A profession in limbo
Education is a liberating force and teachers are the liberators but, ironically, both remain within the clutches of commercialisation and systemic logjam; obstructing the last child from accessing the ‘privilege’
It suits here to start the article with the reiteration of the thought that one good teacher can change the entire life of a student who, in turn, will lend his/her shoulder to buttress the future of the nation. India currently is a country teeming with a record number of student-age population. Their life and the quality of vocation they will take in the future must be read synonymously with the national interest. It is pertinent here to retrospect the state of teaching apparatus in the country and look for methods to address persisting problems.
It is an unarguable fact that to strengthen the plummeting status of education in India, one of the most fundamental requirements is to provide well qualified and spirited teachers.
Holding back the spirit factor for a moment, if we just talk about qualification then it lies in a dismal state. The proportion of ill-trained teachers in big states like West Bengal and Bihar is well above one-third of the total — with other northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand etc. also ill-performing on this front.
Education is a 'State responsibility' but about 90 per cent of the training of teachers — one of the fundamental links of any education system — rests in the hands of private players. The reason is straightforward — utter collapse of state's machinery that is deputed for training teachers.
In India, there are provisions for two types of teacher's training — pre-service teachers' training and in-service teachers' training and the organisation that is responsible for training teachers is the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET).
The CTET results of 2021 show that only 33 per cent of 1.27 million candidates who appeared for the exam for primary education (class I-V) teaching could qualify. The corresponding percentage for secondary education stood at 21 per cent. The situation on the ground has seen very little change over the years, although the Right to Education Act 2009 mandates minimum qualifications for teachers.
Further, teachers' training in India is heavily underfunded. Teacher Training and Adult Education has been allocated Rs 250 crore in 2021-22, which is just 0.5 per cent of the total departmental allocation.
Problems at the grassroots
India has a staggering workforce potential that needs to be roped into its path towards development. Every single student is imbibed with the potential to contribute to national progress. To capitalise on these invaluable resources, the country is in need of well-oiled education machinery — dotted all throughout with efficient educational institutions — where none is left out to lag behind the other. At the core of such institutions, should stand proficient and motivated teachers — unfortunately, the situation today is quite contrary.
A teacher comes into the education system through recruitment, and leaves his/her mark on the basis of his own standards of education. Both the recruitment and education framework in India are marred with grave inconsistencies.
Cutting straight to the practices on the ground in terms of teacher's recruitment, India recruits two types of teachers — permanent teachers and ad hoc teachers — at various levels of education. The two types of teachers teach the same class of students but have a difference of heaven and earth between them — from their remuneration to working conditions and job security. While the ad hoc teachers bear the brunt of these discrepancies directly, the students remain the indirect, but insidiously suffered targets.
The ad hoc teachers earn close to half of what a permanent teacher earns, and that too on a daily basis. So, these 'daily-wage' teachers serve mostly as an interface between educational institutions and students' communities, often with a deep sense of dissatisfaction in terms of remuneration and job security. This is one of the several reasons that negatively affects the output of teaching-learning exercises. The institutional process of hiring permanent qualified teachers is long, tedious and inconsistent; these are the only adjectives that could justify the massive logjam in the recruitment of teachers.
Teacher education in India rests under the aegis of The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and its four regional committees — north, south, east and west. The regional committees are entrusted with the authority to provide programme affiliations to Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) — which, by all accounts, are spawning in the country. Their number is not a problem, the problem is their substandard educating methods and widespread corruption.
The New Education Policy offers some glimmer of hope as it has shown some interest in enhancing teacher's education in India. The transformation sought in the B-Ed course structure appears to make a fresh start. But the difficult and important task is to weed out the rot that has been pestering our education system for so long — almost without any resistance.
A price tag?
If one wishes to fully understand the reality of 'free and universal education in India', he/she must strive to understand its antithesis — the dynamics of commercial aspects of education. Let us put the point in a straightforward manner — education is one of the costliest affairs in the lives of a commoner, and it is getting costlier each day. It is costly enough for a farmer to sell his beloved land to educate his even more beloved child(ren). It is costly enough for a daily wage-earner to part away with half of his/her remuneration and sustain the entire family on the other half — for what? For a fuel for their hopes of liberation from the clutches of poverty. Free and universal education in India is — call it what you wish, and irony or a façade. Just to throw a reminder, the establishment and running of state-run schools is by no means "free" as it garners its cost from taxpayers' money. Its shoddy outlook is a result of mismanagement and misutilisation of resources, and not the absence of resources.
