Friday, Nov 28, 2014

Call the school crisis by its name

Acknowledgment of the problem, from the very top of the hierarchy down to the district administration, will be essential if teachers are going to be persuaded to take teaching seriously. Acknowledgment of the problem, from the very top of the hierarchy down to the district administration, will be essential if teachers are going to be persuaded to take teaching seriously.
Posted: January 21, 2014 5:35 am | Updated: January 21, 2014 5:57 am

This year’s Annual State of Education Report needs to be greeted with more than the usual worried nod. The bad news is not new, but it’s really bad.

We were in rural Uttar Pradesh recently, visiting a programme that Pratham was running.  When we walked into a school, we saw a group of teachers sitting on the verandah, enjoying the mild November sun; the head invited us to sit with them.

“No classes today?” “No. The Pratham people are here. They are doing a great job. Very sincere.” “How about the rest of the standards — isn’t the Pratham programme only in third and fourth?” “Well, the older children have not shown up today. And the ones who have come are busy.” She motioned towards the other end of the verandah, where a couple of sixth or seventh standard girls were minding twenty-odd first and second standard children. We did not know what to say.

The conversation drifted towards the problem of student attendance. “Parents these days care more about getting some work out of the children”, she offered, with no apparent sense of irony.

There were no classes going on in the other school either. Except the ones conducted by the Pratham team. The younger kids were sitting under a large tree, watching lunch being prepared. The head invited us to join him at his table. “Aren’t you teaching?”. “I don’t teach”. He motioned towards the register, suggesting that it keeps him busy. The teacher who does teach was out for the day. “Her problem is that she is very beautiful. One of the people in the district administration keeps harassing her”. “The whole system is corrupt. When I first took the job, we were paid a few thousand rupees. Now I get paid so much that I can’t spend it. The problem is that people take the job for the money”.

That was a first — someone complaining about being paid too much. The usual presumption is, of course, the opposite — that high salaries are the way to attract the best people and motivate them — and this is the stated justification for why UP pays teachers more than ten times the state’s per capita GDP.

For comparison, the highest ratio of maximum teacher pay to per capita GDP in Europe is in Cyprus, where it is close to 2.5. Yet it is clear that such a high pay could be counterproductive, attracting the wrong kind of people. Perhaps in the old days when teachers were poorly paid, people went into teaching because they valued the respect that good teachers got from the continued…

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