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Teacher Shortage: Affecting More Than Just the Literacy Levels?

In a country where superstitions, social evils, illiteracy and unemployment enjoy a fairly dominant position in the society, the presence and perforation of education/educators within the social structure is of utmost importance. However, the current scenario for education in India is far from ideal. And among several other reasons, one of the primary reasons responsible for this is the acute teacher shortage to meet the current demand in the education sector.

According to a 2015 report by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), 74 countries face an acute teacher shortage. While Nigeria tops this list, India is second in terms of teacher recruitment required to meet the current education demand. Talking in absolute terms, India needs close to 370 thousand new teachers to meet its demand for primary education. About 3 million recruitments will be required for the same by 2030. And all this is despite the fact that the ‘number of positions to be opened’ for achieving the Universal Primary Education in India is under 1000. This number is 217 thousand for Nigeria. So, Nigeria clearly has at least one hurdle more than India.

Understanding the Teacher Shortage Crisis

The Parents-Teacher Ratio or the PTR is defined as the average number of students per teacher in a school. It is calculated by dividing the total number of students enrolled in the school by the total number of teachers available for them in the school. The output is based on the teachers’ headcounts and does not reflect part-time teaching or double-shifting. Hence, there is attrition in this ratio when teachers leave their jobs because of family reasons, better job opportunities or sometimes even involuntarily.

As of today, India needs about 370 thousand extra teachers to balance out the attrition rate plus the number required for the expansion of primary education in the country, which is governed by a growing population and targeted PTR. According to the Right To Education (RTE) Act, the ideal PTR required for the primary classes is about 30:1. This should be 35:1 for the upper primary classes. And according to Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the actual PTR in 2013-2014 was 28:1 & 30:1 in the primary and upper primary classes respectively. PTR was the lowest in 1950 and has only increased after that till 2010-2011 when it again started decreasing and reached the low number present during 2013-2014.

Today, a very low PTR is certainly not the need of the hour, because it can also imply less number of students, which is primarily the reason why PTR of government schools is significantly less compared to the PTR of the more popular private schools. Similarly, a higher PTR is also definitely not a good sign because then the teacher’s focus can get divided over a large number of students. A moderately low PTR can mean fewer students or more teachers. And it’s towards the latter part, i.e., more teachers, that India should strive towards.

Alternatively, even if the international PTRs are to be considered as the basis, India doesn’t perform satisfactorily. The best schools abroad are those where the PTR is between 10-20. According to the World Bank data, the PTR in the USA & China for the primary schools is 14 & 17 respectively, even when these are also the countries with a huge population. They have a far better PTR than India.

Although the PTR of 28:1 is the best number we’ve achieved so far after 1950, it might be a false indicator. It is because there are many schools where teachers and students are registered by pseudo or false names. Additionally, the PTR is also non-uniformly distributed over different states. For example, the states of U.P & Bihar had a PTR of 79 & 76 respectively when India had an overall PTR of 43. Here, we can also say that the PTR itself is a weak indicator of the true condition of our education system. A good PTR for us is absolutely a necessary criterion, but not a sufficient one in itself.

Reasons & Antidotes

The government-run schools are reluctant to fill up the vacant, permanent posts of teachers as that will involve increasing the overall budget. So, it appoints teachers temporarily on an ‘ad hoc-basis.’ Essentially, this trend of appointing teachers on an ad hoc-basis was a strategy that was started during the early 90s. This was a time when the countrywide economic reforms were being implemented by the Government of India. The ad hoc teachers in a government school are paid merely some 700 INR compared to the huge amount of 50,000 INR per month of a full-time TGT. What the country doesn’t realize while doing this is that how badly the quality of education suffers. By the time the ad hoc teachers understand the needs of the students, they have to leave their jobs or move to another school. In a situation like this, teachers themselves also look for other opportunities which are of a ‘permanent nature,’ and when they can’t find them, they move in a different direction altogether.

Another major reason for having such a low number of teachers in the country and the lack of enthusiasm for this profession is because of the emoluments offered to school teachers, be it in private or government schools. It doesn’t mean that the youth is not interested in a teaching job; had it been the case, the huge coaching industry that offers good money would not have flourished so much in the country. It’s essentially because of the lucrative pay, which is offered in these coaching industries that many are choosing the teaching option there over the low-paying jobs such as school teaching. There are some people who are really passionate about teaching, but they don’t want to avail the option of becoming a teacher in a school only because of the inadequate compensation being offered there. Hence, for luring fresh talent into the profession of teaching, the government will have to step up financially.

However, while some believe that the money is the real issue, in this case, the others provide a completely different perspective. They opine that there are anomalies in the recruitment policies itself. As per them, the teachers are selected by the state and then assigned to the system, while not exactly to a school. It means they are essentially teachers of the system, who are teaching in a school. In such a situation, the involvement and engagement of the teacher is less. Instead, if the teacher is allotted directly to a school, there can be better chances of deeper involvement and engagement.

The teacher shortage in the country quantitatively is one issue, and the shortage of ‘qualified teachers’ is another. In some efforts to quickly increase the number of teachers in the system, quality is being compromised on at some places. A very important part comprising the teacher recruitment is the Teachers Eligibility Tests or the TETs. Less than 20% candidates clear these TETs, and at least 14 states have exempted candidates from taking TETs. This poses a threat to the quality of education being offered to students. Though there are training institutes for teachers, but their distribution varies a lot. Also, these aren’t properly institutionalized as they should be. In one study, one of the teachers couldn’t even tell the exact location of the training institute when asked by Ashok Agarwal, an advocate who works in litigation around education. To fix such situations, training should be linked to the university system, which is not the case with the current elementary teacher training. Even if it is a slow process, it will definitely improve the quality of teachers.

There is also one very important yet often neglected aspect here. More than 65% of the Indian population resides in rural India. Speaking very blatantly yet honestly, education is a joke in these rural areas. First of all, there are schools where a single teacher manages close to 100 pupils. Secondly, both these parties, i.e., the teachers as well as the pupils refrain from going to school altogether. ‘Asidha‘, a village in central U.P. has a single floor building in the name of the school. Here, none of the students seem to know who their teachers are. Few of them didn’t even know the exact location of the school. Thus, education in rural India requires a very significant effort and transformation. Education campaigns have been launched and seem to be doing a good job. However, frequent surprise visits should also be made to these schools to check the attendance of both the teachers and the students there.

According to MHRD, 41.55% of the 7.6 lakh primary-only schools in the country were being managed by just two teachers. 11.62% had only one teacher, and 0.84% (6,404 schools) did not have any teacher at all! UP & Bihar currently have an alarming teacher shortage.

This issue of teacher shortage is not just in our country. It is a global issue indeed. According to a 2012 policy paper published by UNESCO, of the total 27.5 million teachers required by 2030, 25 million are to replace the teachers who are retiring or leaving due to other reasons.

The blame for all these issues mentioned above cannot be attributed only to the government. There have been steps proposed and implemented by the government to improve the situation. However, some of them succeed, some don’t. For instance, the duration of B.Ed. & M.Ed. courses used to be just one year before 2015. It was changed to 2 years from the academic session 2015-16 onwards. Even the Union Minister for HRD, Mrs. Smriti Irani, is coherent with the university system for teacher training. These are some real steps being initiated or implemented towards rectifying the teacher shortage both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The advent of technology has drastically altered the relationship between students and teachers. Have a look at how we can rekindle that bond, which has nurtured so many great minds of the world.

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