Alarming Situation: Thousands of Teachers Underqualified, Reveals New Report

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Over 4,500 secondary school teachers lack proper education, with less than 25% receiving job training

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – An analysis of the recent data from the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) dashboard for the academic year 2021-22 has revealed a startling fact: About 4,500 teachers in the country’s secondary and higher secondary schools (Grades IX to XII) possess an education level below secondary school. This alarming figure highlights the urgent need for reform in teacher qualifications and training.

Sheshagiri K.M. Rao, an education specialist at the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), pointed out another layer to the crisis. He noted that many teachers have the requisite professional qualifications, but from universities that are not sufficiently equipped to train educators effectively. “Teachers’ professional development is a continuous process, and training should continue even once the teachers start working. There are constant disruptions in the form of artificial intelligence, Covid, etc., and to meet these challenges, teachers need support,” Rao emphasised.

In secondary schools, about 3,634 teachers are educated below the secondary level, making them less qualified than their students. Similarly, 914 teachers instructing Grades XI and XII are only middle school-qualified. Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have the highest numbers of such teachers.

Further, only 96% of teachers in these grades are graduates or postgraduates. This means that four out of every 100 teachers lack the necessary qualifications. Additionally, just 78.4% possess a Bachelor of Education degree or higher, qualifying them to teach these grades. Overall, only 77.5% of teachers meet the current eligibility criteria.

The issue of underqualified teachers is most pronounced in Uttarakhand, where more than two-thirds (67%) of teachers instructing Grades I to IV lack the required academic and professional qualifications, according to government data. This trend is seen nationwide, with higher proportions of underqualified teachers at the primary and middle school levels compared to secondary and higher secondary levels.

Challenges in Teacher Training

The National Council for Teacher Education is responsible for determining appropriate qualifications for teachers, explained Padma Sarangapani, professor and chairperson at the Centre for Excellence in Teacher Education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. While not explicitly named in the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the law mandates an academic authority to set minimum standards for the appointment of teachers. However, many teachers with the required qualifications were trained at subpar institutions, casting doubt on their credentials. “There has been a clampdown on these institutions, but they’ve had their run,” noted Rao.

The state of in-service training for teachers is equally concerning. No higher secondary school teacher in Telangana received in-service training in the academic year 2021-22. In eight states and Union Territories (excluding Ladakh), less than 5% of teachers received such training. In 11 other states and UTs, only 5-10% of teachers received in-service training. Gujarat had the lowest rate, training only 5.46% of its high school teachers.

Only seven of the 36 states and UTs managed to train more than half of their high school teachers on the job. Moreover, 31 of the 36 states and UTs trained fewer than half their elementary school teachers.

“In-service training is the responsibility of the state,” stated Mitra Ranjan, media coordinator at the Right to Education Forum. State Councils for Educational Research and Training develop courses for teacher educators, and District Institutes of Education and Training handle local training. However, few states assess the teachers they employ, added Rao.

Mitra also criticised the provided training’s quality. “If you give the teacher a module on education without understanding the situation in his school or the needs of his students, it is not going to be very helpful,” he said. The current “cascade model” of training, where one teacher learns at a central location and then trains colleagues in villages or blocks, often results in a loss of quality during the transmission process.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the Union government has shifted in-service training to the online Nishtha platform, complicating the assessment of training efficacy. “Now, it is hard to tell how much training a teacher gets,” Rao remarked.

The Impact on Student Outcomes

The lack of adequate training is compounded by the poor learning outcomes among students. As reported in July 2023, these outcomes are a significant concern. “What we know is that a good teacher can and does make a difference where students from the poorest of the poor are concerned,” said Sarangapani.

However, the environment in which teachers operate is also a crucial factor. Mitra highlighted the counterproductive measures imposed on teachers in some regions. “Instead of providing them with training, teachers in Bihar are asked to share selfies to mark their attendance at 6.45 a.m. How is scaring teachers on the job going to improve students’ performance?” she asked.

Despite the potential impact of good teachers, there is a lack of studies quantifying this effect, lamented Sarangapani. “We do not have enough studies in India showing us the impact of good teachers because most of the funded research is busy showing that government teachers are overpaid and not doing a good job and that if you hold them accountable, they will start performing,” she said.

Teacher Shortage

The issue extends beyond underqualified teachers to a significant shortage of educators. In the 2022-23 academic year, there were about 986,565 vacancies for teachers in schools, accounting for 15% of all sanctioned posts, as reported by a parliamentary committee in March 2023.

The RTE norm specifies a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of one teacher per 35 students. While most states meet this standard, Bihar is an exception, with each teacher catering to about twice the number of students compared to the national average. Additionally, Sarangapani pointed out that 81% of schools with PTRs above 35:1 are in rural areas, exacerbating the challenge.

Sarangapani also cautioned that PTR should be read carefully. “In the northeastern states, the PTRs are as low as 7% in some places. That does not mean that there is a surplus of teachers; instead, it shows that the schools are small and far apart and the terrains are difficult, making these schools difficult to staff,” she said. There are around 117,285 single-teacher schools in India, and only 34.4% of all schools have the number of teachers required to be compliant with the RTE, according to the provided documents.

Govt’s Role  

“The law came into effect in April 2010, and it gave the state governments three years to appoint the required number of qualified teachers. The deadline was extended to 2015, and then to 2017, after which we have not heard about it,” explained Mitra.

The classrooms are not simple situations, said Rao. In-service training can help teachers become more attuned to their working situations and the needs of their students. Accordingly, 20 days are set aside each year for government-mandated in-service training, said Sarangapani.

Research shows that professional learning focused on instructional practices can help improve students’ learning for teachers of all kinds of experiences. Further, teacher development needs to account for the realities of the classroom environment and school leadership to be effective. Mitra stressed, “There can be no perfect model for teacher training when basic teacher training is lacking, but we need to include teachers’ inputs and the children’s needs rather than letting an outsider with no knowledge of either develop a manual.”

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