Punjab’s teacher mess

Implemented as a cost-saving measure, the 10-year-old practice of employing on contract the education system’s most important human resource has turned into quicksand for the state government.

Written by Divya Goyal | Published:November 21, 2016 7:45 am
Punjab, Punjab teachers, Punjab teachers mess, Punjab education, education system, education news, latest news, indian express Two ETT Punjab teachers protest atop a mobile tower at Punjab Bhawan in Sector 3, Chandigarh. Sahil Walia

Over last two weeks, Chandigarh has been witness to a still unfolding spectacle: two men who passed the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET) but failed to find government employment are sitting atop a mobile tower demanding they be hired. Last week, three others joined the protest, climbing another tower in the same city, with the same demand. They are not the only protesting teachers in Punjab.

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In 2010, Kiranjit Kaur immolated herself and died in Kapurthala. She was demanding a regular government job. In 2014, a 14-month-old infant, daughter of a protesting teacher, died in Bathinda in the biting cold during a night protest by those of the Employment Guarantee Scheme Union.

Since November 14 last year, Shikhsha Providers have been on a chain protest outside DGSE office, Mohali. Their protest has completed one year.

The state’s response has been uneven, giving in to some, while standing firm against others, reflecting how the nearly decade-old change in teacher hiring policy has turned into a tangled web from which it is finding difficult to extricate itself.

From 2007, there has been no ‘regular’ hiring of government teachers. Instead, teachers are hired on contract under multiple schemes.

What began as a measure to cut costs has resulted in a two-fold mess: Teachers hired on contract are continually engaged in protests demanding to be “regularised”. Secondly, there is a perennial shortage of teachers.

In the last decade, the government has employed teachers with a promise that after the first three years on contract with basic pay of Rs 10,300 per month, they will be regularised. But the government has not always kept the promise.

The result: endless protests such as climbing water tanks and sitting on roads with their children.

Punjab’s Education Minister Daljeet Singh Cheema blames the Congress. “It was in 2007 when there was an acute financial crunch and state was sinking under debts that the Congress government under Captain Amarinder Singh announced a blanket ban on government job appointments which included teachers too. It is the consequence of that ban we are dealing with today. However, after the SAD-BJP government came to power we came up with a solution and teachers are being given basic pay of Rs 10,300 per month even during probation period of three months. In fact, now we are almost out of this mess and regularization has started,” he says.

Former CLP leader Sunil Jakhar acknowledges that Congress had imposed a ban but said the SAD-BJP is using it as an excuse. “The Badal government had left state under a huge debt from 1997-2002 following which we banned hiring for a few months to bring it on track. But who stopped SAD-BJP from removing that ban and if they say ban is still there, how are they promising lakhs of jobs to youths?” he says.

Karnail Singh Sandhu, president, Government Teachers’ Union Punjab, said, “To save money, they are paying peanuts to contractual teachers and not hiring regular teachers. Money has been spent on contractual teachers who fail to deliver quality and then there is no money left to hire regular ones.”

Contract teachers have been hired under various categories, but virtually every scheme is embroiled in challenges, either on the streets or in the courts.

ETT

These are teachers who undergo two years of Elementary Teachers Training (ETT) to teach primary classes from 1 to 5. The basic qualification for this is class 12 and since 2011, through the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET).

In 2008, 10,000 ETT teachers were hired (advertisement issued in 2007) as teaching fellows for Rs 4,550 per month and education providers for Rs 6,400 per month.

They were regularised three years later in 2011 and started drawing up to Rs 35,000/month (including additional benefits).

After a gap of eight years, the education department issued appointment letters to 4,800 more ETT teachers (3,500 of 4,500 and 1,300 of 2,005 posts advertised for), again with the promise of regularization after three years. But that has not satisfied everyone.

Harjinder Pannu, state president, Elementary Teachers’ Union Punjab, says, “Even of 4,800 seats filled now, orders for 1,300 are still awaited. This despite the fact that there are 6,500 vacancies. Hiring is still contractual for Rs 10,300/month. 1,700 seats are still vacant.”

The government promised 7,600 teachers working under central government scheme of EGS/AIE and STR that they would be appointed as regular ETT teachers. Eight years on, this union continues statewide protests. This union is now known by the name of Shaheed Kiranjit Kaur, the Kapurthala teacher who immolated herself.

The central Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) under which teachers were paid got Rs 1,000/month salary was in 2008 converted to Alternative and Innovative Educators (AIE), under which the pay was Rs 2,000/month. This continued till 2010, when it was converted to Special Trainers (STR) in 2011 for Rs 3,500/month.

