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Blaming just teachers for falling standards in government schools is short-sighted

Teachers, especially those who serve in the poorest of urban and rural areas, need to be well trained and prepared to deal with extremely diverse classrooms of mostly first generation learners

editorials Updated: Feb 06, 2018 11:14 IST
Hindustan Times
Government schools,Delhi,Students
A teacher at a classroom in a government school in Delhi. (Hindustan Times Media)

Upset over the abysmally low percentage of students — 31.5% — who passed the class 10 pre-board exams in the Capital, the Delhi government’s education department is planning to penalise teachers and principals of the worst performing government schools. Out of 1,34,200 students, who recently appeared in the class 10 pre-board exams, only 42,224 managed to pass. But the crisis in secondary education isn’t limited to Delhi alone. The recently released Annual Status of Education Report for 2017 said 40% of the students between the ages of 14 and 18 surveyed in rural schools in 24 states across the country couldn’t tell the time from a clock and 57% couldn’t do basic maths. One out of four students couldn’t read fluently even in their own language. Blaming teachers and principals for the declining standards of education in government schools is short-sighted. Part of the responsibility for falling grades can be traced to the shortfall in faculty. Going by data from Delhi government’s department of education, from the sanctioned strength of 66,736 teachers, just 38,926, or 58.3% of teachers’ posts in the national capital region’s government schools have been filled. Despite this, no direct recruitment of teachers has taken place in Delhi for close to eight years. The shortfall in teachers is a national phenomenon. As many as 18% positions of teachers in government-run primary schools were vacant nationwide, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha in December 2016 by the human resources development minister.

Beyond numbers, many government teachers are low on morale and complain of being saddled with non-teaching responsibilities such as Census duties and field surveys. Only 13% of teachers cleared the Common Teacher Eligibility Test conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education in 2016. The slide in standards first began in the 1980s, when the lack of funds pushed states to hire teachers on a contractual basis at a fraction of the cost of regular employees. More than five decades after the Kothari Commission recommended keeping aside 5% of the GDP for education in 1966, India’s education spends still remain a fraction that. Although the recruitment and service conditions of teachers are the primary responsibility of state governments, after the promulgation of the Right to Education Act in 2009, the Centre’s role in enabling states to sustain quality has become important. Teachers, especially those who serve in the poorest of urban and rural areas, need to be trained to deal with extremely diverse classrooms of mostly first generation learners. In July 2017, the national deadline to formally train 1.3 million teachers in the country was extended to March 2019. The finance minister mentioned improving teachers’ education and learning outcomes as priorities in his budget speech. This is where the real focus should lie.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 11:14 IST