Shrinking funding a worry, as is absent course correction
Even as the Centre’s spend on education, in real terms, has increased by more than a quarter over the last six years, there has been a steady decline in the spending on teachers’ training, an analysis of Budget numbers by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies published in IndiaSpend points out—from Rs 1,158 crore in FY15, the Budget estimate for FY20 is Rs 150 crore. Given how the right kind of teacher training is imperative for pushing up India’s dismal learning levels that successive Aser reports have pointed to—that the drop-out ratio jumps from 7% at the primary level to 25% at the secondary level is proof of the learning deficit getting worse over the years—the shrinking spend should be a cause for worry. The shortage of qualified teachers is one of the chronic ills afflicting India’s schools. The Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates that all government school teachers must possess the minimum qualification laid down by the National Council of Teacher Education. RTE guidelines from November 2010 called for teachers falling short of the level required of them to complete training by March 31, 2015; yet, in 2015-16, of the 6.6 million teachers at the elementary level, 1.1 million didn’t have the requisite training, and around 0.28 million of the 2 million secondary school teachers, too, lacked professional qualifications. The problem was particularly acute for the worst-peforming states on education like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, according to a 2018 study by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability—typically, these states spend very little on teacher training.
At the same time, the government needs to re-imagine teacher training. The NITI Aayog Three Year Action Agenda calls for enabling teachers for “pedagogy that focuses on teaching at the right level”. This means pre-service training can no longer take a back seat. It must be put on par with in-service training that has become the sole focus of the existing teacher training vision. The National Council on Education Research and Training (NCERT) has criticised the degree programmes for aspiring teachers for not allocating enough time and exposure for prospective teachers to get prepared for the realities of the classroom. The short duration of the programme also hobbles future-teachers’ ability to learn through non-academic methods. The curriculum too, NCERT believes, is deficient since it only imparts basic skills and leaves a teacher to train herself in an ad-hoc manner, in the classroom. Given the defined school-terms, this means an egregious waste of the student’s time. The government’s education vision is failing on in-service training, too. A 2016 NCERT report says the in-service “training cycle” is incomplete given the lack of evaluation and follow-up—out of 238 teacher training programmes, “only 89 programmes have evaluation and follow-up mechanisms adopted by them”. Such a lack of focus on correcting teacher training to bring in more effective pedagogy puts the future of millions of students in the country at jeopardy, and thereby, exacts a significant economic cost, in terms of unrealised productivity potential and poor employability.