5 July 2008, Subodh Verma, TIMES INSIGHT GROUP

India faces a drought of teachers

Education is supposed to be the first step in nation-building. But India simply doesn't have enough teachers. The country already faces a shortage of 8 lakh teachers in primary and middle schools. And the situation is going to get even worse.

About 10% of teachers at this stage are above 55 years of age. With 6.5% teachers expected to retire or leave the profession each year, some 35 lakh teachers will be left at the primary and middle level by 2011 — a colossal shortfall of almost 25 lakh teachers.

That’s the worrying conclusion that emerges after looking at latest figures available from the District Information System for Education. If you consider the total number of children aged 5-14, who should be studying in Classes I-VIII, there were about 24 crore children in this age group in 2006. The recommended pupil-teacher ratio for primary classes is one teacher for 40 students — though in advanced countries, like the US or the UK, and even in China, this ratio is already below 30. However, even going by the ratio of 1:40, India needs 60 lakh teachers for Classes I-VIII, and has just 52 lakh — a figure which is set to shrink further.

The pupil-teacher ratio improves for higher classes — 1:33 for Classes IX to XII, 1:25 in higher education. But that’s because many students drop out. A more realistic picture emerges if you consider the total number in various age groups that could potentially be studying. If everyone in the age group 15-19 years were to start attending school, India would need about 38 lakh teachers for Classes IX to XII at a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:30 for higher classes. It actually has just 26 lakh teachers, a shortage of 12 lakh.

We are not feeling the crunch yet because enrollment is still low, drop-outs are high and so the present number of teachers are managing. But consider this: the right to education has been made a fundamental right and the government is working out its implementation. Once it becomes operational, children will have to study, and the government will be running short of teachers.

So, what is the government doing about this? Well, its focusing on quantity, even at the cost of quality. Teachers qualify from teachers training colleges (or their equivalents). In 1995, the National Council of Teachers Education (NCTE) was given statutory powers, including the power to recognize teachers education colleges, and set their quality standards. According to latest data, it has granted recognition to over 10,000 colleges since 1995.

In the process, NCTE relaxed the minimum norms for appointment of teachers who would be teaching future teachers. Thus, students pursuing BEd degrees are being taught by teachers who themselves have BEds, according to the latest NCTE norms.

In violation of UGC norms, these teachers need not have cleared the National Eligibility Test, a mandatory provision for teaching a graduate degree course.

In the desperation to churn out teachers in large numbers, little attention is being paid to their qualifications. According to a study by the National
University of Educational Planning and Education (NUEPA), about a quarter of all teachers taking Classes I to VIII have themselves studied only till the secondary stage. Another quarter have studied up to the senior secondary stage. So, educational qualification of almost half of all teachers is senior secondary or below. And it’s not as if they are being trained while in service. Only 31% of teachers got in-service training, as per the study.

Several state governments are also appointing para-teachers, or contractual teachers. Although at the all-India level, the proportion of para-teachers among all teachers is about 10%, several states have appointed them in large numbers. Jharkhand has about 39% para-teachers, UP 25%, Chhattisgarh 17%, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh about 14%. About 44% of these para-teachers are untrained and not specifically qualified to teach children. They are paid anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500 per month. It isn’t hard to imagine their motivation levels.

Regular teachers don’t fare much better. While pay scales vary from state to state, the central figure which serves as a benchmark is Rs 4,500 for primary school, Rs 5,500 for secondary level (graduate teachers) and Rs 6,500 for senior secondary level (post-graduate teachers). In many private schools, the pay is lower.

In higher education, the regulation of qualifications for teachers in general colleges and universities is much more stringent with norms being laid down by the UGC. However, there is considerable laxity within those norms. A study of the assessments done by the National Assessment & Accreditation Council (NAAC) of 1,473 colleges showed that about a quarter of teachers were not permanent — they were either classified as ‘temporary’ or ‘part-time’. In the latter two categories, over 80% of the teachers only had postgraduate degrees.

Among permanent teachers, over 30% were PhDs and 20% were MPhils, but among the temporary and part-time teachers the share of PhDs and MPhils was just 15-18%.

Whether it is schools or higher education institutions, having short-term appointments with low qualifications appears to be the policy of choice, perhaps to cut down on costs. But this begs the question, what will be the quality of education provided by such a system?

Times of India, July 5, 2008