UNESCO’s State of Education Report for India exposes Modi govt’s appalling apathy towards education sector

The report indicates that Modi govt’s National Education Policy 2020 needs to be revamped and points out the urgent need to improve quality, accountability and governance within the education sector


Dr Gyan Pathak

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of India states that ‘Teachers truly shape the future of our children – and therefore, the future of our nation’. However, the future of our children and the nation is endangered. We lack teachers in large number, many are under-qualified or not qualified, their service conditions are bad, and the quality of education is very low.

The learning experience, particularly that of the most marginalized and vulnerable students, has been compromised. COVID-19 has further worsened the condition. Though education is a concurrent subject, the Centre is chiefly responsible for it since it has a role in shaping it through several missions, schemes and regulatory norms enabled by the Right to Education Act, 2009.

The third edition of UNESCO’s State of Education Report for India 2021 titled ‘No Teacher, No Class’ focuses on teachers and reminds us of the ground reality “to inform and enhance the current and future programmes and policies aimed at the overall development of teachers in India.” The report indicates a clear need to revamping Modi’s NEP 2020, released last year when all educational institutions were under lockdown, and was even celebrated for its completion of one year without a single day of their opening.

The report points out that there is increasing urgency to improve quality, accountability and governance within the education sector. There were 9.7 million teachers in 2019-20. The private, unaided sector accounts for 30 per cent while the government sector employs about 50 per cent. Pupil-teacher ratios are adverse in secondary schools.

Moreover, there is no information on availability of special education, music, arts and physical education teachers. The availability and deployment of subject teachers too is not well documented and monitored. Around 1.1 lakh schools are single-teacher entities and almost all single-teacher schools are in rural areas. About 19 per cent i.e .about 11.16 lakh teachers’ positions in schools are vacant, and 69 per cent of them are rural areas.

Increase the number of teachers and improve the terms of employment of teachers in both public and private schools, it recommended. There is also a pronounced need to improve both availability and deployment of qualified teachers in the north-eastern states of India. In terms of basic amenities, the working conditions of teachers in the north-east and the ‘aspirational districts’ are poor.

Provisions of school libraries is low, information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure is very low, and there is marked rural-urban disparity, the report mentions. It clearly exposes how badly the education sector has been treated by the Modi government, despite the much publicized flagship programmes, even for the north-east or the aspirational districts.

Women account for about 50 per cent of the teaching workforce, but there are significant inter-state and urban-rural variations. The majority of teachers in urban areas are women, in contrast to rural areas. The early childhood education, special education and private unaided schools sectors are also highly feminized.

The teaching workforce has a deficit of over one million at current student strength and the need is likely to grow, given the shortage of teachers in certain education levels and subjects such as early childhood education, special education, physical education, music, arts, and curricular streams of vocational education. In 15 years, about 30 per cent of the current workforce will need to be replaced.

The teaching profession has average status in the country, but it is a career of choice for women and youth from rural areas in particular. Private school teachers and early childhood education teachers are highly vulnerable groups, with many working without contracts at low salaries, with no health or maternity leave benefits. Teacher governance remains a focal area for systemic reform, accounting for 70 per cent of governance metric score in the Performance Grading Index.

Teacher workload is high – contrary to public perception – although invisible, and a source of stress, the report emphasized. Teachers value being given professional autonomy, and disregard of this is demotivating. Teachers’ voices in the system in matters of policy and governance can be enhanced through professional teachers’ networks, and unions, it suggested. Most accountability systems tend to emphasize monitoring. Professional standards need to be made a part of a larger system and used in the context of professional development rather than accountability.

A large proportion of teacher education programmes in India are run in ‘self-financed’ colleges. Their geographic spread across the country is uneven. There are very few programmes to prepare special education, vocational education, arts and music education teachers.

Though by volume, admissions in B.Ed. programme seem to be stable, there are fewer science students opting for it in several states. D.El.Ed and M.Ed programmes are shrinking. Pre-service teacher education curricula still need to be improved, and supported with Indian-language teaching-learning resources.

The report noted that a large number of teachers are still under-qualified – 7.7 per cent in pre-primary, 4.6 per cent in primary, and 3.3 per cent in upper primary. While in-service teacher education is widespread and now incorporates technology, research is needed to understand its impact and to identify which models work.

The report also looks at teachers’ experience of ICT. During the COVID-19 induced shut down of educational institutions, there was much talk about online classes. However, teachers felt it was time-consuming, and that they lacked professional skills, even as a large proportion of students had limited or no access to devices and data. The pandemic also exposed the vulnerability and insecurity of teachers.

That is why the report asked to recognise teachers as frontline workers. Since the Modi government has come in power in 2014, the country has been witnessing numerous protests by teachers on account of their professional autonomy being devalued through several policy interferences. The recommendation - Value the professional autonomy of teachers – is therefore noteworthy.

It has also recommended for building teachers’ career pathways along with restructuring of pre-service professional development and strengthening curricular and pedagogical reform, supporting communities of practice, providing teachers with meaningful ICT training, and developing teaching governance through consultative processes based on mutual accountability.

(IPA Service)

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