My father passed the Matriculation examination of the Calcutta university with star marks in 1924 but instead of going for higher education to a distant place he started teaching in a school. I still remember a group photograph of my father hanging on the wall. It was the photograph of my father along with other trainees attending a short in-service teacher training programme in the fifties of the last century. Like many other teachers of his period my father died as a teacher without any pension, provident fund or gratuity. Before his death he lamented saying that “thakur”, (the cook) “chakor”( the domestic help) and “mastor” (the teacher) are doomed to be poor. (I was impressed by the rhyming words!). I saw him going to the money lenders to borrow money during financial emergencies, I saw him suffer silently before the local land lords and the rich, illiterate members of the school “Managing Committees”. The corruption, nepotism and the politics of the then School Board office affected him adversely but he continued teaching for the joy of teaching and paved the way for our higher education.
No body envies the life of a school teacher in India. A teacher is expected to be meek and submissive. He or she must be at the receiving end. The curriculum is handed over to the teacher, textbooks are prescribed for him and the methodology is dictated. Any deviation from the prescribed norms of teaching is sure to invite the wrath of his higher ups. He should not forget that his primary duty is to obey, not to raise difficult questions. He is a transmitter of knowledge received by him from his teachers or collected by him from books. Any inadvertent criticism of the established knowledge or the established order may jeopardise his career. He has to maintain the status quo and not to cross the “Lakshman Rekha”.
The memory of my father as a teacher flashed before my mind’s eye when I read the new National Education Policy 2020. After so many years of independence, a policy document has now underlined very emphatically the importance of “re-establishing the teacher” and has reminded the nation that the teachers are “the most respected and established members of our society.” The policy document suggests that we must “do everything to empower teachers.” The relevant section of the NEP 2020 is as follows: “The teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. It must do everything to empower teachers and help them to do their job as effectively as possible. The new education policy must help recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels, by ensuring livelihood, respect, dignity, and autonomy, while also instilling in the system basic methods of quality control and accountability.” The four words “livelihood”, “respect” “dignity” and autonomy” are very crucial in the life of teacher.
The draft National Education Policy 2019 remarked that teachers “must be valued, supported, respected – happy teachers and students make for excellent teaching and learning! In particular, the everyday working environment of teachers and students must be safe, comfortable, and inviting.” A very significant observation. “Happy Teachers.” Teaching is not a mechanical exercise and therefore, a teacher who is not happy with his profession can not do justice to his profession. We cannot force someone to feel happy, we can create the conducive atmosphere in which a teacher feels happy without any official order.
The draft National Education Policy 2019 points out that one significant “factor in the learning crisis that cannot be overlooked relates to the health and nutrition of children.” What about the “health and nutrition” of thousand of teachers who find it difficult to make both ends meet? Has any body ever cared to find out how retired teachers who were once the nation builders suffer without adequate health care during their old age?
The respect and dignity enjoyed by the teachers in the Indian Gurukul system were jettisoned during the colonial rule and successive Governments after the independence did little to put the teachers back on a high pedestal. The very mechanism of teacher recruitment lowers a teacher’s self-esteem. A teacher who belongs to the lower economic strata of the society, a teacher whose knowledge and competence in the 21st century skills are too abysmal, a teacher who considers teaching as the last resort for survival can hardly live a dignified life. The barefoot village teacher, the economically oppressed teacher, the teacher who is considered an appendix by the affluent section of the society bears the brunt of social apathy and humiliation. When teaching becomes a drudgery, teachers suffer in misery.
Autonomy is a word that does not exist in the dictionary of an Indian teacher. He or she is a cog in a machine. Teachers who want to be innovative are ridiculed by their higher ups. Any deviation from the prescribed norms of pedagogy can make a teacher’s life miserable. I know many young teachers who tried formative assessment in their classes to understand the level of each child’s proficiency in different subjects, they prepared individual port folios for each child but their colleagues and heads of the institutions discouraged them and advised them to follow the establish practice and not to go against the flow. “Why is your class so noisy?” a young teacher is reprimanded when she makes her language class participatory and interactive.
The new education policy calls for a drastic change in the field of education. But this change is possible only when it gets the support of all the stakeholders working in the field of education. It also depends on the whole heated support of the society.
It is good to note that the NEP 2020 calls for “quality control and accountability.” Academic supervision and guidance must be an integral part of school administration. We have education officers at different levels, they visit schools just to inspect non-academic matters like teachers’ attendance, expenditure for midday meals, construction of toilets and buildings. They avoid the classrooms. Teachers are islands in their schools and the DIETs are ineffectual angels so far as academic supervision and guidance are concerned. The practice of classroom observation, giving feedback, monitoring the teacher’s professional growth and the mechanism for quality control should be streamlined if we are to make the teachers energetic and their teaching result oriented. There is a correlation between livelihood, respect, dignity and autonomy on the one hand and quality and accountability on the other. Hope the proper implementation of the National Educational Policy 2020 will put equal emphasis on livelihood, respect, dignity, autonomy, quality control and accountability as specified in the document.
To conclude, I would like to quote the following recommendation of the draft National Education Policy 2019. “The structure of teacher education, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, professional development, and career management must be completely overhauled in order to restore the high status of the teaching profession, and to ensure that teachers are maximally productive and effective in their efforts.” A complete overhaul of the teaching profession on the basis of the guidelines of NEP 2020 can do away with the frustration of millions of teachers across the country and “re-establish” them with due respect and honour.