Filling this gap, private educational institutions and coaching centres are booming across the country. A handful of them are rendering exceptional service, and bountiful of them have created substandard teaching-learning setups — both of them are unavoidable for students and their services can be availed at exorbitant prices and slightly less exorbitant prices respectively.
Putting a differential price tag on education is extremely problematic. The nature of the education sector is too strategic to be commodified or price-tagged. Leaving every single child behind adds to the loss of the nation. It is pertinent here to highlight the flawed approach towards education — the approach of creating clusters of excellence at the cost of universal access to education
As per an ASSOCHAM survey of 2013, 92 per cent of tutors had reported that parents strived to put their children in coaching centres because of the perceived deficiencies in the education system.
The coaching industry in particular is expanding exponentially with each passing day. The demand-supply mechanism has made private coaching a necessary evil. Even if a handful of these are providing quality education, it cannot be counted as a positive outcome. The attempts to address the question of quality without incorporating the element of equity is meaningless.
Instances of excellence
How difficult is it to tide over the towering challenges faced by the education sector? Not much, if there is fair enough political will and strategic finesse. We have superb instances of excellence where teaching-learning models are successfully bringing a sea change in the lives of students and teachers.
The success of the Delhi model of education system speaks for itself. There have been no grand adjectives and adverbs; only work at the grassroots. Administrators have healed the parts that hurt the most.
Delhi model banked upon five key components: 1) Upgrading school infrastructure; 2) Proper training of teachers; 3) Community participation; 4) Curricular reforms; and 5) Putting some degree of check upon commercial aspects of private education.
Government teachers remained inseparable players in facilitating the implementation of these components. These steps by the Delhi government enhanced the quality of ambience in which teachers would operate, augmented their skills to carry out modified objectives, and diluted the competing/blocking factors.
Even before Delhi, Kerala has not just been ensuring universal education but also reaping its benefits in terms of economic and social progress. The core objective of the Kerala model of education has been plain and clear for decades — the universalisation of education.
There are other examples as well. Apart from state response to the education crisis, there are individuals and non-governmental organisations who are spearheading transformation in the education sector by taking one or several aspects of education.
While these attempts are beneficial in their own right and deserve to be recognised and revered, these are not the solution to the systemic rot that pervades the education sector in India. State has to take the responsibility to provide staple to the deprived sector of India. As long as it is not done, equity — the most crucial need of the education sector — will remain a far dream.
To start with possible solutions, we broadly categorise the problems into three categories.
✻ Lack of proper ambience for teaching-learning activities in state-run schools
✻Shortage and quality of teachers along with procedural bottlenecks in teacher's training and education.
✻ Ill-conceived objectives and priorities of education in India.
There could be no quick-fix solution for the ailing education sector; the planning has to be long-term, say 5-7 years down the line, which can be carried out in a phased manner. In the first phase, the ambience of all the government-run schools needs to be improved. A rigorous infrastructure development plan in the first two years, coupled with proper monitoring and evaluation framework, shall take precedence over other things. 'Environment' is one of the key reasons that parents become wary of while choosing the right school for their kids. To put it plainly, the outlook has to go hand-in-hand with output.
Meanwhile, phase-I is rolled out, legislative and policy hurdles in training and educating teachers could be removed. Once the teachers start feeling at home in the new ambience, they can easily be motivated for phase-II of the reforms — which focuses more on upskilling of teachers. The improved system could be leveraged to aid their professional development. There must be a legal cap on the ratio of ad hoc teachers to permanent teachers. Postings of government teachers must be close to their residence and transfer laws are made stricter. In a nutshell, the teacher's profession has to be made lucrative and contending — at parity for both permanent and ad hoc teachers.
Phase-III must focus on lending greater pace to fundamental literacy and numeracy. Teacher representatives in different states must be roped in to decide on curricula as per the requirements of particular states. The objectives should however be clearly prioritised. The process of assessing students on the basis of learning outcomes is inherently problematic. It fixes the problems of the education sector, to a certain extent, on the heads of students and teachers — shifting the focus away from systemic failure. Learning is a continuous process and each student/teacher can have a different approach and pace for receiving/imparting the same. Creating pressure points doesn't seem to be a good idea. So, we have to set our priorities right. Only when these basic requirements are figured out, then we must devise further strategies. As a part of the solution, one thing that cannot be missed out on is countering the highly commercialised private sector. The State has enough resources to build a universal system of excellence in education parallel to the thriving private sector — let the political will come in.
Views expressed are personal