India is among the few countries to have a day specially dedicated to teachers besides a clutch of awards to recognise their good work. Yet somehow, these gestures have failed to send out a strong message to most teachers in our government schools — the largest provider of school education in the country — that they are actually doing a
crucial job for the society. There’s good reason too. Poorly paid for a long time (till the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented), teaching has often been seen as a thankless job, many times the last resort to grab a government job. With little motivation from the government to excel, no mechanism to attract only those who truly want to teach and hardly any importance given to accountability, many teachers have long
stopped performing at their optimum, marking presence only to earn their wages. For elections, census, RTI work, etc., they are often shunted out, in what amounts to a covert admission that there are more important tasks to be done than just classroom transactions.Naturally, all this affects children attending school.
What holds out hope, however, is the clear mandate of the Right to Education (RTE) Act to ensure that all schools and their teachers meet certain specified norms. This was long due, say experts in the field. The challenge to arrive at success is enormous though, they point out.
“There are many training institutes but there has been a lack of commitment to make it a success. Now with the Act, we are asked to prepare many new teachers to tutor more children joining school besides training the existing ones. The number runs into lakhs and it is clearly not an easy task,” states Kuldeep Aggarwal, director, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), one of the agencies earmarked by the Government to train primary school teachers under the
RTE Act. Unbelievable, but in West Bengal, many primary level teachers are only Class 10 pass. “Such teachers will have to be taught what education is all about. So we have a big job on hand.”
Aggarwal and his team are working on a curriculum for a two-year training course on the lines of D.Ed which will begin by the end of the year. “The course will put a thrust on what RTE says should be the teachers’ role. We will also have regular workshops and face-to-face interactions to help teachers understand the course better. States will select teachers and send them to us for training. So far, Jharkhand and West Bengal have sent us requests.”
But many States are yet to wake up to the call. The deadline of 2017 to implement the Act entirely looks impractical. Shanta Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the nodal agency to implement the Act, calls the deadline difficult. “The first year has been slow in achieving its target, but I feel time is not an issue, if there is commitment from the States,” she says.
A matter of will
Since education is a concurrent subject, a lot depends on the
willingness of the States to implement the Act successfully. Sinha says each state has a way of responding to the Act. But hope lies in the fact that no State can get away from it. Sinha was recently been in news for re-opening schools in the Maoist-infested tribal belt of Chhattisgarh. She disagrees with the common view that the poor don’t want to educate their children. Her trip to Maoist infested areas despite warnings from the police was to hammer home this point. “In a
Maoist area, I saw students, parents, grandparents so keen that schools should reopen. They want their children to study. The marginalised people have realised the importance of education and how it can better their lives. So it’s time now to deliver.”
During public hearings as part of the Act, she has sensed the same feeling in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. “I am going to Manipur for a public hearing this week besides two other places in West Bengal.” Right now, the NCPCR is in the process of looking at the entitlements of children in schools like books, facilities, scholarships, etc. It is yet to look at teacher training.” When time comes, we plan to propose a dialogue between the teacher unions, parents and students
for a mutually reinforcing environment,” says Sinha.
Akshay Dixit, a teacher for 12 years in an MCD school in the
Chhattarpur area, feels teachers need to do more than just attend training courses. “There has to be a feeling within children that the teacher loves him. To achieve this, the teacher has to make an effort; no training can teach you how to do it.” That is why only those who really love to teach should come to teach, he says.
There is also the need to have a more interactive curriculum. Aggarwal says countries like Australia don’t set a curriculum. “The teachers sit with students and decide what to teach. That way, they both get involved with each other.”
Within the present curriculum, Dixit tries to do something similar. “I go to the class and ask children what I should take up. By doing that I am making them a part of the learning.”
Kiran Bhatty, head of NCPCR’S RTE division, points out “a social distance” between teachers and students. “It has come out in the first public hearing we had in Delhi some months ago.”
At that hearing, organised by the NGO Josh in Trilokpuri area, many glaring examples of teachers working at cross purposes came to the fore. A 15-year-old girl said she left a Delhi Directorate of Education-run school because she didn’t like her teacher.
“I loved going to school, was the class monitor, joined the Scouts too. Yet, one incident led me to decide not to attend that school anymore. During the exam, my classmates were openly helped by their brothers who came into the hall with chits. The teacher looked the other way. She knew I didn’t cheat yet I was given the lowest marks. I was told to shut up when I pointed it out,” said the girl, Madhuri, who has now joined the National Open School.
Then there is Ajay, a class seven student of another Delhi Government school. “My teacher asked me to get him beer from the nearby liquor shop. He and another retired teacher drink in school during school hours. Many students are asked by them to buy cigarettes.” Ajay’s mother now says, “He is being threatened by the teacher for saying all this during the public hearing.”
Anjana, a student of a Rajakiya Vidyalaya of the area, says she was made to pick up stones by the teacher because she forgot her homework.
“Once, I didn’t wear full uniform and the teacher made me mop the floor. Rules are for us to follow while she keeps talking on the mobile phone in the class.” Time has now arrived to listen more carefully to voices like these.