Friday, August 12, 2016

EDUCATING INDIA 1 - The Haryana Paradox: As Enrolment Falls In Govt Schools, Teachers Competing For Jobs


The fear of being declared ‘surplus’ is forcing government school teachers to canvass in their local communities for admissions.

Anil Kumar is a volunteer social science teacher at the Government High School in Umrawat, in Bhiwani district of Haryana. He teaches Classes 6 to 10, two hours a day on all school days. For a year until he came along, the school had no social science teacher. Principal Wazir Singh, a former high school mathematics teacher, and the school’s science teachers stood in during social science classes. “It's just not the same thing,” Wazir Singh said, “as having a trained subject teacher.”

The school’s social science teacher was suspended for fraud. She was appointed under the “physically handicapped” quota following a recruitment process that included an interview. She has challenged the move to dismiss her. According to the rules, as long as the case is in court, she will continue to receive her salary and no one can be appointed in her stead.

Anil Kumar taught social sciences as a guest teacher (short contract) at another government middle school in the district for 11 years. An Umrawat resident, he lost his job in April after the government declared some 4,000 guest teachers to be surplus. When Wazir Singh suggested he teach at his school, Kumar agreed. He said he saw it as an opportunity to serve his community while ensuring there was no break in his career as a teacher. He teaches the first two hours of the school day and has the rest of the day to do any paid work he can get.

Across Haryana, schools are short of teachers. Some schools have no teachers at all, others too few. For example, at the Government Primary School in Saini Khera, in Gurgaon, there are three teachers for five classes, and at the Government Girls High School in Gagsina, Karnal, there is a single teacher whose specialisation is drawing – all the other regulars have retired over the summer, and the guest teachers dismissed. Very few schools find creative solutions as Wazir Singh has done in Umrawat.

Teachers, in general, take the view that unless the government appoints more teachers there will always be a shortage.

In Karnal, Deepak Goswami general secretary of the State Primary Teachers Association, who is one of just two teachers in a primary school, pointed to news reports about one-teacher schools and asked, “If they don’t appoint teachers, where will the teachers come from?”

But the truth is more complicated than either the newspapers or Goswami will allow.

Government school jobs are linked to student numbers. Enrolment in government schools has been falling steadily, and the majority of Haryana’s schoolgoers now attend private schools. So, apart from filling vacancies caused by annual attrition through retirement and promotions, government schools in Haryana are unlikely to need new teachers in very large numbers, unless the trend changes.

Politics in jobs
Officials in district education offices say that teachers retiring and the dismissal of guest teachers, coupled with the uneven distribution of teachers across the state, have temporarily exacerbated shortages.

For example, Mewat, the poorest district, has half the teachers it needs. There is now a Mewat-specific cadre of teachers, but too few teachers opt for it. To correct the balance and to shake up entrenched interests the government has modified the teacher transfer policy, making, with very few exceptions, inter-district transfers of teachers who have worked five years or more in a school mandatory, rather than voluntary. All previous governments also tweaked the transfer policy.

There were legal challenges to the changes. A High Court order in favour of the government came last week and an online system is rapidly re-ordering postings. Schools are already halfway through their first semester. Those with too few teachers will benefit, but for most schoolchildren, the mid-term transfers will just be disruptive.

In most states, political interference and corruption are endemic in teacher recruitment, postings and transfers.

Haryana is unique in that a former chief minister, the Indian National Lok Dal’s Om Prakash Chautala and his former MLA son Ajay, are doing time in jail for this.

In 2000, the Chautalas, with the connivance of a corrupt Indian Administrative Service officer, Sanjeev Kumar, had replaced the merit-based selection list of 3,206 primary school teachers with another list. People say that getting a name on Chautala’s list cost between Rs 100,000 and Rs 300,000, although this has never been investigated. Kumar fell out with the Chautalas and squealed on them, setting off a chain of accusations and counter accusations that helped put them all in jail.

The teachers from Chautala’s list still work in primary schools across the state.
Deepak Goswami of the State Primary Teachers Association defends them: “They are also qualified (have the required degrees) as were the ones on the original list, and now they have experience also.”

Goswami likes to differentiate between issues that concern him as an educationist and those that he deals with as a unionist. The fact that teachers on the Chautala list were complicit in corruption is not a subject he wants to dwell on as a unionist.

Goswami said this is how things were done, and that all governments did it. He said Chautala was in power, so he wanted his own people in. He quickly added, “this government has not done it yet, but it looks set to do the same thing.”
Wazir Singh, in Umrawat, agreed with him.

In 2014, Manohar Lal Khattar’s Bharatiya Janata Party government disbanded Haryana’s schoolteacher selection board set up under the previous Congress government, citing irregularities in its functioning. It has also refused to appoint the over 9,000 candidates the board selected between 2011 and 2014 as primary school teachers until their biometric data and documents have been properly verified. So far 700 are said to have used impersonators for the test or presented fake documents.

