By Vikram Kapur
More than 50% of India’s population is under the age of 25. Compare this to America’s at 33%, Britain’s at a little over 29% and China’s at a little under 30%. The demographics are in our favour, but this dividend is useless without a well-educated workforce. For this, we need a good school system. Herein lies the conundrum.
While we have enhanced school enrolment, the same cannot be said about our ability to impart learning. According to NGO Pratham, most Class 8 kids struggle with simple division, while only half of Class 5 kids can read Class 2 text.
These results reflect our failure to address structural problems related to teaching. Case in point: In Madhya Pradesh, in June 2019, eligibility tests were conducted for teachers from schools that consistently gave results of under 30%. Of the 5,891 teachers that appeared, as many as 1,351 failed. Also, the issue of teacher absenteeism, especially in rural areas, is endemic.
We need good teachers. But isn’t that too much to ask when you see how poorly teachers in India are paid? According to Naukri.com, the average annual salary of a teacher in India is just Rs 2.01 lakh. The worst culprits here are private schools that charge exorbitant fees from students, yet pay their teachers miserably. I have heard stories of teachers hired out of colleges for a mere Rs 10,000 a month. Thankfully, the situation in government schools is better, due to Seventh Pay Commission—the starting grade for a primary teacher is Rs 35,000 a month and a PG teacher can draw Rs 1.5 lakh a month.
Teachers have been expected to rise above such pecuniary considerations since teaching is viewed as a calling, not profession. But it is quixotic to expect that view to have much currency today. Even now we have plenty of teachers who lack the passion or commitment for teaching. They settle for it because they can’t get anything better. This could become endemic in the days to come if nothing is done to make teaching a more attractive proposition.
Good teachers inspire students, unlock a talent; it is essential to rescue teaching from the abyss in which it languishes. For as the former US president Lyndon Johnson said, ‘Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.’
The author is professor, Department of English, Shiv Nadar University