Who Will Teach The Teachers?

Educational reform in India is hostage to teachers. We must reduce their power

In the 2016 Union budget, education was listed as one of the nine pillars that would transform the country. While many reforms have taken place under the Modi government, like the introduction of the NEET test, choice-based credit system in higher education, and that of cashless transactions in CBSE schools, a quintessential component has been lacking – that of teacher reforms. A strong political lobby maintained by teachers in India has prevented teacher reforms from passing through. In fact, the constitution aids them in hoarding such political power by allocating separate constituencies for teachers. In the interest of education, it should be amended.

Absence and Antagonism

The 2014 Global Monitoring report noted that teacher absenteeism rates had soared in various states in India – 42% in Jharkhand, 38% in Bihar and 17% in Gujrat. The 2015 national absenteeism rate of teachers in India was 25%. Despite that, any measures to keep them accountable were discouraged by teacher unions. Recently, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) came up with a new initiative asking schools to transparently report certain parameters indicative of the quality of teaching, learning environment, education outcomes and infrastructure capabilities. Unexpectedly, 46 cases were lodged within a span of 15 days in 9 different high courts against such self-disclosure rulings of the NCTE.

Such opposition isn’t new. In Andhra Pradesh, faced with a proposition of installing biometric systems, teachers unions decided to go on an indefinite strike, and the idea was dropped. Similarly, in 2005, a draft of the Right to Education Act (RTE) actually proposed decentralizing punishment towards absent teachers in the hands of the local School Management Committees (SMC). It wanted to empower SMCs to deduct salaries in case of absence. Many teacher unions opposed the move, resulting in the removal of the clause from the final draft.

Moreover, in a 2014 UNESCO survey of over 3000 public schools, only one headmaster reported dismissing a teacher for absenteeism. This was in stark contrast to 35 headmasters in 600 private schools. Clearly, the need for the RTE clause was quite stark, yet its importance was subservient to the political influence of the teachers.Time and again, whenever any form of institutional reform or a new best practice is set to be introduced and adopted, the teachers have refused its implementation, knowing fully well that the education system is crippled and would suffer due to their opposition.

One wonders if the teachers really care about the education. But more than that, one ponders why is it that teachers have an important say about laws that are set to reform their own behaviour?

Politics and Reason

The reason for the large influence of teachers in political education reform lies in the special constituencies enshrined for them in states with a bicameral legislature – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Under Article 171 clause 3(c), 1/12th of the seats of the Legislative Councils are reserved for representation of the teachers. To contest from a teacher’s constituency one doesn’t have to be a teacher, but only secondary school teachers or beyond with a minimum of 3 years experience are eligible to vote. This puts immense power in the hands of the teachers to decide their representatives in the state councils. Such political power vested in teachers skews the incentives of elected politicians, preventing them from taking any steps which might hurt the teachers. Even though these are just seven states, they cumulatively carry almost 45% of India’s population.

Why was such a clause added? The Drafting Committee of the constitution was reasonable on most issues, but not on this one. As the Constituent Assembly debates describe, there were many voices of opposition against this particular article. Prominent members like Dr Deshmukh and KT Shah dissented, and raised a concern towards such a reservation for the representation of teachers. Arguments were made examining the particular value of secondary school teachers to be given such a privilege. But, amid the many dissenting voices, the Chairman of the drafting committee BR Ambedkar’s voice stood out in support of such a clause. In as many words, he said, “I do not know that those who have indulged in high flown phraseology in denouncing this particular article have done any service either to themselves or to the House…. We have to provide some kind of constitution (of the LC) and I am prepared to say that the constitution provided is as reasonable and as practicable as can be thought of in the present circumstances.” (Kingdon, Muzammil 2008.)

Clearly, these final words on this issue were far from logical. Maybe the intention behind this could have been to have a learned electorate elect certain members thus balancing out the corruption and power politics; or maybe there were other and more important issues to be discussed with a sense of urgency.

Irrespective of its applicability in the past, the current government needs to independently decide whether this clause is useful anymore.

In These Current Times

Teachers were looked at as learned members of the society, and empowering them in the process of nation building could be justified. But today, far from nation building, the teachers are ill-equipped to handle even their own classrooms. In fact, there is unanimous opinion that the quality of teachers in India is way below par. They are not considered elite or learned, and certainly aren’t equipped with any special skills to form an electorate of their own.

The training that the teachers receive is partly to blame. Even though there are many teacher-training institutes, the quality of training they provide is quite low. Out of the 13,000 odd colleges, only 1300 have been accredited by the NAAC in the last 15-20 years. While the NCTE is looking at institutionalising this chaos, the teachers and schools wouldn’t allow it by bombarding it with lawsuits in various states of India.

All this while their performance on standardised tests is abysmally low. This year in Tamil Nadu, only 34,979 teachers cleared the Tamil Nadu Teacher Eligibility Test out of the whooping 7.53 lakh. In Maharashtra, only 2.5% cleared the test in 2015 and Delhi didn’t fare any better at 2% in 2014. Over and above such appalling numbers, some states have exempted candidates from the TET, willing to accept below-par teachers in the workforce. The Madras High Court has also exempted teachers who have joined prior to 2011 from the test. Such is the case of teachers in India.

While we have seen former teachers – like Rajnath Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Kalyan Singh and Mayawati – hold important political offices in India, the evolution of the education system isn’t commensurate with the power vested in its representatives. Thus, irrespective of intentions, motives and beliefs, the constitution should be amended so that our children can get the education they deserve.

About the author

Prakhar Misra

Prakhar Misra is an Associate with IDFC Institute, a political economy think/do tank in Mumbai. Previously, he was a Chevening Scholar reading for a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Oxford. He was also a Chanakya Scholar at the Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics from where he earned his post-graduation in Economics and Finance. He has been a fellow with Teach For India and with the Swaniti Initiative.