We know that teachers employed in India’s government funded and aided schools are burdened and expected to perform a host of responsibilities apart from teaching itself and more often than not, it is these extra responsibilities that have been thrown on to the shoulders of the teachers that take up most of their time and energy.
As a result teachers working at government schools throughout the country share a common narrative stating that they feel overworked and overburdened and most of their energies are drained out while performing non-teaching tasks.
It is but evident that if a teacher’s time and energy are spent not in doing something that he/she has been employed for or is being paid for then when he/she is actually supposed to teach, there certainly will be a lack of interest and preparedness to do the same. Cutting into their teaching time and affecting their identities as teachers, these extra activities that teachers are compelled to take part in take away from their commitment and zeal to teach and groom children in schools.
In fact if one were to look at a report published by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) which stated that only 19.1 per cent of a teacher’s annual school hours were being spent on teaching related activities, while 42.6 per cent time went in “non-teaching core activities” and 38.3 per cent time went in school management and other education department related activities, it would only become more evident that we are overburdening and overworking our government school teachers and compelling them to compromise on teaching and associated self-preparations.
The study published by NIEPA took into consideration government school teachers from the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Odisha but this holds true for government school teachers throughout the country.
In fact, it is interesting to see how even as the world is faced with an unprecedented pandemic and in a country like India, students enrolled in governmental schools have been literally cut-off from all kinds of academic pursuits for the last nine months, teachers are being pushed into taking up COVID-19 related responsibilities rather than attempting to reach out to their students.
While their counterparts in the better-off private schools are managing to access online teaching-learning or connect to their teachers via mediums like WhatsApp or digitalised teaching-learning, the students of government schools have been literally cut-off from all kinds of academic pursuits and there have hardly been formalised attempts to engage them even while the schools are closed.
Instead of thinking and formulating ways of engaging children and reaching out to them amid the pandemic, reports suggest that several cities are absorbing government school teachers in COVID-19 response related activities.
Look at the Bhavnagar Municipal School Board for example, it has issued a notice for teachers who exempted themselves from the COVID-19 vaccination survey and has asked them to mandatorily apply for retirement so as to avail the benefits of the same. Teachers above the age of 55 have been advised to take voluntary retirement and those who are younger but opted out of the survey related duties have been asked to mandatorily apply for retirement.
The order says that many teachers opted out of the compulsory survey duty stating that they were either physically or mentally unfit and so if these people are neither mentally nor physically fit, they would only be a liability for the education system because they would be a “negative influence” on students and therefore the order, asks them to apply for retirement.
According to a report published in The Indian Express, of the 650 teachers employed at 65 schools under Bhavnagar Municipal Board, 30-32 had sought to be exempted from the survey on “medical grounds.”
Although the teachers are angered and taken by shock by the order, the Board authorities don’t see a problem with the order and see it as the most effective way of dealing with teachers who are not “fit” to teach.
Bhavnagar Board is not alone when it comes to compulsive pushing of school teachers into COVID-19 related duties, government school teachers in Delhi have also been assigned a host of duties apart from duties involving teaching, student assessment etc. These teachers have been compelled to take up duties in dispensaries, airports and on roads as collectors of challans.
The most strange part in this entire challan collection exercise is that they have been given targets that have to be met on an everyday basis and the teachers get a show-cause notice for not meeting the target and fines are imposed on them.
These teachers are stationed on roads to impose fines on people who aren’t seen adorning a mask. Prior to this these teachers were given duties like distributing ration to migrant workers among a host of other responsibilities.
After performing a host of other duties that are tiring and exhaustive and take up the larger part of the teacher’s time, it is but evident that he/she will not be left with either sufficient time or with the energy to devote time to the practice of teaching and therefore it is the students whose academic pursuits will receive a major blow.
In a situation like this, it only becomes all the more necessary to realise that teachers have been reduced to agency-less cogs in the wheel of a gigantic bureaucratic machinery, and no substantial reform and difference can be made to the public school system if their priorities aren’t redefined and their contributions not acknowledged.
Can we allow teachers to teach with their heart and soul? Lets remember that they are already endowed with a responsibility that can help lay the foundation of a better country, let us not overburden them with things that take away from their creative energy and professional dignity.
Wasim Mirza is a contributing writer to The New Leam. Mirza is also a Culture Historian – based in Hyderabad, India.