Teachers' problems - Ensuring a Learning India S5 E.003

[28th post in 'Ensuring a Learning India' series. 42 in total. One post per day. 14 more to go.]

Public school teachers are the first to receive the blame in any discussion on government school education in India, some of it may be true and some may be false but blaming and criticism is no solution. Any solution to address this issue has to first start with empathizing with their problems and solving them. This post discusses the problems faced by public school teachers as reported by them. Two studies capture these details, PROBE 2006, Mooij and Vimala Ramachandran’s studies. The text below has relevant excerpts from these reports.

PROBE 2006

"The most significant problem reported was that schools had too few teachers. Apart from their teaching load, teachers had day‐to‐day responsibility for the supervision of the midday meal scheme and the filling of the attendance register. At the start of the year, they were involved in enrolment campaigns. Through the year teachers had to provide regular data to the authorities at block level. They also had to report on other incentive schemes, and to work closely with the community in education committees. Much of the work with the latter appeared to involve construction, as mentioned earlier.

Shortage of teachers: Nearly three‐fifths of class 1 teachers interviewed complained of the shortage of teachers. As an irate teacher of the primary school in Dudhiyawa (Purvi Champaran district, Bihar) said, “Firstly, three teachers have to teach five grades, and on top of that the authorities keep calling us [to the office] (ek to yahan teen teacher milkar paanch kakshaon ko padhao aur doosra samay‐samay par adhikaari bula lete hai)”.

Curriculum and language related issues in textbooks and classroom transactions: Over and above the problem of having to teach large numbers of children, primary school teachers complained about the difficulties related to the content of the prescribed textbooks. The class 1 teacher of the primary school in Dharkiro (Dhanbad district, Jharkhand) mentioned how “the questions and answers in the children’s textbooks are quite difficult for them [to understand] (bachchon ke kitaab mein prashn uttar hain jo unke liye kaafi mushkil hain)”. Teaching Class 1 children in Hindi was a problem. Teachers are not necessarily equipped to teach in the child’s mothertongue. The Class 1 teacher of the primary school in Burjangsar (earlier in Churu and now in Bikaner, Rajasthan) mentioned how “language is a problem ‐‐ they don’t understand Hindi, only their local dialect…[so] they take longer to learn (language se dikkat aati hain ‐‐ hindi nahi samajhte, sirf apni local language samajhte hain…seekhne mein inhe samay lagta hai)“.

Illiterate and poorly educated parents: Problems associated with teaching children of poor and illiterate parents were mentioned by close to one‐sixth of teachers. These are a sample of the teachers’ comments indicating parents’ limited engagement with the schooling of their children.

“Parents are poor; we have to go to their houses every day to persuade them to send their children to school (garib janta hain, inke bachchon ko hamey ghar se baraabar samjhaakar daily aane ke liye kehna padta hai)”, said a teacher.

Parents don’t pay attention to their children’s studies. Even if we tell them to send their children regularly to school, they don’t pay any attention (bachchon ke maata pita padhai ke baare mein dhyaan nahi dete hain. Jab ham log unse kehte hain ki apne bachchon ko niyamit school bhejen tab bhi voh dhyaan nahi dete hain),” said a teacher in Bagdar (Jhalawar district, Rajasthan). Parents don’t bother to send children clean and tidy, children are not regular and parents take no interest in their children’s studies (bacchon ko saaf‐suthra nahi bhejte hain, bachchen niyamit school nahi aate aur abibhaavak bachchon ko padhaane mein koi ruchi nahi rakhte)”, said the Class 1 teacher of the upper primary school in Kultana (Pali district, Rajasthan).

 Low and irregular salaries: In terms of difficult work conditions, contract teachers resented being paid low and irregular salaries. The problems were most acute for contract teachers in Bihar. A Class 1 teacher from Chana Badgaav (Bhagalpur district, Bihar) said, “The pay is very little and we don’t get paid on time. The salary we get should be given by the government and not by the panchayat authority (maneya bahut kum milta hain, aur samay par nahi milta. Vetan jo milta hai, sarkaar ke maadhyam se milna chaahiye, panchayat rajya se nahi milna chaahiye). His experience was echoed by the class 1 teacher of the primary school in Belari (Bhabua district, Bihar) who said that they got paid every 5‐6 months.

