Heavy cost of a policy that neglects educators

The problem of teaching in India is both quantitative and qualitative, mired in institutional factors such as teacher shortages, local politics, corruption, and training defects; and socio-cultural factors such as caste divisions and a cynical attitude towards the profession.

The immediate challenge is a paucity of trained professionals.

According to the Ministry of Human Resources, there was a shortage of more than 8.5 lakh trained primary and upper-primary teachers across the country until last August. Uttar Pradesh had the largest deficit, 2.14 lakh teachers.

Though the State has taken efforts to reduce the gap, teacher recruitment has gotten politically and legally entangled.

A noble profession under pressure

To the chagrin of education activists, the State has focused, since the 1980s and 1990s, on filling vacancies through the employment of contractual teachers — who are paid less, trained poorly and consequently have little accountability and fewer rights. The Samajwadi Party government in 2014 amended laws to regularise 1.4 lakh Shiksha Mitras, or contractual teaches, to tackle the crisis. The decision was, however, challenged by opposing teaching groups. Last year, the Allahabad High Court nullified the appointments.

The Supreme court recently provided interim relief to the Siksha Mitras, even as a sword of uncertainty looms over those among them who have not cleared the Teacher Eligibility Test. Manoj Pal, a former Shiksha Mitra in Unnao who was recently appointed as a regular teacher, says it would be “unfair and unfortunate” if the appointments are overturned. When he was assimilated as a regular teacher, his salary jumped from Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 30,000 — which reflects the gap between regular and temporary teachers in U.P.

A related issue is that a government-led system of support for the overall improvement in teacher quality and training is virtually non-existent.

The block resource centres, cluster resource centres and district institutes of education and training (DIETs) are “non-functional,” says Ambarish Rai, national convener, Righ to Education forum, adding that “Ninety percent of teacher's training institutes are run by private sector [and] private training institutes are selling teachers’ degrees.”

The substandard teaching and learning experience in government schools has over the years caused a shift in preference toward private schools, which are mushrooming by the day, yet offer poor learning environments in some cases.

Unless the U.P. government develops and implements a sustainable plan for appointing and training teachers, another generation of young minds may be lost to the vagaries of schooling in a relatively unregulated context

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