According to experts on trees, the spread of the crown of a cherry tree is mirrored almost exactly by the spread of its roots below the ground. Once a tree has taken firm roots, it can survive even on a rocky mountain face buffeted by powerful winds. To raise a tree or to foster people, we need a patient faith in their potential to flourish, and at the same time expertise to enable each one of them to bloom to their fullest potential. To the precise degree that we care for and offer our children, they will extend and spread their roots.
A primary school in Tikri, in block Kosaba of Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, is an example of how three trained teachers used their expertise and patient efforts to transform the school.
Few years ago, there were hardly any students in this school, but today it has 71 students. The school has witnessed almost 80% increase in attendance of students since the last two years, even when the school has no electricity supply, no water in the toilets, and no playground. It is the pertinent efforts of the teachers in the school which have brought about this change. The change is such that today when many parents who prefer to send their children to private schools have shifted their children to this government school. Based on the training that has changed their perspective of their role as a teacher, three of them implemented a 360-degree approach to achieve this victory. From introducing various fun-filled ideas to help generate interest of students in studying and attending school regularly, they have built personal equity with their parents and motivated the parents also to send their children to school.
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Until two years ago, caste-based discrimination was a way of life in this school. Children belonging to two different castes would not want to sit or have food together. Consistent efforts of these teachers ensured in building an enabling environment that supported equity and inclusion in the school. Today, you will see these children enjoying and playing in harmony.
In India, attending school regularly is a huge challenge for millions of children. Many children miss schools during harvesting and planting seasons, as they have to support their parents in the field, or they miss the school to take care of the younger siblings at home or they go with their parents to other cities in search of work and therefore miss out on many months of schooling.
Similar challenges existed in Tikri village and these teachers did not hesitate in walking an extra mile to overcome the challenges, from visiting homes of their students, engaging in dialogue with their parents, and making them understand the importance of education; they even held remedial classes for children who faced difficulties in coping up with other students. In this school, a student of standard V is capable of reading his own books. It is contrary to the annual report on education published by ASER, where the basis learning levels continues to fall in government schools. According to their latest report, less than 50% students of standard V can read textbooks of standard II. The situation is worsening in other learning level indicators as well.
The transformation of this particular school in a small village happened due to these teachers, thus proving the crucial role teachers can play in transforming the face of education.
However, shortage of teachers is a common phenomenon in the Indian education system. It is starving of teachers and more to say capable teachers. There is a shortage of over 10 lakh government teachers at present. According to the District Information System for Education (DISE) of the Union ministry of human resource development, the academic year 2014-15 saw 41.55% of the 7.6 lakh primary-only schools in the country staffed by only two teachers. Further, 11.62% had only one teacher and 0.84% (6,404) did not have any teacher at all. Of the total 12.6 lakh schools in India, including those with primary, senior secondary and higher secondary sections, 28.68% have only two teachers, 8.84% have only one, and 0.91% (11,249) have no teacher at all. India’s most populous and a relatively backward state Uttar Pradesh is short of 2,69,539 teachers at the primary level.
To add to it, the government is consistently depending on ad hoc measures and recruiting contractual teachers. During the last 15 years, there has been an enormous expansion of contractual teachers in several states. The trend of downsizing permanent staff began in the 1990s when the economic reforms were in full swing. States started doing that to manage their fiscal crisis, and to reduce expenditure, some states started recruiting contract teachers. In 2014-15, the total number of contractual teachers at the elementary level stood at 11.19 lakh, accounting for 14% of total teacher strength (DISE, 2014-15). In states like Bihar and Odisha, there have been no regular teacher recruitments taking place for a long time.
Such short-term solutions have an adverse impact on the quality of education as contract teachers are paid poorly, hence teach for namesake, or they are insecure and move out with the first option of getting a well-paid secured job elsewhere.
Of the existing government school teachers, over 20% are untrained. This is another critical gap which needs to be looked into, but has been overlooked by the government. The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) subcommittee of teachers and teaching had pointed out in 2012 that Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal together account for 6,06,000 untrained teachers. Despite the lack of trained teachers, spending on teacher training is constantly being neglected by most governments. Bihar is the only state which has allocated 1.6% of its school education budget in teacher training. In other states, it varies from 0.2% to 0.6%.
CRY’s on-ground experiences have also revealed that many teachers in the system have not gone through any pre-service training programme at all, and out of the trained teachers, many have still not developed a holistic understanding on education issues even after being part of the pre-service programmes. For any teacher, it is important to have a primary knowledge and understanding of foundational and pedagogic areas to enable him/her to provide the best support on the field, leading to quality learning outcomes amongst the children.
While the intent of the government is visible in its policies, there is a huge gap when it comes to taking action to implementing them on the ground. A radical shaking up of the entire process is required to assure equitable deployment of qualified, motivated and well-supported teachers for all children. There must be a profound improvement supported by adequate investment in the range of related domains in teacher education and professional development. The scope of efforts in this direction needs to be much wider and should include teacher selection, teacher preparation, continuous professional development, continuous academic support and teacher motivation.
Quality improvement will not happen unless the foundation, principles, content and methodologies of pre- and in-service training of teachers are re-looked at and changed. In addition, strategies should be implemented to enhance the positioning of teachers, and teaching as a profession, to attract capable candidates, who are ready to live and work in remote areas and teach disadvantaged children.
The author Vijaylakshmi Arora is director, Development Support, Child Rights and You (CRY).