04 April 2012

Latest ARTICLE : Who wants to be a primary school teacher in India?

Who wants to be a primary school teacher in India?
Krishna Kumar on quality of primary education in India.

Who wants to be a primary school teacher in India? No one, really. The job requires a Class XII certificate with a two-year diploma. The salary is so measly that it can only be seen as a supplementary income. It's no wonder that the majority of aspirants come to it as a last resort. And once they get into a primary school, they keep trying to enhance their qualifications, in order to 'move up'-meaning, get a secondary teacher's job.

This reality contrasts with the rhetoric that the primary school years are the like nation's foundations.
Yes, research across the world shows that a nation's economic and social well-being depends on the quality of its primary and pre-primary education. In India, we don't look at things that way. Even when a break comes into sight, we choose to ignore it and let the enthusiasts get sick with frustration. That is the story of Delhi University's Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed) programme.

In the last 15 years or so, it has produced more than a thousand superb teachers. Anywhere else in the world, they would have been treated as a special workforce. But here? The Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the state government have failed to recognise them as TGTS, or Trained Graduate Teachers.

Why? Because they don't possess a B Ed degree which you need to teach beyond Class V. Bureaucratic cynicism has ensured that the 'elementary' stage (Classes I to VIII) does not become a salary band. Never mind the Constitution which has been amended by Parliament to make eight years of elementary education a Fundamental Right. The Government continues to hold that there is a fundamental difference between the primary (I to V) and the upper primary (VI to VIII) stages, and that the primary teacher must get substantially less salary.

During the 1990s, several states decided to appoint para-teachers instead of regular ones.
They were given fancy names, such as guruji in Madhya Pradesh, shiksha mitra in UP, vidya volunteers in Andhra Pradesh, and so on. They were paid a fraction of the regular salary. The idea of saving money proved so attractive that Madhya Pradesh decided to wipe out the old cadre of teachers. Now, Bihar and Chhattisgarh have embarked on this road. In Uttar Pradesh, Classes I and II-the formative years of a child's career at school-are assigned to para-teachers as a matter of policy. Over 10 years have passed since these outrageous measures were taken. A whole new generation of children with poor literacy and numeracy skills is now passing through the secondary classes across northern India, from Rajasthan to Bengal and the North-East where thousands of teachers were appointed without training.

It is ironical that the Right to Education (RTE) law has furnished the basis of yet another decision which could have disastrous consequences over the next decade. RTE demands improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. The new ratio of 1:30 and other provisions of RTE are supposed to be implemented by the summer of 2013. States that have the highest shortfall of trained teachers have decided to meet this deadline by training their teachers in distance mode. These are the states with the poorest quality records and the most appalling cases of discrimination in schools on the basis of caste and gender.
Teachers trained through distance mode cannot be expected to meet such challenges. Apparently, these states feel that they have no choice in the matter, so they are not looking for alternatives. Their training institutions are also in a dismal state, and the national body in charge of accreditation and reform of teacher education is itself passing through a prolonged illness. Professional training in any field requires rigour and a congenial institutional ethos. Teacher education lacks both, and distance technology cannot magically compensate for the chronic neglect this sector has suffered.

The situation calls for fresh thinking and rescheduling of RTE compliance with Parliament's approval. It will be a sad joke indeed if a historic law which promises to equalise educational opportunity in our stratified society is turned into an excuse for killing what dignity is left in the job of a teacher. It took India a century-since the defeat of Gokhale's bill in 1911-to legislate children's right to education. It would be neurotic to treat RTE as a game of compliance.

- Krishna Kumar is professor of education at Delhi University and a former director of NCERT

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