Updated: May 12, 2021 8:33:37 am
As the second wave of the pandemic continues to lash the country, the teaching community has also been hit hard. Universities like the Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia have seen the tragic, inter-generational loss of promising young teachers and veteran academics. Schools in the national capital region, too, are grappling with teacher deaths. For government school teachers, who have been deployed by states on several fronts to do crucial non-academic work, the pandemic brings more challenges. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, hundreds of teachers are estimated to have died of Covid-19 after allegedly contracting it while on duty in the recent panchayat elections. Every death is one too many. For their students, colleagues and families, the grief is collective and hard to quantify. The loss of vital intellectual capital and scholarship is not just a setback, but also has grim implications for any possibility of the education system returning to a semblance of “normal”.
All of this strengthens the case for teachers to be treated as frontline workers. One of the many misses in India’s vaccination programme, surely, is not having allowed teachers and school or college staff, regardless of age, to jump the vaccine queue. Institutions like the UNESCO as well as some state legislators had called for teachers to be treated as a priority group. That governments did not listen speaks of a tardy lack of foresight, and the inability to assess the scale of the crisis arising from the prolonged closure of educational institutions. The economic shock of the first wave has been a heavy one on smaller private schools, resulting in many teachers losing jobs and incomes. As India has learnt the hard way, the pandemic is not likely to fade away soon. Future waves are more likely than not. The education system has embraced the difficult disruption from classroom to screen, with no small contribution from teachers who managed the transition by putting in more working hours. But, as several surveys and studies have shown, the online classroom is an imperfect and iniquitous solution.
If the pandemic has underlined an underrated fact, it is the importance of the teacher’s role in the community and family, and the difficulty in replacing her. While the society as a whole must learn to acknowledge and recognise this contribution, both state and central governments must do more to secure their well-being. That would be a wise investment in a shared future.
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