Not in the class: A story of India’s missing teachers

  • Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 17:05 IST

Mid-afternoon is not the best time to visit the Molarbund Government Boys Senior Secondary School in South Delhi’s Badarpur. More students are outside the classrooms than inside, and the few inside complain of fans that don’t work, desks that are broken and teachers who haven’t showed up. School toilets stink from a distance because the two workers assigned for cleaning up are “heart patients who are mostly absent”. Drinking water is available only inside the staff room, but students are not allowed to drink that because the teachers pay for the water.

And the teachers who work here haven’t even begun to speak of their issues.

“See, we don’t even have enough rooms to take classes. So we have to take them in the corridors. The school has over a 100 students in many classes, and we are just 120 teachers for the 7,000 students. Plus, the guest teachers haven’t joined yet,” complains a senior teacher who didn’t want to be named.

Missing in action

Across the country, government schools are facing, among other issues, a severe shortage of teachers. India is short of 12 lakh teachers and 5.23 lakh posts are vacant, former Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal told the Rajya Sabha in 2010.

Shortage of teachers becomes a matter of serious concern when one considers the requirement of one teacher for every 30 students, according to the Right to Education Act, 2009. But in schools such as the one in Badarpur, teachers show proof of classes with 117 students and more, at least on paper. The number of single-teacher schools in the country also reveal a severe shortage: 11 per cent of our primary schools have a single teacher, with a few states worse than others, as shown in the graphic on the right.

However, the same data can throw up comforting facts also — average teacher student ratio in primary schools in India is 1:26. But many would argue that this is a “false indicator” since student-teacher ratio is not specific to a school. Besides, the calculations also take into account those who are not in charge of a class, such as the headmaster, the art teacher and the physical education teacher, says Krishna Kumar, professor of education at Faculty of Education, Delhi University, and former director, NCERT.

Kumar insists that the shortage of teachers in India is not because of lack of qualified professionals, but because of the government’s reluctance to fill up permanent posts and hire cheaper staff on contract instead. “The trend of downsizing permanent staff began in the 1990s when the economic reforms were in full swing in the country. States started doing that to manage their fiscal crisis. Today, there are 20,000 contractual teachers in Delhi alone,” he says. According to CP Singh, president of the Delhi Government School Teachers’ Association, schools in the capital are waiting for 18,000 teachers for the last three years, and recently, 6,000 guest teachers have been hired to make up for the deficit.

Singh begins to talk of his association’s agitation for better working conditions for permanent teachers such as himself — addressing anomalies in salaries, changing transfer policies and removing the condition of taking remedial classes. However, even those such as Singh and teachers at the Badarpur school admit that their “guest” counterparts are worse off: they are hired for a year, paid by the day, and are also less accountable to the system. “Besides, by the time they get to understand the needs of their students in a year, it’s time for them to leave, and fresh staff to arrive,” says another teacher at the Badarpur school. While salary for the contract teacher is variable across states, in Delhi, they are paid Rs 700 per day (a Trained Graduate Teacher could get up to Rs 50,000), forcing them to take up other jobs to supplement their incomes. “If the government is able to hire people at less than half the price, then why will it hire permanent staff?” fumes Madan Mohan Tiwari, who teaches at a government school in Mehrauli.

Others feel that teacher shortages can also be traced to faulty recruitment policies: teachers are hired by the state boards, and assigned to schools, from where they can get themselves transferred as well. “If a teacher is appointed directly to a school, and not to the system, they will be more accountable to the school and its students,” says R Govinda, Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration.

Many such as Govinda feel that the lack of qualified teachers is also a big part of the problem — only 15 per cent of the candidates managed to clear the Teachers Eligibility Test, an essential criterion for teacher recruitment started in 2011, he says. At least 14 states have sought exemption from the TET, adds Poonam Batra, professor, Central Institute of Education, Delhi University. The lack of a qualified teacher cadre in the country is a result of the low quality education that is dished out in numerous private institutes offering BEd degrees. A majority of them fall outside the ambit of established norms for teacher education. “More than 90 per cent of teacher training institutes fall in the commercial, self-financed category. Even the distribution is uneven. For instance, states such as Mizoram have just one teacher training institute, while those in the south have a higher number,” says Govinda.

The spurt in the growth of these institutes has been rather phenomenal — from less than 2,000, to 14,704 in the year 2011, according to the HRD ministry. Sitting at her office inside the Faculty of Education in Delhi, Batra paints a gloomier picture — out of all these “teacher training shops”, only 10 per cent are worth it. The steep fall in the standards of teacher education finds prominent mention in a comprehensive report published in 2012 by the Supreme Court appointed commission on teacher education, of which both Batra and Govinda were among the members. Advocate Ashok Agarwal of the Delhi High Court, who works on litigation around education, agrees that a big part of the problem is the quality of entrants to the profession: “I know of a teacher who held a degree from a college in a remote location that even she was unaware of!” he says.

Training the trainers

Besides recommending an increase in state investment in teacher training, the report also stresses other reforms in the sector, including an increase in the duration of BEd and MEd degrees — from the present one-year format to two years — and modifications in their course content. The former suggestion was among the few that seemingly got a shot in the arm last week, when news reports suggested that at a meeting with a group of Vice Chancellors of several universities, the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, had agreed to increase the duration of the two courses. Reportedly, Irani also agreed to push for other reforms such as linking elementary teachers’ training to the university system. Currently, elementary teachers’ training is not linked to the university system, and teacher education happens outside university campuses.

To fix this, Batra points to the report’s suggestions of introducing four-year integrated programmes within the university system (at the undergraduate level) across the country, as well as shifting the course content to a multi-disciplinary one. An inter-disciplinary course within the university campus would train teachers in critical thinking, and involve teacher-educators who are specialists and not generalists, as is the current norm.

As the government mulls on the implementation of these reforms, time is running out. By 2015, India is committed to the goal of providing universal elementary education as part of the Millenium Development Goals, which can only be accomplished effectively by fixing teacher shortages. And Badarpur wouldn’t be a bad place to begin with.

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