An ongoing strike by over 3.5 lakh regular contract teachers seeking pay parity with government teachers has led to the discontinuation of the mid-day meal scheme in an estimated 45,000 of 75,000 schools in Bihar and student attendance in these schools has dropped by 70 to 80 per cent, officials said Tuesday.
The strike began on February 17 and at some places, teachers have been dissuading students from attending school as part of a strategy to mount pressure on the government to concede their demands. Seeking “equal pay for equal work” — the state government says this demand has been rejected by the Supreme Court — the striking teachers expect the state government to increase their monthly salary in an election year.
Currently, a contract teacher gets a salary ranging from Rs 18,000-30,000 per month as against a monthly salary of Rs 60,000-Rs 90,000 drawn by government teachers.
Bihar Education Minister Krishna Nandan Prasad Verma said: “Contract teachers have been trying to blackmail us. Since the Supreme Court has made it clear that they cannot be given equal pay, they should rest the matter. It is true that evaluation, teaching and mid-day meals are affected, but we are working on a long-term solution.”
Since there are only about 73,000 government teachers, almost all schools from Class I to VIII depend on contract teachers to monitor mid-day schools.
“At least 30 per cent of schools have contract teachers as in-charge headmasters, so these schools are anyway not running. Our MDM (mid-day meal) online reporting system shows that over 45,000 schools have not been running MDM since the strike,” a senior official of the education department said, adding there were no instructions yet for government teachers to resume the lunch scheme.
Several teachers in Patna, Rohtas, Lakhisarai and Munger said they had been taking up the matter of the mid-day meal scheme in their meetings with block resource persons, who monitor the MDM through field visits, and block education officers.”We also know contract teachers have been preventing students from reaching schools but we cannot name them as, in principle, we too support their demand,” a Lakhisarai middle school teacher said.
Ashwini Kumar, a government teacher at a Danapur primary school, said: “The school has hardly one or two teachers. We are giving daily reports online on attendance and how many children are eating the mid-day meal. The MDM column is almost nil.”
General Secretary, Bihar Secondary School Teachers Association, Shatrughan Prasad Singh said: “Our strike has already affected the Class 10 examination and evaluation. If the government does not concede to our demand, we will not assist the government in the proposed NPR exercise in May.”
Since February 25, over 40,000 high school teachers have also joined the strike in solidarity with middle school teachers and also put forward their own demands for salary hike and education leave.
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