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Teaching not attracting high quality talent

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, yes, today is the day to say to sir with love or to ma'am with love. Today is Teachers’ Day, the day to salute all teachers and also to remember our second president S Radhakrishnan whose birthday it is today and who was himself a great teacher. But where are the Dr Radhakrishnans today? Are there simply not enough high quality teachers’ today both in school and in college?

There are many instances of the teacher student relationship breaking down across India. How much of that is the responsibility of the teacher? Is the teaching profession not able to attract the best and brightest today that is the question we are exploring today. On our panel we have the best and brightest teachers tonight. Arun Kapur, Director of Vasant Valley School is joining us. Professor Geeta Kingdon, Chair of Education Economics and International Development at the Institute of Education, London University. Joining us Lata Vaidyanathan, Principal of Modern School, Delhi. Joining us Vimlendu Jha, Founder and Head of Swechha. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Arun Kapur some depressing statistics, if I can read out to you on Teachers’ day. Half of all students in India, this is a general survey across private and government schools, dropout by class 8, barely 30 to 50 per cent can read the alphabet in class one and barely 40 to 50 per cent can read simple words in class two. Thousands of children go through the school system but end up functionary illiterate. How much of this has got to do with teachers and is it that the teaching profession is not attracting the beats and the brightest today, as it did in the time of Dr Radhakrishnans, as it did in your time perhaps as you joined teaching out of idolism and commitment?

Arun Kapur: Well you started with such a depressing statement about teacher from Kolkata and this statistics can be made to look like anything, but I feel the bright and inspirational teachers are still coming to the profession and want to come to the profession. But unfortunately what has happened is over the years the avenues to become a teacher have become so mind deadening and soul deadening that the process of becoming a teacher that has almost bureaucratised, the curriculum that exists at this point in time, turns away lot of bright people who want to become a teacher. I mean, for example if you look at teach for India the really fantastic people who want to become teachers and are part of that group belies the fact that you said that the bright are staying away from being teachers. I think we keep them away, we have created walls and we have created very narrow ways of becoming a teacher. I’m part of the NCTA and I have been looking at some of the proposals for curriculum that have come up, they are so prescriptive, so mind deadening, so soul deadening… your question whether bright are attracted to teaching, yes, they are, but I think they are repelled by the process that has been put into place, that would make them teachers. The big problem here is lack of teacher educators, I mean, that is what we really need to look at. To inspire people who want to become teachers and make them the good teachers that they should be. So there are enough people who want to become school teachers, but there are not enough people who are teacher educators and that is what we need to really look at.

Sagarika Ghose: Who can inspire teachers. Let me get in Lata Vaidyanathan. Lata Vaidyanathan very important point made my Arun Kapur that the process of becoming a teacher is very difficult. Is it also because of a certain crisis of values at the school teaching profession, which is actually a profession which builds bases of society? It builds the society because it builds the next generation. It is a crucial vocation, but is this vocation not given the prestige, and not given the respect that it once did? Are the pay scale not good enough, is this why the school teaching profession which is a nation building profession, not attracting the best?

Lata Vaidyanathan: Sagarika, I would think that while I agree with lot of what Arun said, but not repeat exactly what he said. I like to say, you know, it doesn’t require a genius to become a teacher. What is required is somebody who loves this profession and therefore loves children, and is capable of transmitting that knowledge. Thinks have changed a lot since our days, or earlier days, when the guru on the stage was considered very important. Today, I think, he needs to mentor well, today he needs to facilitate well. The kind of multidimensional inputs that the children receive, the stimuli that they receive from the environment, I think really requires a very bright person to say there and make sure that these children do well. But here is the question, that are we not attracting the best, I would think not so much the teachers who would want to be in profession but the social set of values that exist in today’s environment really puts them off. I don’t think it is too much story about money; it is not too much about how much they earn.

