Punitive measures alone will achieve nothing

These children in Bangalore attend a government school in one of the most deprived areas of the city. However, the commitment of teachers is great because of the respect and esteem in which they are held.

These children in Bangalore attend a government school in one of the most deprived areas of the city. However, the commitment of teachers is great because of the respect and esteem in which they are held.

I am seldom convinced that punitive measures in education work. I am even less well disposed towards these when they are applied in poor situations which have, to some extent, been created by those who would inflict punishment.

A number of news reports from the state of Bihar, one of India’s poorest districts have lately caused me to reflect on how a dire educational situation there could be improved. For many years there have been major difficulties in recruiting teachers to work in this deprived area of the country, which has often been singled out for the poor quality of its education and social provision. A few years ago a significant recruitment drive was conducted in order to fill the many teaching vacancies in Bihar, and with a stated intention of improving both school attendance and levels of pupil attainment. At one time, this was reported as a success story, with an increase in school attendance and progress being apparently made towards increased levels of literacy. However, in recent months all of this good news appears to have evaporated amidst scandal and intrigue.

Recent reports (see for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-28190261) indicate that more than 20,000 teachers recruited under a state scheme had forged their degree certificates in order to gain employment. It is claimed that almost 800 of these teachers have recently been dismissed from their posts and that others are to follow.  Furthermore, more than 60,000 primary schools lack principals who could provide leadership and direction for schools where the average pupil teacher ratio is currently one teacher for every 63 pupils (India’s national ratio is about one teacher for every 40 pupils).

All of this makes for depressing reading, but I believe that the information is not easily interpreted. Those unqualified teachers, many of whom are described as incompetent, who are currently working in Bihar’s schools, were presumably appointed by authorities who made very little effort to check their qualifications prior to appointment. One also needs to ask questions about why it is so difficult to appoint teachers to work in this area, whereas in some other parts of India this does not seem to be such a problem?

Part of the difficulty in this situation appears to be the low status afforded to teachers in India, particularly those who work in government schools. Having visited several of these schools (though not in Bihar) I am always aware of how poorly resourced they are when compared to the private schools in the same vicinity. The teachers working in these schools are often less qualified than their counterparts in the “elite” schools, and government schools regularly report difficulties with recruitment of staff. The majority of teachers working in government schools are women and many have second jobs in order to make a living sufficient to feed their families. Recruitment of men to the teaching profession remains problematic because of the low esteem in which teaching is regarded as a profession. In Bihar, which is regularly reported as one of the poorest Indian states, there are major difficulties in attracting a skilled and educated workforce. I am for example, aware of many migrant workers from Bihar and other deprived states such as Orissa, working on the building sites of Bangalore because of the difficulties of finding well paid employment at home.

Children need well qualified and competent teachers and it is quite right that the state officials in Bihar and those at national government level, should be not only expressing concerns, but also identifying those individuals who are working under false pretences and with forged qualifications. However, punitive measures alone will not alleviate this dire situation and it is surely essential that these same authorities address the situation, by enhancing the status of teachers and providing more effective training for those who have ambitions to teach. There are many examples from other countries, including my own, of the development of incentive programmes to encourage teachers to work in poor areas. The provision of assistance with housing is just one of the benefits that have been used to entice well qualified teachers to work in areas where there have been difficulties with recruitment.

I am not suggesting that this is an easily solved problem. However, I do wonder if those teachers who have illegally falsified their qualifications might also be the source of a potential solution to the current difficulties. Presumably some of these individuals have demonstrated a commitment to work in situations that other more qualified persons have avoided. Perhaps an initiative to raise their skills and support them to gain the necessary qualifications might be one part of the answer to the challenges of recruitment in this area.

I have witnessed in many government schools, even those that are poorly resourced and where class sizes are above sixty students, dedicated, highly motivated and competent teachers who are affording children learning opportunities that were denied to previous generations. At one such school, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan BBMP school in Bangalore, which serves one of the most deprived areas of that city, I have seen enthusiastic and skilled teachers making a significant contribution to the lives of their students. This has been achieved because of the ethos of respect and appreciation created by the school principal and the gratitude of the community served. Whilst I am sure that many of the teachers working in that school could obtain better paid posts in private schools elsewhere in the city, their dedication to their students and the recognition they receive for the progress that these children make, ensures that they have status in their community and feel appreciated for their professionalism.

