Written by Jyoti Dalal
The French thinker, Bernard Stielger, characterised the existing human condition with proletarianisation, a loss in the capacity to produce knowledge. Reduced to taking orders and doing as being told, a proletariat in contemporary times is one who cannot create and think. Instead of being limited to the working class, proletarianisation is becoming an existential reality for most of us. Considering the lack of care and attention that education, and specifically our school teachers, receives, this predicament was imminent. The treatment meted out to government school teachers during the pandemic is indicative of the unprecedented velocity that this degenerative process has acquired now. Being at the centre of producing knowledge and thinking, it is ironic to see teachers being reduced to a mere compliant workforce. Any kind of thinking or questioning or generating forms of knowledge/skills is considered redundant to the point of becoming antithetical to the work assigned to them.
Since March of this year, with the closure of educational institutions, teachers have been burdened with bringing proximity between online teaching and the pre-COVID physical classroom. Strangely and sadly, this responsibility is rare when it comes to government school teachers. Instead of equipping them with resources to reach out to their students, who are not learning because of lack of personal resources like computers/smartphones/data packs; government school teachers are kept occupied with a battery of COVID related duties.
In the last 10 months, they have been involved with distributing hot meals, dry ration and relief packages; handling labourers’ transportation; managing hunger food centres, shelter homes, isolation wards; conducting medical check-ups and doing surveys at COVID containment zones to name a few. The recent blow comes with the present COVID challan duty that has been shifted from traffic personnel to government school teachers. Donning an inspectorial role, they issue challans to those who are not wearing masks or are found spitting in public or for not maintaining social distancing. Being given targets by the SDM office, ranging from 20-30 challans per day, they receive show-cause for failing in their duty. Two disturbing questions that go unnoticed here: Why are government school teachers assigned this duty? If they are kept occupied with these duties, who is taking the responsibility of teaching their students? The diffidence of the state as well as public towards government schools has reached the point that these questions are not found disconcerting. Their imperviousness can be traced to the attitude that is shared towards teachers as well as students of government schools. If teachers are viewed as mediocre, lackadaisical, unmotivated and non-competitive, students are posed as undeserving beneficiaries of state funds. Ironically, teachers too share this view of students as education research has shown; however, a deeper analysis demonstrates them being fused together when posited as a burden on the exchequer — for different reasons though.
By activating the Disaster Management Act 2005, the state diminishes any possibility of defiance or even the questioning of these duties. Maintenance of the status quo, required as part of the order, further reduces teachers to servile, order-taking beings. What stands compromised is their ability to critique, their capacity to think and honing these qualities in their students. How can our young think, create and be independent if the larger ethos is built up against the pillar of education — the teacher.
Even if pandemic has circumvented teaching, it cannot be blamed for this shift, as bureaucratic work (sarkaari kaam) has become a permanent feature of teachers’ job in government schools, with a long-chequered history stretching back to colonial times. With no administrative and accounts support, teachers handle the mundaneness of running the school on an everyday basis; some of this work includes handling school admissions, mid-day meals, relief funds and scholarships, uniform distribution, facilitating bank tie ups for parents and so on. With this, they also share other government duties bearing no relation to education, like census surveys and election duties. Becoming an extended arm of the state, they come in handy for implementing any government scheme or policy. Calling them COVID Senani (warrior) neither lessens their pain nor covers the state’s apathy. The complicity of public imagination in this decay and proletarianisation of government school teachers is indicative of nothing but their own desensitisation.
The writer is assistant professor, University of Delhi