On the eve of Teachers’ Day came a sad commentary, the AAP government in Delhi withdrew its proposal to appoint some 9,000 teachers. As per data tabled in the Lok Sabha, nearly 18% positions for teachers in government-run primary schools and 15% positions in secondary schools need filling urgently—in other words, we are short of one million teachers. The states with poor literacy levels have the worst shortages—nearly 70% of the posts for teachers in secondary schools in Jharkhand are vacant. This is made worse by teacher absenteeism of around 19-20%—some studies contend, though, this is because teachers have a lot of non-teaching work as well—and very poor quality of teaching, compounded by the fact that the adverse pupil-teacher ratio puts a strain on the already creaky system.
There has, of late, been some improvement in outcomes in government schools but this is far from enough. The proportion of Class 3 students who could read at least a Class 1-level text has increased from 40.2% in 2014 to 42.5% in 2016, as per ASER 2016, and the proportion of children who can read a Class 2-level text has gone up from 23.6% to 25.2%. Once you take into account the relative expenditure in government-run and private-sector schools, however, the gaps become starker. As per an Accountability Initiative study, the average public expenditure per government school student in 20 states in 2011-12 was `14,356 versus `6,257 spent per student in private unaided schools. Yamini Aiyar of the Centre for Policy Research, writing in the ASER 2016 report, highlights how learning outcomes have so far not been a focus of governments budgeting for education. Against such a backdrop, unless the government starts linking its spending to learning outcomes, a colossal amount of public money will continue to be wasted.
Things aren’t much better in the case of tertiary education. Gross enrolment ratios are up from 11% in FY13 to 24.5% in FY16, but the quality of teaching is clear from the fact that less than a handful of Indian universities ever figure in any global top-500 list in comparison with China’s growing numbers. The problem is compounded by inefficient higher education regulation—regulators like UGC/AICTE continue to stifle universities and institutions. After having promised a radical overhaul, including bringing in foreign competition, the government seems to be having second thoughts. That’s a lot of lessons on Teachers’ Day, both for the teachers as well as for those that hire them.