I do hope that the authorities in Bihar take the appropriate action to address the serious fraud that has characterised many of the schools in that state. But I would also urge them to look in more detail at the underlying situation that has led to this problem, and find ways of enhancing the position of teachers who would provide a commitment to the children in that area.



6 thoughts on “Punitive measures alone will achieve nothing

  1. Hi Richard – While many countries have difficulties attracting teachers to regional areas, the issue seems particularly acute in this region in India. Classes of 63 boggle the mind! This sounds like a problem on a scale not often found in other parts of the world – I hope the Indian authorities have a good plan in place.

    • Hi Tim,
      I have every confidence in the ability of the Indian education authorities to develop plans, I am less assured about their ability to see them through. As in all countries there are first class teachers who would take a lead and give a great commitment to children wherever they are. However, the conditions for living in some of the poorer areas of Bihar make for major difficulties in attracting teachers to these areas. I do worry that there are plenty of politicians and media personnel who are quick to criticise and find issues. They are less enthusiastic when it comes to supporting solutions. The need for professional development is immense, but needs to be properly planned, culturally astute and adequately funded.

  2. A class of 63 is not unusual in many parts of the country (India) even now… not just in Govt. schools but in private schools too… in many of the big cities.

    I for one went to a prestigious convent school in my city in Trivandrum (Kerala) where I had 60 plus students in my class from class 1-4 (co-ed) I was in E division and I think at some time we had divisions even up to “I” !!

    However, I remember my class teacher (a nun in the making) knew every child and tailored the learning to suit individual needs to a great extent. 2 students did multiplication in Math when the rest of us struggled with basic addition!!

    I was in a different school after class 7, and in that school I had 45 classmates for my class 10. Here again each one of us got individual attention from all the teachers.

    I have also read about some amazing multi-age classrooms in some parts of Africa (Save the Children report) where there were about 200 children to one teacher; and the teacher also personally helped students who needed therapy get to their therapy classes, as their parents couldn’t take them!!

    I guess it is about dedication and going the extra mile. (in the above case literally too!)

    I have seen some very good, dedicated teachers in Govt. schools…I don’t know anything about their qualifications…

    When driving licences and other degrees including medical and engineering degrees can be got for a “sum”, I wouldn’t be surprised if teachers too got their degrees that way.

    I guess audit for one billion people is the issue…

  3. Hi Suchita,
    I am always humbled when I see the amazing dedication of teachers in schools in India and other parts of Asia. I am frustrated when I hear them being criticised and often recognise that their ability to manage large and diverse classes is something that I have never had to confront.

    I am aware of the ways in which corruption infiltrate many aspects of life, particularly in poorer countries. However, we need to look beneath the surface in order to identify why these situations continue and to devise ways of supporting those who feel that the system mitigates against them.

    I know that you have benefited greatly from your own education. As an articulate and intelligent, and dare I say, often stubborn lady, I believe you would thrive in any education system.

  4. I am sure that at the time, this recruitment drive was celebrated as most innovative idea for the emancipation, a cure for all ills within the education system in Bihar –. But I suspect, all the while the politicians who orchestrated it knew full well that it was a quick fix without proper system for assessment or accountability. This was either to silence the critics or to get a few more votes. As you said Richard, it is easy to criticise people and systems without due consideration of the actual reality and the circumstances under which these occur. Admittedly, using forged documents to secure employment particularly as a teacher should not be condoned and it needs to be treated with utmost importance. Yet, dismissing all the teachers without an alternative provision in place is only going to put the future of these children in jeopardy (I am not arguing that they were any safer or better under the care of unqualified and fraudulent teachers). However, it could be an opportunity to find out if any of these teachers are truly dedicated to ensuring the welfare and learning of their pupils and if so, give them the opportunity to get proper training and resume teaching upon completion of such training.

    At the same time, it is imperative that the politicians and policymakers address education with sincerity rather than for political mileage and narrow personal agenda of individual politicians. As you said, we are good in planning, but may be not so good in seeing it through!! Education should become priority, not only in political rhetoric, but in planning, allocation of resources and implementation of policies – we have the plan, we have the resources – what we need is allocation and implementation or at least the willingness to try…

  5. Hi Benny,
    I expect that there were policy makers who genuinely thought that the actions they were taking would benefit children. Sadly, a few bad apples in the barrel makes life impossible for everyone. It strikes me that the people who have been working in schools even when not qualified, have at least made some form of commitment to children. Let’s hope that actions taken now genuinely do improve the lives of children in this desperately poor area of India.

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