July 05, 2020
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Picking A Teacher’s Purse

Underpaid, overworked—teachers are in a bad way. And schools are reluctant to comply with strict CBSE rules.

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Picking A Teacher’s Purse
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A parents’ body protests a fee hike by DPSG School in Gurgaon
Photograph by Getty Images
Picking A Teacher’s Purse

Do you wonder about the gap between the degree of proficiency schoolkids are supposed to have in various subjects and what they actually know? To crack this mystery, look at another gap—the mismatch between what teachers are supposed to be paid and what they actually get. And think of the logical corollaries—the quality that can be attracted to this profession for such pay, the levels of demotivation among those who join and, most significantly, the effect it has on their teaching.

Anita Kumari, a teacher of a small private school in Gurgaon, has been signing a monthly salary receipt of Rs 36,545 for the past four years, but actually drawing Rs 16,000. On paper, the school conforms to the scales prescribed by the Haryana School Education Act; in practice, it pays less than half.

Located less than two km away from Ryan Internatio­nal, where seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur was brutally killed on September 8, the private unaided school caters to the aspirational population from the nearby urban villages. There are 18 other teachers in the school, but Anita says she is the only one who speaks English. She had applied for a job at Ryan but now, with its new-found notoriety, Anita is looking at other options.

Long work hours beyond teaching duties, not getting paid as per prescribed scales and being made to do non-­teaching work are very common.

“So many new schools are now coming up, I will try somewhere else,” she says, hoping for a job in one of the swanky new international schools that will pay her as per the prescribed scale, commensurate with her qualifications and experience. She is a graduate from Rohtak University, has a BEd degree from Kurukshetra University and works as a Primary Trained Teacher (PRT) in her school. She aims for the grade of a Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT), to  be able to teach students of Class V to VIII.

Radhika stays in Gurgaon’s Wazirabad village and teaches in one of the relatively bigger private schools owned by the wife of a Congress bigwig. Radhika, a Hindi teacher, does bus duty in addition to administrative work. While school timings are till 2 pm, she seldom reaches home before 4 pm. And then she has to prepare her lessons, check answer-sheets for half-yearly examinations, write the lines for an impending school assembly and also make decorative material for the same. Incidentally, she doesn’t send her two children to the same school, despite the discounted fee they are entitled to. “I know the school and their systems. I cannot trust my children there,” she says. Her children to go to another reputed ‘world school’.

This pitiless, almost casual, exploitation of schoolteachers is not rare; indeed, it’s almost the norm, built into the fabric of how Indian schools are run. “It is one of the worst-kept secrets of our schooling system—teachers are not paid their full scale or kept on contract for years so that they are not in a position to complain. Most are over-burdened and exploited. They cannot do justice to their core job of teaching with so much work thrust on them,” says R.C. Jain, president of Delhi State Public Schools Management Association.

Long work hours beyond teaching duties, not getting paid as per the prescribed scale and being made to do non-teaching work to cut costs are some of the common complaints that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)—the country’s biggest school board—gets from individual teachers as well as private teachers’ associations. There are also complaints regarding TGT level teachers doing the work of senior Post-Graduate Teachers (PGTs) without getting the scale.

CBSE spokesperson Rama Sharma says a due process is followed to address complaints. “CBSE has a robust grievance redressal mechanism. On-ground inspections are done.... Action is taken against the school depending upon the findings and the gravity of the issue. The CBSE can downgrade the school or even disaffiliate it,” she says. That is, if a school has the sanction to conduct CBSE examinations till Class XII, it can be downgraded and allowed to hold examinations only till Class X.

Education being a state subject, schools have to conform to a state’s education policy, and are governed as per the state’s law. CBSE or any other Board like the ICSE grants affiliation to the school for the purpose of conducting Class X and XII exa­minations. The schools have to comply with stringent guidelines to be granted affiliation.

So persistent were the complaints that CBSE had to issue a circular, laying down rules of ­appointment and service conditions.

Following complaints of exploitation and teachers not getting their due, CBSE had asked all 16,000-plus private schools affiliated to it to give information about the work assigned to teachers and non-academic staff. These included 1,200 schools in the NCR. In a circular on October 28, 2016, CBSE stated that as per the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, “no teacher shall be deployed for any non-educational purposes other than the decennial population census, disaster relief duties, or duties relating to elections....” It said that teachers could only be engaged in teaching, professional upgradation, and examination evaluation. “For activities of ministerial nature, transport, canteen or similar related tasks, separate trained staff may be deployed by schools,” it added.

However, it’s hard to tell if the schools heeded the notice—many schools have still not provided the details to CBSE. Anomalies and contradictions were rife amongst details of the schools that did.