The 2006 Survey found an increase in the proportion of teachers who pursue a secondary source of livelihood, possibly because there were more contract teachers in the system with low and irregular salaries. A substantial proportion of teachers who live in the same village where the school is located, do farming in addition to their work in school, and this included both permanent and contract teachers.

Poor travel conditions to school: For some of the teachers, getting to school is an ordeal. “Travelling from far away is a problem. I come 30 km by cycle (door se aane mein samasya hai. 30 km cycle se aate hain)”, said the Class 1 male teacher in Sukhad (Shahdol district, MP). Those who were dependent on public transport were further constrained by limited frequency of such services in many areas, and the distance of the village from the bus stop.

In this context, appointments to schools in “road‐point villages” were preferred by teachers. On the positive side, with the appointment of locally recruited contract teachers, the accessibility of schools
For teachers has increased considerably between 1996 and 2006. There has been an increase in the proportion of Class 1 teachers residing in the same village from 37 per cent in 1996 to 50 per cent in 2006. The average commuting time to school in 2006 was as low as 20 minutes.

Problems voiced by female teachers: Female teachers, in general, struggled with the double burden of responsibilities at school and home. In addition, difficult travel to and from the school was cited as a problem by nearly half the female teachers. “There is no transport to travel to and from the school; I also feel unsafe, it’s isolated…one has to travel through the jungle (aane jaane ke liye gaadi ka abhav, asuraksha bhi mehsoos karte insecurity during travel to the school, there was also the possibility that a teacher felt insecure even at the school. For instance, the female teacher in Jhigarghat (Mandla district, MP) complained of “drunken men around the school."

 ‘Why School  Teachers are Demotivated and Disheartened’ [i] - Vimala Ramachandran. 

The author narrates, “In one district of north India I asked a group of teachers who, according to them, was a motivated teacher. After thinking for a while, one of them said: “A ‘motivated’ teacher comes to school every day, does what he is told and provides information the higher-ups want!” I was puzzled with the answer. I probed further. Almost all teachers believed that daily attendance and complying with orders and requests for information were reasonable indicators of motivation. Administrators at the district level described a motivated teacher as one who was regular, did what she or he was told and was, by and large, compliant.”

This article cites seven constraints faced by teachers.

One, “most rural schools are multi-grade with one, or, at most two, teachers managing five classes. Teacher pupil ratios are also high in such schools.”

Two, “the social distance between teachers and children is wide in government schools (which cater to the very poor)”

Third, “teachers lack the skills to manage so much diversity in the classroom. Training programmes for teachers are designed keeping in view the situation in large urban schools where one teacher manages one class. The problems faced by teachers in multi-grade situations, where teacherpupil ratios are high, are rarely covered in training programmes.”

Fourth, “systemic issues dealing with corruption (payment for transfers/preventing transfers, deputations, appointments, promotions and special assignments) have vitiated the larger teaching environment in the country. Teachers say this has politicised the environment and actual teaching is rarely monitored. Building networks with patrons and supporters is more important. Teachers, who are in leadership positions in trade unions or affiliated to political parties in power, rarely attend school. Continuation in the job and/or in preferred posts depends on the teacher’s ability to strike the right chord with the people in power. As a result, a highly motivated and honest teacher is one who is transferred to difficult areas. He/she is saddled with a number of non-teaching duties and made a scapegoat when the need arises. So even though there may be no incentives for performing better, it certainly pays to build networks and cultivate godfathers”

Fifth, “teachers’ unions and block and district-level administrators claim they are asked to do a range of non-teaching tasks which take them away from the classroom. While statewise data has not been made public, a recent presentation made by Arun Mehta (NIEPA, January 2005) indicates that non-teaching duties accounted for only 1.6 per cent of working days. Teachers’ unions and local administrators disagree. They argue that the government may expect teachers to do such work after school hours, but invariably the teachers spend teaching time performing non-teaching assignments. The problem gets particularly severe during January-March when annual targets (especially, family planning) are reviewed by the district administration.”

