NEP 2020 speaks about ‘ensuring the continuity of learning’. How can the system ensure the continuity of learning when the job of the teacher itself is not secured and stable? wonders Sadat Hussain

The role of a teacher has been granted great significance in the Indian society. Not just the Indian society, but across the world and different cultures, teaching has been seen as a vocation, a service and a passion, not just a profession-induced exercise. This is because teachers not only shape future generations but also the worldview, ethics and morals of a society at large.

India’s own history of teaching has been diverse, with many early teachers in the modern period such as Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh having actively performed the role of educators and liberators of the downtrodden. As the recent (and controversial) New Education Policy 2020, a landmark policy document that will certainly shape the future of education in India in the 21st century, goes on to say, “The high respect for teachers and the high status of the teaching profession must be restored so as to inspire the best to enter the teaching profession.” Thus, even the government acknowledges, at least in the written form, that the reputation and worth of the teaching profession has suffered severe blows and is no longer the first choice for many people despite its former exalted status.

TEACHERS IN THE NEP 2020

The introduction of the National Education Policy marks a significant milestone in India’s education roadmap. One of the major aspects focussed upon by the NEP is teacher education. Some particular policy suggestions that have been brought into the document are:

  • Introduction of a quality four-year B.Ed programme, with major emphasis being given to the teachers of rural areas and female teachers in particular;
  • Halting of excessive transfer to ensure the continuity of learning;
  • Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) will be made compulsory from foundational to secondary level of education;
  • Recruitment of teacher to school or school complex;
  • Hiring of local eminent person or expert as ‘master instructor’;
  • Maximising the ability of the teacher;
  • Continuous professional development;
  • Career management progression;
  • Professional standards; and
  • Improving the quality of teacher education.

The questions remain: while on paper the values of dignity and self-respect have been invoked with regards to the profession, do teachers get their due dignity and acknowledgement on the ground? Is the status of a teacher in line with the ideals that our society and the Constitution promise? Or, are they just empty words?

UNESCO’s recently released report, “State of Education Report 2021 for India” says that India has managed to address the issue of enrolment rates and pupil teacher ratio but failed to deliver quality education and adds that, the coming decade will be a decade of quality education. Imparting of quality education is near impossible if Indian education fails to ensure quality teachers and quality infrastructure. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the rot in the education system along with the public health system. Unscientific ways of lockdowns and shift of education from physical mode of education to online mode of education without proper preparedness made it inevitable that that the entire field would suffer.

Another recent report titled “Locked Out: Emergency Report on School Education” (September, 2021) suggests that among 1362 households surveyed for the report, 43% of rural students did not receive online materials. Most surveyed students who did not attend the online class were not studying or studying on their own time. Most shockingly, among those enrolled in lower primary, 42% of children in rural areas and 35% in urban area were not able to read simple sentences during the survey. Among upper primary 42% children of urban areas and 43% of children in rural areas were not able to read simple sentences.

There are many reasons for a failed education system and high percentage of students’ lacking in learning. Most important reasons could be:

  1. Contractualization of teachers and its impact on the teacher community;
  2. Low quality of teachers;
  3. Existence of single-teacher schools; and
  4. Non fulfilment of vacancies and corruption in teacher appointment.

One can observe that while many problems have been directly brought about by the pandemic and can be said to be unprecedented or extraordinary in nature, some issues predate the pandemic and will continue to outlive it. One such issue is that of contractualization, something that haunts the entire Indian economy and not just education.

THE DISEASE CALLED CONTRACTUALIZATION

In the Indian education system, instead of hiring and appointing full-fledged teachers, the system has introduced the idea of para teacher and guest teacher. These groups of teachers are underpaid (lesser than the salaried full time teachers). This has impacted many teachers, mentally and financially. It was humiliating for the guest and para teachers during the pandemic when health, economic and education systems had collapsed and the government (both central government and state governments) had announced relief packages and there was no mention of relief for the education sector, especially for key stakeholders such as guest teachers and research scholars. On one hand, many teachers were removed from their posts without even a notice and on the other, they had spent months during the pandemic without salaries.

The Constitution of India guarantees equal pay for equal work. Further, the policy of equal pay for equal work was established through International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 and established as precedent in law through cases such as State of Punjab and Ors. vs. Jagjit Singh and Ors. But the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during 1990s changed the already fraught scenario for the worse.

One of the major impacts of the SAP was on the service sector with the health and education sectors getting heavily privatised. Contractualization grew in this era, with the brunt of it being borne by the education and health sectors. The teaching profession has been categorised into two categories: “Permanent Teacher” and “Guest/Para Teachers.” As a prominent educationist from Bangalore, Dr. Niranjanaradhya VP says in a report published in The News Minute (May 2021), “When we look at the situation of guest faculties, we see that in general, they do the same amount of work as compared to permanent faculty. The simple fact that they have been reappointed continuously for so many years means there are vacancies for those posts in colleges…. The guest faculties’ situation is just evidence of how inhumanly the government treated them.”

Many cases suggest how unstable and undignified the ‘noble’ teaching profession is for guest/para teachers. According to a report in The Deccan Chronicle (July 2020), in Karnataka alone, 40,000 guest teachers lost their jobs. In April 2021 (Times of India) in Delhi 20,000 guest teachers left without job till the end of the summer vacation. These guest teachers are reappointed year after year, which suggests that there are vacancies but the government is not filling those vacancies rather preferring to appoint para/guest teachers.

As per State of Education Report for India 2021, India requires 1116946 teachers. States like Bihar (56%), Jharkhand (40%), UP (33%), and MP (22%) Delhi (22%) have the highest rates of schools with vacancies percentage. And their percentage is more than the national percentage of schools with vacancies (i.e. 19%). Bihar and Uttar Pradesh require highest number of teachers with 222316 and 323577 respectively. Major requirement is in rural areas with 69% teacher requirement. It means the government is not filling the vacancies or is relying on the underpaid guest teachers.

In this scenario, how is the government going to achieve its own aspirations with regards to teachers as mentioned in the National Education Policy? In these conditions, guest teachers are forced to shift to other underpaid work for their livelihood. According to multiple reports in The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and The Wire, there have been cases of teachers shifting from their profession to stitching, farming , daily wage worker (under MGNREGA), selling fruit and vegetables and making PPE kits, etc. They were also put on challan duty for Covid norm violations in Delhi.

Over the years there has been no structural solution for the guest teachers/para teachers. The fact is that those who have qualified B.Ed and TET are still languishing unemployed or under paid in the form of guest teachers. NEP 2020 speaks about ‘ensuring the continuity of learning’. How can the system ensure the continuity of learning when the job of the teacher itself is not secured and stable?

One case in point is that of Vidya Volunteers, a scheme introduced by the Ministry of Education (then Ministry of Human Resource Development) in June 2016 to address the issue of shortage of teachers and single-teacher schools. Even after five years of the scheme, the situation of single-teacher schools has not changed. Teacher requirement in the country is still highest. In this scheme, the ministry asked unemployed and qualified applicants to register as “Volunteers” on the Vidyanjali website to serve as ‘Vidya Volunteers’ and they would be paid 12000/- INR as remuneration. However, the current situation in many states is that the ‘Vidya Volunteers’ are crying for help because they are yet to receive six-month worth of payment.

The government should acknowledge that the problems faced by the economy, its constituents and stakeholders at large will not be fixed by stop-gap solutions. Whether it is the ASHA workers, nurses hired during the Covid-19 pandemic period, or sanitation workers, the situation remains one of lack of fair wages, dignity, safety or security.

[Sadat Hussain is PhD Researcher at Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies, JNU, New Delhi]

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