To address teacher shortage, pay better, give more autonomy
Unesco’s recent State of Education report for India paints a bleak picture of India’s strength of skilled teachers. The country is short of 11 lakh skilled teachers, with the rural parts of the country bearing the larger share of the deficit—69% of the vacancies are in schools in these areas. How acute the problem is for those lacking privilege is spelled out in the fact that 89% of rural schools in the country are single-teacher schools. No wonder, then, India had a mediocre showing in the UN’s education index (0.555 in 2019, the latest such data available), and ASER findings across years show how poor the learning outcomes are for students in rural areas.
Sure, teacher shortage is not a uniquely Indian problem; even developed nations like the US and Germany have to contend with this. However, contributing factors—even when some of these are common across nations—seem to be quite a few degrees worse in India. Teachers in the country have to contend with lack of job security, low salary, and the lack of benefits, respect associated with the profession, and autonomy— 43% of all teachers do not have a job contract at all, and, according to the Unesco report, they are one of the least paid public service professionals, which has consequences for the attractiveness of the profession. Private school teachers are worse off—of the 43% of teachers with no contracts, 69% teach in private schools, and they also earn around half of what their government-school peers get on average. Teachers also do not enjoy benefits such as pension, healthcare, or gratuity— only 41% and 11% of teachers employed by government and private schools, respectively, have access to all three. As for professional autonomy, private school teachers are pressured to stick to non-disruptive measures and large-scale innovative measures are frequently stonewalled by the school administration.
It is not as if the government—both the Centre and the states, given education is a concurrent subject—is oblivious. Some measures have been taken, but these have created more problems than solutions. According to the Unesco report, in order to fulfill the requirements, the standards of hiring teachers was lowered, which “effectively gave rise to large numbers of untrained and underpaid contractual teachers in the system.” While steps were taken to train these teachers, the lack of uniformity across states created learning gaps that got compounded with the passing of academic years. To date, at least 41% private-school teachers at all levels are underqualified. However, there is some hope as the National Education Policy 2020 tries to address several of these shortcomings such as improving work environment, focusing on teachers’ continuous development, and standards to regulate the profession.
Several other aspects, such as access to and proficiency in the use of digital resources, are another discussion altogether. The report lays down ten recommendations for the improvement of the current situation including obvious answers such as providing teachers with job security as well as the respect they deserve, along with providing proper training and creating an evolving career path. To truly succeed, as education researcher Gerald K LeTendre notes, policies must focus on teachers’ needs themselves.