Yet so persistent were the despairing complaints, so strident the cries for redressal, that last month, CBSE had to issue another circular, laying down the rules of appointment, service conditions and duties of tea­­c­­hers. The Board cautioned that despite repeated reminders, some schools were still flouting the statutory provisions under the RTE Act and affiliation bylaws regarding the appointment of teachers with prescribed procedures, qualifications and service conditions. In many schools, teachers were just expected to drag along in a rut and didn’t have avenues for professional development.

“A number of complaints have been received against affiliated schools alleging payment of partial salary, delay in disbursement of salary and allowances, promotion and non-availability of welfare measures for teachers, retaining the teachers after schools hours, engaging them in the non-education activities etc. As a result, teachers feel demotivated in pursuing their career and taking interest in the classroom teaching, which adversely affects the overall quality of education and learning outcomes,” CBSE’s admonition notice said.

In Kerala, celebrated for its high-quality school system, the situation is not too different. The state has over 1,88,379 teachers in government, aided and private schools, including 13,692 private schoolteachers, according to the Kerala government. With the government revising the pay structure of teachers of government and government-aided schools, a teacher’s salary was revised in the lowest category from Rs 8,500 (2013) to over Rs 16,500 (2014 pay revision) that has been implemented from this year onwards. With experience, the pay scale rises substantially and the pay band under the 7th Pay Commission is between Rs 29,000 to over a lakh. Following a countrywide trend, there was a mad rush in Kerala too for private schools over the past decade. But, according to a Deccan Chronicle report, government schools have witnessed a rise in number of students in 2017, with overall student strength in government and aided schools increasing by 1,57,406 students. Seen together with the revision in pay, the reasons aren’t hard to deduce—the material well-being of teachers leads to an immediate trickledown in better teaching.

Yet private schools, as ever, are laggards in revising teachers’ salaries, paying a pittance between Rs 6,000 to Rs 30,000. The modus operandi too is similar—some Kerala schools make teachers sign the register for a certain salary but are paid far less, with money deducted under numerous heads. “Our pay is so bad that we cannot make ends meet,” says a teacher of a private school. With over 98 per cent of the teachers being women in private schools affiliated to CBSE and ICSE, they tend to be easily intimidated and reluctant to lodge complaints. “As with nurses in private hospitals in Kerala, it is the same situation with teachers in most private schools. We don’t get leave, we are paid poorly and many schools don’t have proper staff-rooms. Managements are only bothered about profit margins. In fact, a labourer or a domestic help makes far more than us,” says a teacher.

Vijayanath, a Malayalam teacher for over 26 years with a private school in Thiruvananthapuram, says, “There are three private schools here which pay on par with government schools. Most don’t pay well. With the proliferation of private schools, all parents wanted their children to ape the western style of education and enrolled them in such schools, where they were promised an ‘English’ education. It was a big farce—the quality of education was bad, for the teachers were poorly qualified. On top of high fees, parents then had to shell out an equivalent amount for private tuition.”

In sharp contrast to Kerala, government teachers in neighbouring Karnataka are in a bad way. “Less salary, more work,” is how Basavaraj Gurikar, president of the Karnataka State Primary School Teachers Association, describes the work environment of teachers. “One teacher has to handle at least two classes (grades). So he’s teaching 16 periods a day instead of eight,” he says. Besides, some have administrative work. “Teachers also have to double up as class-four employees; for example, cleaning the school. They also end up doing clerical work,” says Gurikar, whose association has over 1.6 lakh members. With average salaries of government primary school teachers lower than in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the association is hoping for a revision of salaries, due by February 2018, to bridge the gap.

Yes, Ma’m

Students with their teacher at one of the numerous private schools in Gujarat

Photograph by Alamy

Yet, a significant shift in pedagogy has also burdened teachers. Educationist Rachana Kodesia, a specialist in teachers’ training, explains the reasons why teachers’ workload has increased. Responsibilities have increased with evolving teaching methodology, she says, with the focus on experiential learning, as against the dry-as-dust rote method.

“Teachers have to prepare more to engage students so that they can be helped to truly absorb a new concept. They have to spend more time on their lesson plan as schools are adopting an integrated approach to learning. For example, if the topic is water, all subject teachers will be simultaneously dealing with it. It requires research, planning and coordination,” she explains.

Teaching a generation wired into the digital age is a big challenge. “Most teachers have been evaluators or judges. A teacher now has to be a facilitator of learning, not an evaluator,” says Kodesia. Good teaching requires passion and commitment. “Very few take up teaching as a profession for the love of it. It is not the first choice for most people,” she says from experience.

To make the profession lucrative and attract quality individuals, it is imperative that schools give their teachers their due and not shortchange them. Along with better enf­orcement of board rules, there needs to be a systematic weeding out of the Gradgrinds lurking in errant school managements, with their dual emphasis on ‘facts’ and the profit motive. Only teachers liberated from a hard life can impart enlightened education.

By Bhavna Vij-Aurora with inputs from Minu Ittyipe and Ajay Sukumaran

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