Though the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has ensured a near universal enrolment for children under the age of 14, the quality of teaching remains abysmal. The last Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) shows that in 2010, 46.3% of all children in Standard V could not read a Standard II level text. This proportion increased to 51.8% in 2011 and further to 53.2% in 2012. In 2010, of all children enrolled in Standard V, 29.1% could not solve simple two-digit subtraction problems. This proportion increased to 39% in 2011 and further to 46.5% in 2012. Given that the government plans to spend an additional R25,000-30,000 crore a year under the Right to Education to recruit more teachers to reduce the pupil to teacher ratio from 40:1 to 30:1, what is the solution?
A study by Karthik Muralidharan of the University of California and Venkatesh Sundararaman of the World Bank confirms what has been seen in various cases, of para-teachers delivering better results than permanent ones who also cost several times more money. Over a two-year period, in a sample of schools in Andhra Pradesh, the duo found students taught by contract teachers in government schools performed 0.15 standard deviations better than those taught by regular teachers in English and maths—just 9% of the contract teachers had regular teaching degrees as compared to 98% for the permanent teachers. Regular teachers, the study found, tended to be absent 27% of the time as compared to 18% for contract teachers. This study, it has to be pointed out, is not the first one, many others have come to the same conclusion. Given this, the last thing the government should do as it goes on its teacher recruitment drive is to hire permanent teachers since, as the Andhra study shows, they cost 5 times more and don’t teach as well either. Otherwise, as various ASER studies have shown over the years, while the government will continue to pour in money into the RTE, parents of children will vote with their feet and the proportion of children enrolled in government schools will keep falling with each passing year.