi, for instance, there are issues of teachers being paid differently, while in Bihar, some teachers report a delay in salaries for several months.

Many such as Singh and Dabas argue that among other issues, school infrastructure is a big factor that affects a teacher’s morale. Making do with a computer lab that has not been fixed for five years, over-crowded rooms where fans don’t work, broken tables, unclean toilets, and corridors double up as classrooms – these issues too affect a teacher’s ability to perform.

Read:To Sir, with love: Assam’s Umesh Chandra Sarmah made even Maths fun for students

Back in Janakpuri, on the eve of Teacher’s Day, Dabas says that among his recent achievements in his school is a change in the uniform. “These things matter too. The uniform should make a child feel good about school,” he says.

Tomorrow, however, teachers here must return to figuring out another of their tasks: finding out how many bank accounts from the school are linked to the Aadhaar card.

With inputs from
Mou Chakraborty (Kolkata), Arun Kumar (Bihar)