Sagarika Ghose: But why is it not about money? Would someone who is at the top of the line, when it comes to talent, be attracted to teaching or would be prefer a job with a multinational or with a bank or much more lucrative profession? So the salary structures need to change, is that also a primary consideration?

Lata Vaidyanathan: Yes, see I think it should change, they should be at power with other leading professions so that we attract the best minds, this is one aspect and that is a given. But I do believe that even the social set of values need to change. Today teachers are not being valued in society. And they should be allowed to live a dignified life and not being said that ‘teacher hai who kaise bhi jee laga’. I think, today all the teachers are suffering and we all need to as a society look up and look at what needs to be done to make them financially as competitive as any other profession, so that the ones who want to come to school and teach must teach. At the same time I would like to add one more point, there is a gradation even with in the schooling system. People who step into the primary education use it as a stepping stone to move on to the secondary schooling system, and beyond. And they say they say if they get a college job, they will go. I can clearly see a financial input in that; I wish we treat each area as very specific. An area that requires expertise and therefore, I think, there should be any kind of discrimination between the levels they teach. Each area requires expertise. I think, of course it should be made as competitive, it should be made attractive and the government, the management and the society needs to take responsibility and make it a better attractive.

Sagarika Ghose: So the salaries need to be competitive, the administrations need to make it attractive for the best minds to come to teaching. And you also made an important point that as a society they institution of the guruji needs to valued. The government has to go out of its ways and restore the stature of the teacher. Geeta Kingdon, let me bring to the point about the… you have written a book ‘The Political Economy of Education in India’, which of course brings out the politicisation of the teacher. I will come to that point is just a bit. I want to first ask you, how do you think in government schools, the huge short fall of teachers, can be made up? We have a short fall of 12 lakh teachers across government schools. How can this huge shortfall in your opinion be addressed?

Geeta Kingdon: Well you are absolutely right, there is a shortfall and the reason for that shortfall now, in particularly, is because of the enactment of the Right to Education act, which requires that for every 30 children there should be one teacher. So if one is going to implement that norm naturally the number of teachers required is greater than what we have right now. Now who are we going to deal with this shortage? It is the case that in India unemployment rate is of the order of 10.5 per cent among people who have BA and MA degrees. Among those who have graduation and more, unemployment rate is more than 10 per cent. So in principle that is a very large number of people. So in a sense we don’t have a shortage of people who are qualified to become teachers. But the Right to Education act also requires that the individual who is going to teaching also have to teach a training qualification. But we do not have sufficient number of teacher training institutions, those that exist are of dubious quality. So the challenge of getting a sufficient number of teachers to fulfil the norms under RTE act is a challenge not of availability of people who have the requisite education qualification but more of a challenge of getting people who have teacher training qualification. We just do not have enough institutions for that. Now there moves to put to try and change that situation. In particular there are efforts that are being made to rapidly provide teacher training to very large number of people, to about 1.4 million people because there is a shortage of about 7.74 lakh teachers and then existing carder of teachers also lack teacher training qualification. So altogether about 1.4 million teachers need teacher trainings. How we are going to rapidly provide teacher training qualifications to these people. So the options that are being looked at the moment are to do with open and distance learning and to do with use of ICTs in education. Of course that leaves aside the question of quality of these institutions and the deficiency in quality that may come if we use these rapid ways of providing teacher training.

Sagarika Ghose: Right and also bringing those para-teachers, which also is being used in certain areas. But you make a very important point that there is this huge mass of unemployed graduates who are waiting there but the challenge is to get them to get teacher training and to satisfy the RTE’s qualifications and to get them to become teachers. Vimlendu Jha, let me put to you the point about your personal experience, now you love dealing with young people and you deal with young people all the time. And you take them on trips, you talk to them, you teach them. Then why doesn’t someone like you become a teacher?

Vimlendu Jha: No, in my case it is better to work with 20 or dozens of schools than to work with one because I don’t want to… I see the void that exists in current schools. So one statistics that you have is that kids don’t go to schools and the other statistic is that we have schools that are really transmission of facts rather than actual civic and political body.

