Teachers' Strike and the Learning Problem
In the month of April and May 2015, there was hardly any academic work happening in schools in Bihar. Thousands of school teachers teaching in primary and secondary government schools (mainly Niyojit or contractual teachers) went on indefinite strike from April 9 with a specific demands of ‘equal pay for equal work’. The strike ended on May 13. This strike resulted in the delay of admission procedures including the beginning of the next academic year.
Around 3.5 lakhs contractual school teachers went on strike, their demand focused on pay hike and better working conditions, and the regularization of their services (although they can serve this post till 60 year of age, they are not considered as government teachers). Similar protests/strikes by the contract teachers in Bihar have often taken place in recent years for various reasons.
The intent of this blog is not to comment on the validity of teachers’ demands or try to establish any relation between teacher salary and learning outcome, rather focus on the root cause of the contract teacher strike and its impact on learning problem. The blog attempts to explain how the faulty teacher recruitment policy of the state government not only led to these strikes, but the lack of recruitment of good quality teachers by the state government deepen the problem of low learning levels in schools as shown by the ASER reports[i].
The current scenario of school education
Many reports[ii] suggest that in more than a decade in Bihar the number of Niyojit teachers have increased, along with new schools and classrooms. Many government schemes provided scholarships, uniforms and bicycles to students which led to a massive rise in enrollment, including that of girl students. This increase in enrollment of girls, is a great achievement.
One side the progress in infrastructural development has taken place, but at the same time one of the prominent education survey, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2014[iii] says the learning level of children in elementary government schools in Bihar has been declining. This raises a deeper question: despite various development taking place at the school level, why is the learning level of the child not improving?
Amongst many reasons, this blog argues that though the recruitment of teachers- a necessity for school education - has been done by the state government, the recruitment policy adopted by government was faulty and has caused the learning problem in school.
Faulty recruitment policies
Teaching, to a large extent depends on the quality of teacher and their interest in teaching and their skills/capacity. In 2003 due to lack of adequate teachers in schools, the then government passed a resolution for the appointment of Shiksha Mitras at the Panchayat level for a period of 11 months. Their selection was based on class 12th marks and were appointed by the local representative mainly Gram Panchayat chief (Mukhia) for Panchayat teacher, block representatives at block level. The purpose of appointing Shiksha Mitras was to provide a second teacher in schools, where there was only one teacher and an additional teacher where there was more than one teacher. Since 2003, the Bihar government has appointed more than 3.5 lakhs Niyojit teachers who are working on a fixed salary. A major chunk of these teachers were recruited during the term of the Nitish Kumar government (2005-onwards). Their contract got renewed and later in July 2006 they became Niyojit teacher who can serve till the age of 60 years. While their salary was not made equivalent to the permanent teacher, it was increased from Rs1500 to Rs 4000 per month.
Since the beginning of the appointment of these Shiksha Mitras, government compromised with quality. Qualifying exams were not conducted and by making the Mukhiya (Panchayat chief) the appointing authority, nepotism and corruption increased at the panchayat level as well. There were cases[iv] filed in court about the contentious teacher appointment. The major outcome of this faulty recruitment policy was, the number of disinterested and low teaching quality people increased. More than half the total teachers recruited were untrained (till 2012), the highest in terms of numbers amongst other states and little behind Jharkhand (Jharkhand was top in this list) in terms of percentage.[v] The state government has started to give them the opportunity to attend two years teacher training course with IGNOU during their service period. However, in December 2013, when a class 5 level test was conducted for the teachers who attended this course, around one-fourth of the total 43,447 teachers failed in this test.[vi]
This effected the teaching-learning process in the school in which students suffered most. But who got the benefit from this faulty policy? Government benefited the most, as they got teachers in school at very low wage and the second beneficiaries were those who got the job.
For a government job
Why are people so keen to get a limited contract job for a short period at such a low wage? One reason could be, the high rate of unemployment in the state. Then there are some social and political causes as well for this chaos. Any informal conversation with Niyojit teachers reveals that initially they were only interested in getting a government job and the salary was not as important. They had hoped that once they are inside the system, they would not be thrown out so easily (which became the case later). But once inside the system, their desire changed and later many of them questioned ‘why is the government expecting more from us, even though they do not pay us equal to what the permanent teacher get for the same job. If the government would treat all teachers equally (in terms of salary and other perks) then the learning level would increase’.
The teacher’s strike has ended and due to 2015 being the election year, the government has announced a new pay scale (Rs5,200-20,200) for all the contract teachers from July 2015 onwards. This decision serves the teachers and politicians. The teachers might get happy, along with the ruling party which hopes that this announcement may benefit them in the upcoming election. But one of the main purpose of the recruitment of teachers remains unfulfilled!
The reason is very clear, the learning problem is not dependent only on teacher’s salary (the pay hike of the teacher cannot be denied as they need it for the motivation to work) but it depends more on the quality of teachers and their interest in teaching. Since government has undermined this basic issue and their faulty policy created a bad noise in the school. In this situation the learning levels of children are not going to improve.
For better learning outcomes, the government needs to ensure the appointment of good quality teachers and make sure teachers teach children properly and regularly.
Note: Author of this blog would like to thank Anindita Adhikari and Papia Samajdar for their comments and suggestions.