Sunday, March 16, 2014

School Teachers: Do They Have A Magic Wand?

School Teachers: Do They Have A Magic Wand?
Thursday, Sep 5 2013 2:09PM IST
The state of teachers and the challenges of providing quality education, especially for marginalized children, has become a talking point across all sections of society in India. From poor parents’ right up to the Prime Minister, everyone seems to have concerns on the prevailing challenges which have impeded ‘ Education for All’.

As the number of school-going children has increased in the country, the workload of the teachers and interference of non-academic actors in schools has also increased in the last 10-15 years. Most of the department and government,non-government agencies want to run all their village-level programs through schools and teachers. As a result, teachers spend precious time which they should be spending on teaching, on providing services like distributing medicines, supporting awareness campaigns, door-to- door surveys, verifying lists of beneficiaries of social schemes as well as voters, and collecting quota for Mid-Day Meals etc. Everything from welfare schemes to distribution of iron folic tablets is important, but can everything be delivered through schools and teachers without compromising the learning process?

Recently, In many states, letters have been issued by the state authorities stating that   teachers should not be asked to do non-academic works other than three assignments related with -- Emergency Response, Election and Census—but, still , in almost every state, a substantial number of teachers spend at least two weeks on non-academic work assigned by district/sub divisional level officials in every academic year. 

Teachers often express their grief about the monitoring mechanisms as the district and block level officials are more concerned about the progress of non- academic works than the academic performance of the children. District officials treat them as clerks rather than teachers, ie,  academic persons.

In the country, almost 12% teachers working in the elementary educationsector are the para- teachers. They struggle within the system.  In UP, para-teachers get Rs.3000-3500 in a month only for 11 months in a year. The feeling of inferiority and de-motivation is obvious in their case. In recent years, low paid teachers who were raising voice against the discriminatory wage system were beaten up by the Police in Patna as well asin Bhopal.Teachers’ leader, Rampal Singh says, “ Teachers are at the center of the attack from every corner.  Whatever goes wrong in the school and village,teachers are being made responsible, which is not entirely correct”.

Almost 20 % schools are the single teacher schools and 56% schools are being managed by two to three teachers. In states like UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. on an average, more than a lakh teacher posts  are vacant. These states also lack the required teacher educators to train the necessary number of teachers by 2015.   

In-service teachers’ training is another area which needs fresh thinking. In the last decade  teachers have been trained, on an average, on more than 30 topics  under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. Though continuous learning and improving upon is a critical area for the teaching professionals, however, most of these in service trainings have not proved to be effective because of operational as well as conceptual challenges.

The top down approach , non involvement of the school teachers  in decision making on in-service trainings and un sustained academic and financial support have not worked well at the school level for more than 50 lakhteachers.Criteria of trainers should be in place and other ways of learning than the mechanical training should be promoted. Professor Yashpal suggests that ‘a teacher can learn better with his/her students as they recognize what their teacher should be knowing’.)

Initiatives like Right to Education could not go on the fast track  as education is in the concurrent list and is the responsibility of both the centre and state governments. Therefore, any major drive for revamping   education system often gets caught up in the ambiguity surrounding the role of Central Government vs State Governments, Administrative Body Vs Academic Body,Department of Education Vs   Sarva Siksha Abhiyan!

A primary school teacher of Bihar once asked me,“ Why do most people tell us that schools are not doing  well? We know this reality and want people to come and work with us. The time has gone when someone will tell the Mantra and another will practice that!”

The issues of absenteeism, in consistency in teaching and discriminatory behaviour of   teachers are being  raised by children, parents and media regularly so they must consider these matters seriously. Teachers demand a grievance redressal system for their operational challenges and a transparent system of reward and recognition. They want replacement of the block level administrative officials with a cadre of professionally trained academic support providers.

Teachers can’t overhaul the education system alone, they seek partnership of the larger community and support from the administration and media. They work in difficult circumstances from Maoists affected zones up to flood affected areas. Do they have magic wands? No.

They must be heard, appreciated and should not be left alone in the struggle of savings schools and shaping lives of the 11 crore enrolled children. Success and failures must be a shared responsibility from top to bottom.

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