The Gujarat Primary Teachers Association (GPTA) is doing everything they can to stall a government initiative, a facial recognition attendance app to keep track of 2.5 lakh educators in the state. Note the irony that along with the children, the proposed new system requires teachers to mark their presence every day after reaching school, by clicking a selfie and posting it on the app. This initiative took shape after complaints by parents that random people of questionable antecedents were acting as proxy’s for teachers in rural areas. The Microsoft-developed app ensures the very least; that only people hired for the job were showing up for it. The teachers, unsurprisingly, have protested vehemently, citing privacy violations. The GPTA President, Digvijaysinh Jadeja said, “Due to security concerns for female teachers, we have decided no teacher will download Kaizala App on their personal phones.” (The Indian Express, September 3, 2019.)
Tracking employee behaviour is an accepted business practice and people in the private sector have had to bear the ignominy of clocking in and out since time immemorial. There are serious consequences for repeated absences and late clock-ins: leaves are cut, half days noted, sick days duly counted and productivity assessed vis a vis the number of hours spent in the office.
Considering the video surveillance that 90 per cent of the working world endures in the 21st century, these Gujarat teachers have been incredibly lucky to be off the grid with zero accountability. At one level, their resentment is understandable because a huge privilege is being snatched away from them. After all this time, how dare anyone ask them to furnish proof that they went to work?
The rage against the machines is a genuine grouse across industries. Two hundred years ago in England, manual skilled workers organised themselves to smash equipment that increased productivity during the Industrial Revolution. The Luddites, as they were called, knew that their lifestyles as they knew it were coming to an end. Hard nosed factory owners would put them to the grind in 12-hour shifts, every second of their workday accounted for. This plays out currently as well, like restaurants boycotting Zomato, or when the taxi union brought Goa to a standstill last month by striking against the entry of app-based taxis. Though the chief minister relented, it’s a matter of time before Uber begins in Goa. No union can compete with a global behemoth that aims to replace private car ownership entirely. Similarly, it’s evident the teachers resisting Kaizala isn’t about being anti technology, it’s about their own survival.
The GPTA’s weak argument against installing the app, that their safety will be compromised, just doesn’t fly because our cellphones are mini GPS devices broadcasting our location constantly. If you have WhatsApp or Google Maps, arguably apps we can’t do without, they’re chronicling our movements in any case. The reality is that nothing most of us do is particularly private anymore, unless one is willing to forego using a mobile entirely and live like it’s 1980. The Gujarat teachers have also attempted taking the moral high ground, questioning the government’s skepticism of their commitment towards the job. “Taking online attendance through Kaizala is like they’re not trusting their own teachers,” reads the order. Surely, the reverse holds true as well. If the educators were inclined to come to work enthusiastically, they should be more than happy to post that selfie.
Many of us have had a wonderful teacher whose value is difficult to estimate. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to read articles in newspapers that out of the 32,000-plus government schools in Gujarat, over 1,20,000 were being run by just one or two teachers. In a system so broken, it’s doubtful if an attendance app can be the solution to anything, unless one accepts that the best you can hope for in India is small, incremental changes. Meanwhile, the teachers resisting the Kaizala App can take solace in the fact that it just ensures they show up — it’s still up to them to decide if they want to do their job, and teach.