Nearly 200,000 teachers in Bihar draw a salary less than that of a peon in the government. Teachers with post graduate degrees teaching primary to higher secondary levels, draw Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 4,000 less than a Class Four employee. In 2005, the Bihar High Court heavily censured the state’s educational system and politicians, blaming them for having produced generations of illiterates by not appointing any primary school teachers since 1990.
It has taken nearly 20 years and a Supreme Court ruling on December 9th for the state to take action and appoint 35,540 teachers, though the quality of those recruited remains suspect. Although this move would benefit nearly 200,000 people in the state with a temporary source of living, it does not create the required infrastructure for education to benefit a society seeking to achieve an attainable excellence in the modern world.
Bihar is, of course, everybody’s favourite whipping boy, but this situation is not particular to the state; it exists across the country at varying degrees of incompetence and neglect.
Despite repeated measures taken by the central and state governments to make the salaries of teachers comparable across the country, startling disparities in even that meagre remuneration doled out to the teachers are endemic. Matriculate Trained Teachers, who make up 87 percent of the total number of school teachers in India, get a paltry Rs. 775, Rs. 892 and Rs. 1,507 in Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Punjab, respectively. It takes a teacher under this category up to 27 years to make the maximum grade.
The situation improves comparatively, but still inadequately, in the best of private English Medium schools. Even in the most highly rated schools, the National average annual salary of the teachers is Rs. 86,700 (Rs. 7,225 per month).
John F. Kennedy once remarked, “Modern cynics and sceptics see no harm in paying those they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.” Society at large has no qualms in holding teachers responsible for the development of their children in all spheres; as role models, mentors and guides to their students; shaping their futures as valuable citizens of the nation, caring and adjusted members of a growingly interdependent and interactive world community: without a thought how an underpaid, under qualified individual barely able to provide for herself is to achieve this daunting task. Teaching in India has been relegated to one of the lowest paying and thankless professions, and receives little respect from a callous and uncaring society. As a result, even people with a passion for teaching opt for more lucrative professions, leaving this all important task to those who are disinterested in their profession, and adopt it for no reasons other than base necessity.. Teachers have been aptly described by one educationist as “the white collar Shudras of the country.”
The terms of service in the profession, today, result in the majority of teachers, particularly at the primary and secondary levels, being, at worst, unqualified and, at best, under-qualified. The trend is prevalent in all categories of schools, even the most affluent. According to the report of the Education Commission, for instance, 73.8 per cent of all school teachers in India have a matriculation degree or less. Only 15.9 per cent have graduate and post-graduate qualifications.
In a profession directly responsible for the well being of a nation, the teacher has to supplement his income to meet even the basic necessities of life, reasonable comforts remaining beyond the reach of most. Socio-economic studies in Mysore and Gujarat showed that 90 percent of teachers were in the ‘low economic’ status and 68 percent had to engage in subsidiary occupations to augment their incomes to marginally sustainable levels.
Responding to a survey, 82 per cent of Primary Schools and 82.3 percent of Secondary schools stated that a teacher does not get the recognition, respect and remuneration due to the profession, while 93.7 percent of Teachers Associations responding to the same survey found the plight of teachers regrettable. The survey also revealed that only 9.9 percent of teachers joined the profession of their own free will, with the balance 90.1percent taking up teaching due to severe economic pressures.
At the National Education Day celebrations on November 11, 2009, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal spoke wishfully about “millions of teachers to meet the requirements of Education for All”. Meanwhile the Education Committee Chairman has disclosed that Municipal Corporation of Delhi schools alone would face a shortage of 4,500 teachers and principals in 2010. Sibal also exhorted the “social order” to “respect teachers who all play a pivotal role in building a peaceful and just society”. But his vision of reforms to secure these ends appeared to be exhausted by an “independent and mandatory accreditation system”, “legislation to prohibit and punish malpractices and unfair practices”, and the entry of “foreign education providers”. Nothing, whatsoever, about improving the status, working and living conditions of teachers.
The impact of the perverse educational order on India’s manpower profile has been disastrous. A 2005 study found that India would have a shortfall of about 500,000 qualified workers by 2010. A study by the Confederation of India Industries disclosed that, “Only 234 million of India’s 411 million young people enter school at all… Less than 20 per cent reach high school, and less than 10 per cent enter college. Only 50 million of India’s 1.1 billion people – less than five per cent of the total population – have degrees past high school.”
The targets set by the grandiose ambition of ‘Education for All” can hardly be achieved in the absence of a concerted and sustained effort to correct the system. In this, the entire burden cannot be placed on the Government alone; society at large cannot abdicate its own responsibility in the abysmal conditions prevailing.
If the objectives of ‘Education for All’ are even conceivably be attainable, the status, income and perquisites of teachers have to be brought up at least to the levels of the civil services in the government sector, and of other lucrative professions in the private sector. This is the only possible way for the teaching profession to attract and retain persons of ability, integrity, character and learning, who are committed to their profession and its social objectives. It is only when India’s teachers have been restored to a position of honour and eminence within society that we can hope to see an educated and equitable India emerging from poverty, eager to embrace the modern world.
Gautam Sahni is Director, Mindsprings, an NGO that outreaches educational support to underprivileged children.