Indian Teachers: Learning life’s lessons’ the hard way

Teachers' Day (September 5th) is a day to celebrate the one profession that creates all the other professions we know of. But are the celebrations mere lip service to this noble profession? Is the Indian Teacher being taught a lesson by the Indian education system? Can the profession survive the invasion of technology? Joselyn T Lobo examines the challenges the Indian teacher faces today in this analytical article that takes us to the very core of the Indian education system.

Every year Teachers’ Day is celebrated with much fanfare and the teaching profession glorified. For the rest of the year, however, the admiration spirals downwards into disdain and the problems of teachers, students and the education system are brushed under the carpet. On Teacher’s Day this month we need to open our eyes to some of the problems confronting Indian teachers and issues related to education both at the school and college level – if the Teacher’s Day is to make any difference to the lives of teachers and the Indian education system itself.

Gone are the days when teachers were revered as God in the Gurukula tradition. Teaching today is not considered as one of the most sought-after careers in India. The perception in our country is that anyone can become a teacher. Contrast this with Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong which attract the top 30 per cent of school leavers. In Finland, only one in 10 applications is accepted to study to become a primary school teacher.

In India, teaching as a profession is not desirable because of underpayment. It’s a glaring issue which needs serious attention. Barring a few schools which adhere to the scales of the Pay Commission, most teachers are underpaid and subsequently, the teaching profession suffers from quality issues. In some private aided schools and colleges, teachers whose posts are not approved by the government, are paid less than domestic servants. A recent newspaper advertisement for job vacancies in a school in Srinagar, shamefully calls for applications for Chemistry lecturers (with M.Sc. qualification) @ Rs: 7000 per month and chowkidar cum sweepers @ Rs: 8000 per month.

Even in the posh international schools where the annual fees range from Rs. 6 – 10 lakhs, the managements prefer cheap labour. The teaching profession is dominated by women who still depend on their husbands, as the school salary is just pocket money for them.

As a consequence of the low salary, the quality of teachers has declined, and no class topper aspires to make it their profession.

Another visible issue that confronts the Indian education system, is overcrowded classrooms — going up to over 100 students per class at the pre-university and college level. The steep growth rate in student enrolment has not kept pace with growth in the number of teachers. The teacher-student ratio is never adhered to. Apart from managing a large crowd in the classroom, a teacher has no time for individual attention.

Statistics show that there are one lakh single teacher schools across the country. A visit to rural schools will provide a glimpse of the deplorable condition of one teacher handling multiple classes.

Another problem is that of workload—apart from overloaded academic routine, teachers are forced to involve themselves in non-academic matters like supervising the construction of classrooms and toilets, organising mid-day meals as well as depositing Scholarships amount in students’ accounts. Besides, the service of teachers in government and aided schools are utilised for all kinds of government surveys and census and polling duties during elections. Private school teachers are kept busy organising the school’s Annual Day, Sports Day and other special occasions. The teacher is in the school but not in the classroom.
Moreover, teachers return home and spend personal time and weekends with lesson plans, answer scripts and marking notebooks. This results in physical and mental exhaustion with little or no time for relaxation and recharging.

At the college level, teachers are expected to involve in extension and research activities together with the elaborate documentation during the NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) accreditation process.

Teaching is not the prime occupation it was earlier. Naturally, teachers are under motivated. Under motivation is also because of low pay, lack of support from administrators and sometimes they are burdened with subjects they are not equipped to handle or interested to teach. When students’ results are not up to the mark, the blame is put on the teachers, even though the results are based on a faulty examination system which stresses on memory rather than critical thinking. Besides, teachers don’t have a voice and have no say about educational policy which many a time is left to the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats.

A teacher must also play multiple roles. She/he must be a subject expert, mentor, counsellor, parent, psychologist, leader and organiser as well as be well versed in technology in today’s tecno-savvy world. A good teacher has to constantly update herself with the latest trends and best practices in teaching. The high performing countries keep professional development and training of teachers as one of their top priorities. Indian education has not ventured into these new avenues and methodologies and is stuck with blackboards and classrooms. The use of technology, barring a few elite schools, is nowhere to be seen. This may be due to lack of resources, but it can also be attributed to a lack of foresight.

On teacher’s day, it is appropriate to quote Dr. Radha Krishnan who remarked “Until and unless we have dedicated and committed teachers who take to teaching as a mission in their lives, we cannot have good educational system.”

The problems highlighted so far directly concern teachers. We shall now focus on two issues—public funded education and commercialisation of education—which have a direct impact on the teaching fraternity.

Public funded education

The right to education is a constitutional right, and education, whether primary or higher, is a constitutional commitment. Public-funded educational institutions in India are playing a vital role in the empowerment of the poor.

When public funding is stopped, free or subsidised education will also stop. It will create a situation where education is denied to the poor and becomes the prerogative of only the privileged.

The rationale for continuation of the age-old public-funded subsidised system needs to be highlighted. A vast and populous poverty-driven country like India needs a state-sponsored education system to tap its enormous human potential and churn out scientists, engineers, doctors, as well as thinkers and philosophers. Countries like USA, Canada and South Korea spend a large chunk of their national budget on Higher Education. Why not India?

The decreased funding pattern will only bring about the slow death of Public-funded Education system replacing it with private education. Privatisation will deny access to education to those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to pay for education.

If public education is discontinued, upright teachers will be denied secure service conditions and academic freedom. Education, including Higher Education is recognized as public goods with the State being held primarily responsible for its supply. Many countries, both developed and developing, have been maintaining public education system from KG to PG.

Commercialisation of education

Education is no longer a noble profession but a business enterprise, a profit-making opportunity. Gone are the days when philanthropists and socially committed individuals established schools with the sole purpose of providing education to the community.

Schools and colleges have become teaching shops, students have become customers and the rich who have invested in this ‘business’ have become stakeholders. When education becomes an industry involving a lot of investment, profiteering occupies the centre stage of education. In the name of relevance, courses in arts, sociology, history and literature have been rendered redundant. Subjects as science and mathematics assume more importance than literature or art, merely because later on they provide remunerative jobs in the market.

Commercialisation of education means advertising the product (playschool, school, university) in a way that appeals to the consumer (student and parent). Many elite private schools are established by real estate developers or politicians who have no idea of what education is all about. When the student is reduced to a mere consumer, what is the fate of millions of poor yet deserving students? Every child has a right to education and is also entitled to equal opportunity to get the best the system has to offer.

The role of a teacher is increasingly reduced to that of an employee in such an enterprise. A teacher is no longer an important entity participating in decision-making and advocating the best interest of the child. A teacher is expected to follow the line and work for the best interest of the enterprise (namely the sponsors and trustees). Thus the corporate sector redefines education as business, students as commodities and teachers as workers.

Education is not a product to be traded and auctioned to the highest bidder. Knowledge should cover the whole expanse of life--material, aesthetic as well as the philosophical—and not just cater to professional courses in demand.

Teaching is both a challenge as well as an opportunity for the teachers. In the face of continuous attack on the age-old public-funded education system in the world as well as in India the role of the teacher assumes significance. Teachers should come forward to defend public education and to work for the realization of education as a fundamental right.

(The author is Associate Professor and former President of Association of Mangalore University College Teachers)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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