NEP 2020 is silent on the contract teacher system | Opinion
The draft National Education Policy (NEP) of 2019 made an unequivocal statement on the discontinuation of the unequal system of contract teachers/para-teachers at all levels, from primary right up to colleges and universities. It recognised the need to relieve teachers of non-educational duties, facilitate vibrant professional communities and give more autonomy in the classroom. It recognised that none of the ideas discussed in the draft policy would be possible without a road map to transform the way teachers are positioned in the system.
And the first step towards restoring the status of teachers was to ensure that all of them had the same service conditions, regarding pay, in-service teacher-training, transfers and other benefits.
Unfortunately, NEP 2020 does not make any unequivocal statement on discontinuing the practice of hiring contract teachers. It starts with a recognition that “the teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system… (it) must re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society… (it) must help recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels, by ensuing respect, dignity, and autonomy…”. It recognises teachers “as the heart of the learning process”, and, thus, the need for “recruitment, continuous professional development, positive working environment and service conditions”. The words recruitment and service conditions are neither explained nor qualified — leaving it open to multiple interpretations.
While discussing foundational literacy and numeracy as being a core objective of the new policy, NEP 2020 states: “Teacher vacancies will be filled at the earliest, in a timebound manner — especially in disadvantaged areas and areas with large pupil-to-teacher ratios or high rates of illiteracy. Special attention will be given to employing local teachers or those with familiarity with local languages… Teachers will be trained, encouraged and supported with continuous professional development — to impart foundational literacy and numeracy”.
This is the uncomfortable part — what will the working conditions and salaries of local teachers be? Who will hire them? The schools or school complexes? Will they be paid a fraction of what regular teachers get and work on short-term contracts?
After discussing foundational learning, holistic development of learners, experiential learning, flexible course choices, multilingualism, new ways of assessment and related ideas, the policy document discusses teachers in section 5 (page 56). This is where the policy marks a departure from the draft NEP of 2019.No one can disagree with the opening statement in Section 5 about the value of teachers or the need to end the practice of excessive teacher transfer, strengthen teacher eligibility tests, ensure adequate teachers across subjects, and promote local language and a technology-based teacher-recruitment regime.
These ideas are indeed relevant and the fact that the policy talks of “overhauling the service environment and culture of schools ...to maximise the ability of teaches to do their jobs effectively, and to ensure that they are part of vibrant, caring, and inclusive community of teachers…” should be welcomed.
But the policy is notable for its silence on equal service conditions for all teachers. The idea of locally-recruited teachers, without clarifying their service conditions, is worrisome.
The practice of hiring contract teachers/para-teachers began in the mid-1990s without any policy-level approval in the 1986 policy. Why is this issue important? The total number of contract teachers was about 600,000 in 2017-18, according to the Unified District Information System for Education. Across India, in percentage terms, 12.7% of teachers are hired on contract today, with 13.8% being in the primary sector and 8.4% in secondary. States such as Jharkhand (57.05%), Mizoram (29%), Himachal Pradesh (28.16%), Delhi (25.28%), and West Bengal (21.48%) have more than 25% of the teacher workforce on contract.
Across India, 79.1% of teachers on contract are working in “small schools” with an enrolment of 90 or less. As enrolment goes up, the presence of contract teachers decreases. In 2017-18, 68,445 schools functioned exclusively with contract teachers. During the lockdown, many states have not paid the contract teachers. We can only imagine the adverse impact on small schools and those that have only contract teachers.
Teachers argue that hiring teachers on contract is a blow to the profession. They also point out that the dual system (different pay for equal work) goes against the spirit of the constitutional guarantee of equal pay for equal work. Evidence from several countries reveals that short-term contractual appointments have a negative effect on the motivation and social status of teachers. Contract teachers are typically posted in the most-disadvantaged or poor areas and poorly-resourced schools.
Regular teachers get postings in well-connected, big schools. As a result, small schools have more contract teachers, many with basic qualifications and almost no in-service training opportunities.
This unequal system needs to be set right by addressed by accepting the recommendation made in the 2019 draft NEP of discontinuing the practice of contractual appointment of school teachers and teachers in colleges and universities.