Sagarika Ghose: You don’t think there are any rewards in classroom teaching?

Vimlendu Jha: You know, non teaching jobs are more challenging, more satisfying, more gratifying, and that is the reason why, as Mr Kapur said, you know, more people want to, or intelligent people don’t want to get into this entire method of teaching because now what we are talking about the current education system or the current teaching job is mere transmission of facts. The curriculum which we have is an empty bottle that you fill, so there is no engagement that you are talking about. There is a void in our curriculum.

Sagarika Ghose: So the nature of the curriculum that you are expected to teach is what puts you off?

Vimlendu Jha: It’s that and also when we talk about teaching, it can’t be really hooked on to methods and managed by administration because if you look at schools, the minute you create an institution are running many of these… people like me who run on romance of education.

Sagarika Ghose: But on the other hand education is about discipline, it is about taking that examination.

Vimlendu Jha: That is right, but if you look at the decline in the standard of education is also because of the curriculum and the kind of teaching because teachers stop learning once they become teachers. Many teachers stop learning once they become teaching and that is the empirical evidence that is available because they think they couldn’t do much, majority of them, they have failed in many ways and that’s why they end up choosing teaching. I’m not talking about everyone, I’m not generalising it but that is an unfortunate case.

Sagarika Ghose: Let me just get the two principals to respond to that. Arun Kapur, Vimlendu Jha is sying that he would love to teach but the nature and kind of structured curriculum in the schools is what puts him off. But also respond to my question, do you think schools should go out there and scout from the best talent, hunt for the best talent?

Arun Kapur: Well that is what I started by saying, Sagarika, that is exactly what I said. Well, Vimlendu does still interact with my school children; I think school teaching is one of the most inspirational, satisfying jobs that you can possibly get. And with the six pay commission it is not financially such a bad job. But like I said before, when bright people want to become teachers, what you said that the school should go out any hunt for talent… but the bureaucratic requirement doesn’t allow me to hire the kind of people I want because of the rules and regulations that they have set down, that you have to have a BEd to become a teacher. And to get that BEd, lot of people have said that institutions that exists are so mind deadening that people who want to become teachers go through the experience and the really soul deadening teacher training curriculum that exists. And therefore they shy ways from going through that process. If you were able to hire people who want to become teachers and have a method for them becoming a teacher because you do need certain amount of professional training. But like I said the professional training that is required and the professional training that is given, there is such a gap. So there are lots of people who want to become a teacher bus the question why the bright are not coming to become a teacher, I am saying that they are coming but we are turning them away. And when I get people to come, and I want to give again the example of teach for India, where really great minds from all over the place, teachers not only working in private schools but teachers from government schools where you can actually make a difference…

Sagarika Ghose: Lata Vaidyanathan respond to what Arun Kapur is saying that lots of people want to become teachers but the process is so fatigue and that BEd degrees is mind numbing, it doesn’t inspire, it doesn’t promote excitement in someone who wants to become a teacher. There are too many bureaucratic considerations that are applied when you are appointing a teacher, is this what is preventing quality minds from coming to teaching?

Lata Vaidyanathan: Yes, I think, I will agree with all what Arun said particularly the whole structure by which teacher education happens in this country. I think, reforms are taking place in school education and we are hoping that it will get better by the day are lots of good schools attempt to romanticise education for the children and for the teachers. But I do agree that the whole structure which is like a downward extension of higher education becomes so unromantic that the structure becomes a death sentence to the whole system. And if you look at the BEd course nothing has changed. People haven’t moved on, I think, the solution is that the system should become much more flexible. So that the brightest minds come into the profession, sufficient time is given to train and engage the teachers accordingly. And also make it possible for the whole assessment system to change a little bit so that the whole structured approach doesn’t kill the student and the teacher together in the class.

