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मंदार शिंदे
Mandar Shinde

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Teacher Crisis


The Teacher Crisis

    Teacher is the most talked about subject in India and especially in Maharashtra. Like Anganwadi workers and Asha workers, teachers are the government employees who come in contact with the people the most. For many generations, teaching has been considered a service-based social work, not a profession. From this level, they have travelled to the current image that teachers are a group of people who are paid for doing nothing, or they are the least working people in the system. Teachers are held responsible for all the good and bad things in the field of education.

    Although there are primary, secondary and college teachers, school teachers are more likely to be the ones who are called 'teachers'. While secondary teachers are few in number, there is a tendency in the minds of the people to treat college professors with some respect and distance. So let's talk about school teachers here too.

    The process of making India a country by uniting the scattered elements of power and the process of snatching education from the hands of the Brahmanical power seem to have started at about the same time. In fact, Indian education started from where Mahatma Jotirao Phule taught Savitribai and the universalization of education started from where Savitribai and Fatima Bibi started the first girls' school. Over the last one and a half century, schools seem to have gradually reached the hamlets and slums. It is these primary schools and teachers who have given the first hand to get all the deprived groups across the state out of their exploitation. No matter where the schools are run - in dilapidated, leaky buildings, in the barn, in someone's yard - anywhere, no matter how bad the teachers are, no matter how they teach, parents send their children to school. The children come to school enduring all the hardships, walking the miles, starving and learning hard. Because this is the only way to get them out of their exploitation, to change their lives. And it is the teachers who help all these exploited children. Unbeknownst to themselves.

    Why is there so much negative talk today about schools and teachers who are the most effective game-changers in our lives? What does society say about teachers today? What role does the department of school administration play in relation to teachers? And what do teachers think of themselves?

    The following are general approaches towards teachers. 1. Teachers like to avoid work; 2. Teachers don't have much work; 3. They live a lavish life as they are paid exorbitantly; 4. They enjoy summer vacation and Diwali vacation; 5. What's so significant about looking after children? Anybody can do that; 6. Their teaching has no quality; 7. Putting our children in government schools is to our detriment; 8. Husband and wife both become teachers and get 'double engine' salaries; won't another unemployed youth get a job if only one of them gets into this profession? 9. Whatever quality is there in this field can be found only in the private schools.

    In the midst of all these expectations and allegations, we as a society seem to be losing sight of what kind of a crisis the teacher community is in. Answering all the above allegations or unilaterally supporting the teachers is not the objective of my writing today. My aim is to shed some light on what is happening in the life of a teacher - as someone not a part of the system, but by looking at it from the outside.

    I am not saying that all teachers are very honest and good teachers, but I am trying to say that the method of generalizing everything is not enough to make you understand the issue in detail.

    In the last few years, we have been witnessing a change in the education process, from considering punishment an integral part of education to ensuring a pleasant learning experience. The teacher community around us is also changing. Today, thousands of teachers are constantly experimenting with different methods of teaching, exploring a variety of media for teaching. They appear to be self-motivated, doing many experiments on their own. But what does the teacher education system do? Do you see the curriculum of D.Ed./B.Ed. and the learning - teaching methods there have changed over time? As the curriculum and syllabus change, what mechanism for continuous assimilation and teaching seems to be advancing in an updated manner? In response to this, one can list the number of trainings conducted by the state level training institutes through different mediums and how the trainings are conducted continuously, but how many of those efforts turn out to be meaningful and effective?

    The teacher is, in fact, the grassroot level element in the education system, having hardly any role to play in the decision-making of the things they are implementing. Do the teachers have any opinion on what the curriculum will be, what the syllabus will be, what should be the policy about it? If yes, is there a mechanism to voice their opinions honestly? There has been a lot of talk about digital education in the last few years. It is said that now government schools have also gone digital. But do we really understand what exactly digitalization is? What is the value of the opinion of the teachers who were pioneers in digitalizing their schools and also spoke against it after realizing the emptiness in it? Whose responsibility is it to digitalize schools? Teachers'? How? By spending from their own pockets? Two years ago, the government decided that all schools would be digital by March 31. What did it mean? It meant that schools would at least have smart phones and screen enlargers. Whose mobile phone was this? This was the teacher's mobile phone. Also, the internet data pack in this phone was paid for by the teacher. Thousands of schools in the state do not even have a basic electricity connection. Also, the electricity usage is charged at the commercial rate. Who is paying these bills? The teachers. Well, it is again up to the teachers to create the content to be displayed in this digital education. Who will train them on this? Is digital education meant to show on the screen only what we say and write on the board in the classroom? If not, shouldn't there be a proper, quality training conducted for this? Who will do that? Or should teachers become 'Atma-nirbhar' (self-reliant) as everybody is being told now?

    Online systems like 'Saral' have been created to streamline the school education system, but how many schools have the internet connection and computers required for it? Nowadays, money is spent on construction in schools with the joint signature of the HeadMaster in charge and the Chairman of the School Management Committee. How to manage the stress created by the use of that money? The Right to Education Act introduced the School Management Committee as part of the democratization of the education system. This best system on the paper is transformed into a tool for maintaining political balance in the village. How stressful it is should be understood by speaking with the teachers at once. Delivering nutritious food to children with inadequate funding and disruptions to the Mid-Day Meal system seems to be a task needing the skillset of a juggler.

    A few years ago, the search for children lagging behind in learning was launched across the state and efforts towards their advancement began as part of quality education. Definitions of Advanced Students and Students Lagging Behind were made and later teachers preferred to show all children as advanced, in an effort to avoid work of trying to teach them honestly. Teachers are also experiencing the problems caused by verbal instructions from the supervisory level not to show children lagging behind.