Sixth, “teacher training has picked up since 1994 with almost all teachers expected to attend a range of training programmes every year. Many of these workshops are held during the academic session. Teachers are eligible for compensatory leave if they attend these workshops during vacations. This reduces teaching days. While the training programmes are intended to improve knowledge levels as well as skills – especially in child-centred teaching processes – teachers claim that these programmes add little value when the overall teaching environment, the examination system and other aspects of the school remain unchanged. Nearly all the teachers I interacted with in several states said training was a burden – it was neither planned well nor did it cater to their needs.”

Seventh, “teachers and administrators are continuously embroiled in court cases to do with promotions and placements, claiming arrears due to them and disciplinary action-related issues. Administrators explain that a lot of their time is spent attending to court cases filed by teachers. Teachers argue that they have no option but to go to court for justice. Teacher cadre management is highly politicised – both administrators and ordinary teachers are caught in a web of allegations and counter allegations. This has affected recruitment of new teachers in several states.”

Education and Inequality in India – A Classroom View - Majumdar and Moiji[ii]

The authors point out two additional factors apart from those mentioned above.

One, lack of recognition. They note “In Andhra Pradesh, we found a strong desire amongst schoolteachers not only to regain some of their status and respect from society, but also to get explicit appreciation from their superiors within the government. In fact, this was the main recurrent theme during the FGDs (Focused Group Discussions) in Andhra Pradesh. Individual teachers were ery interested in a word of praise and collectively teachers concluded that the lack of appreciation was one of the main factors demotivating them.

This craving for praise even went to the extent that they would welcome more serious monitoring and inspection.”

Two, lack of autonomy. “Despite the processes of middle-classisation and increasing political prominence (in West Bengal), teachers can also be viewed as relatively powerless street-level bureaucrats placed at the lowest rung of the administrative hierarchy (Lipsky 1980). Teachers are neither encouraged nor challenged to function as professional cadres. From our discussions with teachers it was apparent that there is not much scope for teachers to give inputs in curriculum setting, textbook selection etc., or for establishing inter-school networks of teachers that would facilitate peer interaction, support and professional exchange of ideas regarding innovative pedagogic practices and thus help teachers in their work.”

“Some teachers cleared resented (this) lack of decision space. The following quotes are from West Bengal, but we heard similar voices from Andhra Pradesh.

A head teacher mentioned to us that ‘teachers have hardly any role in making educational decisions; the department and the party know it all and decide everything. But teachers are the suitable people to take up these tasks, as they are close to the ground reality. Those who never set foot on the soil, own the land.’ Interestingly, the top-down dictats also get subverted some times. As a teacher candidly put it, ‘many central directives are lying frozen inside the files, as they are hardly suitable for our school and our students’. On another occasion, a teacher in a suburban school catering mainly to Hindi-speaking children from a working-class background expressed his frustration. ‘When a new decision is taken at the state level, teachers are not consulted at all. The government has now imposed a new evaluation system – i.e., external evaluation – of 4th grade children. Exams are to be conducted on three consecutive days, with tests on two subjects each day. It is unfair to make small children sit for two exams per day. Also, this will be used to grade schools, without taking into consideration the uneven background conditions of different schools’. (Here, he was referring to the fact that in his Hindi-medium school students had not even received the books last year)”.

In summary, teachers report that there are issues in access to schools, problems in school due to lack of infrastructure, lack of appropriate training to deal with situations in classrooms, non-academic tasks, unfair transfer policies, and lack of recognition and autonomy. Leave alone getting monetary incentives, it is interesting to note that there are few hierarchical levels in teaching profession. A primary school teacher can at most become a teacher in high school and then the head of a school, two to three promotions in a career of 30-35 years, which is unusual. May be it is possible to work in such scenarios without getting demotivated when one is doing routine tasks (cleaning, carrying files) but definitely not when one is doing a job as complex as a teacher.

[i] Why School Teachers are Demotivated and Disheartened – Vimala Ramachandran
[ii] Education and Inequality in India: A Classroom View -  Manabi Majumdar, Jos E. Mooij (Page 75)

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