Sagarika Ghose: It is a very structured approach. I have got a very interesting tweet from RGP and this is also what Vimlendu was telling, it says, “A vast majority of female school teachers are in it supplement family income.” Why do only women, why do an overwhelming number of women become school teachers, Is that because school teaching is not considered good enough for men? And does it boil down to that prestige deficit?

Lata Vaidyanathan: Sagarika if I may answer nothing is wrong about women being in this profession. I think it is really well suited given that the whole process goes well.

Sagarika Ghose: But why should it be a cottage industry with women. You know, it should be the kind of profession that everyone aspires to; all bright people aspire to, not just those who are simply treating as diversion. I’m not saying that women are doing that, but what I’m saying is that is the overall stereotype that attaches to school teaching.

Lata Vaidyanathan: No that is also to do something with its timing, it is seen as a half day job as oppose to jobs with require fulltime attention. That is the way they look at it not withstanding the fact that there are bright teacher, teaching is a 24X7 job. I think we need to work round the clock to make good learning happen.

Sagarika Ghose: And you are indeed an inspirational teacher and so is Arun Kapur, anyone watching this programme must take inspiration from you. And may be some young people will be drawn to teaching because they are listening to you. But let me ask Geeta, Geeta what then can be done, what are the solutions from your prospective? How can this situation be addressed?

Geeta Kingdon: I was going to comment on feminisation of the teaching profession but…

Sagarika Ghose: Do comment on that that is a very interesting point.

Geeta Kingdon: Only just that it used to be the case that the teachers’ salaries used to be low in India, if you look at the teacher salaries as a multiple of GDP, for example of the country or the country as a whole, teachers were not well paid in India until 20-25 years ago. But successive pay commissions have really increased that. Fifth pay commission increased teachers’ salary on an average between 45 to 50 per cent. The sixth pay commission increased doubled teachers salaries in one go. So that has really helped the teaching profession. However, one must remember the concept of stock and the concept of flow. The improvement in teachers’ pay scale is going to affect people who now come to teaching profession. It is not going to change the stock of teachers; we have already in the system. And feminisation of is going to continue for sometime. The reason why we are not attracting the best talents, yes we have improved the teachers’ salaries but if you look at other facilities for teachers they really are quite pathetic. To go to a village school the teacher is paid nearly six thousand rupees as their salary. But there is no toilet in the school; the teachers have go near by in the fields.

Sagarika Ghose: I think it comes down to where we as a society are placing the school teacher. We must accept that school teacher is building the nation and that is the kind of prestige the school teacher needs. I’m going to give you the last word, what can be done?

Vimlendu Jha: You know, as I was telling you both in terms of the curriculum and administration and teachers we need to look at… education is not just a word but it is about the world, it is not about the text but it is about the context, all that is missing in this profession. Right now we are looking at this profession as something which is not just another profession or a job that fetches you a salary but something which is extremely important for nation building.

Sagarika Ghose: And a teacher-student relationship is broken down, you have a rich kid coming to the school and saying who the hell are you.

Vimlendu Jha: Absolutely correct, there has to be value attached to this profession and to education. We shouldn’t look at it just as human behaviour story; it is something which is extremely important.

Sagarika Ghose: Education is building the nation. School teacher is in the classroom building the nation everyday, unless we give prestige to school teachers, the central building project we are not going to rescue our education system.

Geeta Kingdon: Sagarika I want to make a point.
Sagarika Ghose: Very, very quickly.

Geeta Kingdon: I just want to make the point, that another extremely important is lack of professional development of the teachers. Once you become a teacher you remain a teacher until you become the most senior person and then you have to opportunity to become a principal. There is no professional career development structure.

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very good point, there is no career development. We have got lots of different suggestion on how we can rescue the profession of teaching on Teachers’ day. Very important insides have come out, thank you very much indeed, Arun Kapur, Geeta Kingdon, Lata Vaidyanathan and Vimlendu Jha.