    The Kothari Commission had in the 1960's said that at least 6 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product should be spent on education. To date, this figure has never gone above 3 percent. Meanwhile, the teachers did many things on their own, spontaneously, out of love for their own school. Their love for the school, the exam results, the progress of the children, the parent community involved in the school activities, all this led to the villages also helping the school in many places. Through this, innovative Speaking Walls were created, schools imparting modern digital education were built, and beautiful school buildings were constructed. There was exuberance everywhere at an earlier stage. There was affection and there was longing in this. So what would the government learn from this? Instead of changing their economic policy and increasing the provision for school education, they forced the seemingly inclusive but very deceptive term 'Public Participation' as the key performance index of teachers. Now, whether the school wants to build a toilet or purchase a computer, paint the school building or procure educational materials for the children, the teachers have to every time plead with the villagers for finance. People may contribute if they wish to, but making it mandatory will contradict the true concept of public participation, won't it? And what about the crisis the teachers are subjected to as a result of all this?

    Teachers are not only teaching in the classroom, they are also required to carry out many extracurricular activities. Leave aside the ten-yearly census and election work specified by the Right to Education Act, along with the work during national or local disasters. Apart from that, what the teachers do is count how many people have built toilets in the village, sometimes be a part of the Good Morning Squad to find people defecating in the open, other times verify the list of beneficiaries of different government schemes, and at times count the total number of animals in the village. Few days ago in our 'Active Teachers Forum' group, we had prepared a list of non-academic work done by the teachers. There were 104 other activities listed, with very little teaching and school related work.

    Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk and writing about the declining quality of government schools. This is not to say that there is no fact in it at all. But at the same time there is no mention about the quality of private schools. It is as if all the private schools around us are of the highest standard. What methods does the government use to check the quality of all these private schools? In what way does the government plan the training of teachers in these schools? Do the teachers in these schools get a fair salary? Or are they working as bonded labourers with paltry payments? If they are not getting their salaries properly, what is the government's control over it? What is the overall control over the small scale industry that seems to have started around us in the name of unaided self-financed schools? Isn't the apathy of all of us the reason why parents in general today prefer private schools to government schools? How true is our understanding of quality? Most parents don't know much about the quality beyond three different uniforms a week, the glass building of school, the bus coming to take their children to school, and the English medium of teaching. In such an environment, do we as a society think about the impact of politicians and senior officials not speaking very well about our own government schools, and the frequent decisions that demoralize the teachers?

    In the 60's and 70's, a teacher used to come and live in the village and teach in the school in a very simple manner. Since the number of educated people in the village was low at that time, the teacher used to take initiative in solving the problems of the villagers. People used to respect them as an educated person. This had created a sense of pride in the teaching profession. In addition, by saying ‘Gururbrahma’ (Teacher is God), we give undue nobility and instead of seeing it as a profession, it is clothed with a veil of sacrifice and simplicity. Today society is living in the 21st century. The way of life and expectations of people have all changed but the mentality has remained the same as it was in the 60's. A teacher couple is criticized for building a house in the village, overlooking how we live on our own. In the past, when salaries were low and living was simple, the teachers of that time may have remained simple. But even now, if society wants to control how they live and what they do, it is certainly not encouraging for teachers.

    Of course, today there are thousands of teachers performing their duties very honestly as teachers. At the same time there are teachers who are non creative in schools, do not teach at all, and keep flattering political leaders and senior officials for their own benefit. But what other business does not have such elements? Do we specifically talk about the people there?

    Today, in the times of the Corona pandemic, when the entire world has come to a halt, teachers are experimenting with all possibilities of online teaching. They are guarding the village checkposts for 10 hours a day. Going from house to house surveying sick people. In the cities, they are even standing outside the liquor stores to keep the system going. In the villages, they have been standing at the ration shops for the last four months, helping the grain distribution system. What kind of training have teachers received during all this time? Teaching online is a different skill. What efforts did the administration make to empower teachers for it during this period? Who is responsible for ensuring whether the content is being delivered properly or not? On the one hand, teachers know that most of their students belong to the working class. Teachers know how cruel it is to say 'learn using a smartphone' to those who have been deprived of two meals a day during the times of the Corona pandemic. But do you think the system is willing to listen to them?

    Teachers work for the School Education Department but their appointment is through the Rural Development Department. The Rural Development Department holds the power for teacher transfers. Officers from the Revenue Department dominate the teachers. Whenever a new IAS officer joins the district, the first experiments are on government schools and teachers. Then there are the rules like everyone should wear a coat even if the school is run in a tin shed and there is no electricity in the school. It is very rare in the Education Department that the teachers are involved in starting or continuing an experiment in a new direction. And it is mainly the teachers who are always at the receiving end.

    Even today, the only opportunity and possibility for the education of the children from the deprived and exploited community in the state are alive in the form of the government schools. Today, middle-class parents prefer to send their children to private schools. The same expectations are echoed in the rural areas and the tide of private schools is flowing there too. And since the teachers are overwhelmed with the same expectations, they too send their children to private schools, increasing the distrust by society in themselves. This vicious cycle is linked to government policies of privatization of the school system. Without going into the details of all this, most of us today are busy calling the teachers useless or blaming them for the failure of the entire system. All this turmoil has choked up both the teachers and the education system. The important issue today is whether we will understand the crisis of the teacher community, which is working with inadequate training and limited resources, burdened with a lot of expectations.

Written by: Paresh Jayashree Manohar


Published by: Miloon Saryajani


Translated by: Mandar Shinde


Date: 03/09/2020




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