Guest teachers protest
Haryana has seen massive public protests over school teaching jobs. In September 2008, police fired on a march by guest teachers demanding that contractual jobs be made permanent, killing Raj Rani a teacher from Jind. There have also been demonstrations against the Khattar government, which had made election promises to regularise contractual jobs.

Guest teachers were hired as a temporary measure in 2005-’06 while the slow formal recruitment process was completed. Most of them do not meet the qualification requirement including the “consistent good academic record” criteria for selection to government jobs, although this is set at only 50% for all board or university exams. They have, however, become a significant interest group. This is perhaps why the state government has only formally dismissed a small number of them, ignoring a 2014 High Court order to dismiss them all.

Multiple interest groups
Haryana also has a Chainit JBT Sangharsh Samiti, which represents primary school teachers who have been selected but not yet been appointed by the government. Among them are the 9,000 plus teachers whose identities and documents are being verified. They gathered in strength in Karnal on July 17 and threatened to take down the government.

The Chainit JBT Sangharsh Samiti’s state women’s convener, who identified herself as Pramila, told the media that if the government did not appoint the protesting teachers: “just as we brought the government to power with a full majority, so we can bring it down.”

Although the number of students in government schools is declining, there is a marked preference for jobs in government schools, over private institutions. Salaries in private schools are a fraction (approximately Rs 5,000-Rs 15,000 a month) of what government teachers are paid. A permanent government primary schoolteacher in Haryana gets a starting salary of approximately Rs 30,000 a month plus benefits and security of tenure. Government guest teachers are also paid between Rs 19,500 (primary) and Rs 26,500 (higher secondary) a month.

For a long time, government school jobs have, in a sense, been the gift of the government of the day. Recruitment rules have been constantly changed to allow for discretion in appointments. Since 2008, in addition to educational qualifications, aspiring government teachers in Haryana also need to pass a state teacher eligibility test. The first two rounds of the test saw impersonation on a grand scale. Legal challenges to appointments based on those tests are still making their way through the courts.

For coveted government jobs, those who pass the Haryana Teacher Eligibility Test and meet set academic criteria are interviewed. Teachers and district education administrators feel this leaves plenty of room for discretion. With the assistance of compliant selection board officials, a chief minister can place, what Goswami called “his own people”, with no need to swap lists as Chautala did.
But many still see this as an improvement on the old system. A very small number gets through the eligibility test. An official said this showed that the exam served the purpose of “separating the 5% good from the 95%” so any discretion was only within the narrow top 5% band.

BEd college boom
The pool of people holding out for government teaching jobs has grown since the mid-2000s, when private BEd colleges mushroomed.

There are 21 government-run and 14 government-aided teacher education institutions with approximately 5,900 graduating students, and over 840 privately run ones with nearly 75,000 graduating students. At every level of the state education administration there is agreement that the vast majority of private institutions are “non-attending” – just shops providing certification at a price, and protected by powerful political interests.

Private colleges charge fees of between Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000. This is considered money well spent, as a permanent government job is the expected final prize.

Drop in enrolment
Like many other states, Haryana has seen a consistent drop in the number of students enrolling in government schools. Last year, after enrolment was linked to Aadhaar cards the state found a 16% drop in student numbers compared with enrolment data supplied by schools.

Current data suggests that the majority of Haryana’s school goers are in private schools. Many, particularly rural schools, now have enviable pupil teacher ratios well below the maximum set by the Right To Education Act.

The government primary school at Amritpur Khurd in Karnal where Deepak Goswami is employed as one of two teachers has fewer than 30 students spread across Classes 1 to 5. It saw a 28% drop in enrolments between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. Less than 3 km away in Amritpur Kalan, is another government primary school, which has 220 students and six teachers.

In some states like Orissa and Rajasthan, governments have begun merging schools with very few students with bigger schools close by. But the Right to Education Act mandates a primary school within 1 km of a child’s home and GPS Amritpur Khurd, with 28 children and two teachers, exists to fulfil that mandate.

But falling school enrolment represents an existential crisis for government teachers. The concern is plain to see in their online discussion groups and on school social network pages. Comments on a teacher’s post about running an innovative classroom include some that point out how empty her class looks and the importance of increasing enrolment.

One teacher posted a picture of three children with the caption: "These three children have said farewell to private school and been admitted to my class".
A principal writing about his school’s achievements boasted that his school had not merely kept the teacher numbers intact, but created two new posts and expected to create a third by the following year. In response, teachers from other schools have written in about their own efforts or successes with increasing teacher numbers. Others congratulated him on showing the way out of “commercialisation of education” and fewer teachers being made “surplus”.

Mergers and school closures, even where transporting young children should not be too onerous, is an absolute no-no with government schoolteachers. Their standard answer to questions about falling enrolment numbers is that this was the creeping effect of commercialisation of education – the growth of private schools. “There is not a big politician who does not have money in private schools” was the refrain.

But the fear of being declared surplus is now very real for government schoolteachers in Haryana, and canvassing in the local community for admissions has become part of their informal job description. Their own children however, by and large, go to private schools. This contradiction between the best place to work and the best place to educate your own children is at the heart of the school education story.

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