Finally, this central scheme also ended. The Punjab government began ETT training from 2012-14.

“Since 2014, we have working in their schools as ETT teachers for Rs 5,000/month only (for ETT qualified) and Rs 2,500/month (non-ETT). Our volunteers are even handling the schools which do not have a single regular teacher in rural areas but we are not being regularized,” says Veerpal Kaur, president of the union.

SSA/RMSA

Among those hit are 6,628 in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) and 1,565 under Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA) who were hired in a phased manner from 2008-12 on contractual basis.

“We are bearing the brunt of being appointed under schemes which are run on state-center sharing basis. It has been more than eight years now but our appointments are still contractual. Though our salaries now are equal to that of regular teachers, but there is no job security as contract is renewed every year,” said Harjeet Jeeda, president SSA/RMSA teachers union.

Master Cadre And Lecturers

The degrees of almost 2,350 teachers under master cadre (class 6 to 10) and lectures (class 11, 12) are now under scrutiny for allegedly being ‘frivolous or from out of state varsities or illegal distance education centers’.

The government has failed to answer how these teachers with allegedly invalid degrees managed to get appointment in Punjab’s education department. The matter is pending in court.

Teachers, however, say the recruitment advertisement never specified that their degrees cannot be from distance/out of state varsities.

“7,654 of our teachers including librarians, lab attendants etc were hired in 2011 as per an ad released by education department in 2009. The ad never specified the condition that degrees cannot be from distance/out of state varsities. We were hired on contract basis at Rs 5,400 (master) and Rs 6,400 (lecturers) and then regularized in 2014. But now after years, show cause notice has been issued to 200 teachers who are awaiting regularization questioning their degree. What more, 2,000 teachers already regularized have been issued notices too and their promotion put on hold. How can they question degrees of teachers appointed in 2011 as per UGC list in 2013,” says Navdeep Samana, president, 7,654 Saanjha Adhyaapak Union.

Degrees of another 150 teachers hired from 3,442 Adhyaapak Union in 2013 are under question.

Even as Cheema claims that teachers are being given a basic pay of Rs 10,300/month in probation period of three years, another set of 5,178 teachers hired in 2014 are getting Rs 6,500/month only.

“We will be completing three years in 2017. But we are not even being paid basic pay of Rs 10,300 which other teachers are getting. We started from Rs 6,000 and it has been increased by Rs 500 only. Does this mean that even this basic pay rule applies on pick and choose basis?” says Harmanjeet Singh, president 5,178 master cadre union.

Another set of 650 lectures (class XI and XII) were hired this July for Rs 12,000/month for the first three years and a promise of regularization later.

This year, the government has completed process of filling 6,060 master cadre vacancies on contractual basis of Rs 10,300/month for first three years and promise of regularization in 2019.

“But what if SAD-BJP loses next polls? Will other parties take responsibility of our appointments?” says a teacher.

CSS/ Shiksha Providers/Aanganwadi/ Midday Meal

A total of 6,825 Shiksha Providers hired from 2004 to 2008 under SSA on contract are now demanding permanent jobs. “We started with Rs 2,500 to 3,500 depending on qualification which is now Rs 7,500-9,000, but there is no job security. We are giving our services across schools in Punjab but government has not assured us of regularization,” said Sukhwinder Singh, Shiksha Providers Union.

Their continuous protest outside DGSE office Mohali completed one year on November 14.

The number of Hindi teachers hired under Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) in Punjab has reduced from 512 to 486 now. In fact, theirs is a unique case where salaries have also reduced from Rs 18,000 to Rs 10,300. “We were hired in 2010 starting with Rs 16,500/month under CSS. The central scheme under and as per MoU signed between State and the Centre, we came under state since April 1, 2012. Since then our salaries have been reduced to Rs 10,300/month. We are also without salaries since April now, that is, eight months. We were also promised full grade pay since April 2015 but nothing happened,” says Rakesh Gupta, secretary, CSS Hindi Teachers Union Punjab.

More than 45,000 mid-day meal cooks in Punjab getting a meagre Rs 1,200 per month and hired on contract are also demanding regularization and minimum wages of Rs 5,000/month.

In the latest, 53,000 aanganwadi workers (pre-primary day care centers) are protesting proposal of government to start pre-nursery classes in government schools. “We started with Rs 275/month in 1975 and today our salary is Rs 5,600 for a worker and Rs 2,600 for helper. Already, we are not even getting minimum wages or regularization. Where will we go if aangwandis shut down. Who will come to aangwandis if Punjab government starts pre-primary classes in government schools?” says Subhash Rani, secretary of their union.