IT IS heartening that a global study across 35 countries has found that India stands 6th in the list of top 10 countries that value their teachers most. The study, sponsored by the UK-based Varkey Foundation, looked for the implicit faith of the peoples of those countries had in the teachers. The study based on the Global Teacher Status Index of 2018 has explained why “Implicit Teacher Status” varies among countries and how it is linked to pupil attainment. Even as we feel gratified that India is high on the scale in this regard, we also cannot ignore a rather unpleasant reality that the overall respect for teachers has been on a steady decline over the years in the country.
Even though the larger Indian society has often respected teacher -- the Guru -- in the highest terms as part of a traditional and cultural theme, the overall respect for teachers has seen a palpable reduction. Unfortunately, this is reflected in the overall quality of education in India despite improvement in physical facilities that schools and colleges have attained over time. On a considerable scale, the teachers’ emoluments, too, have seen a reasonable rise in the past quarter of a century. Despite this positive development, the average teacher in India enjoys lesser status in social spectrum than do people engaged in other professions, a reality that nobody can deny.
If the larger Indian society is partly responsible for this decline, the Government -- through various dispensations -- also has contributed negatively to it. Various official policies related to school or college education and management have treated teachers as cogs in the massive wheel that tends to reduce institutions as ‘industrial’ or ‘commercial’ enterprises. In countless schools and colleges across the country, teachers get only part of the promised salaries and their services are terminated almost at will, giving them a terrible sense of insecurity (and even a sense of inferiority). One of the official policies links the number of teachers to the number of students attending an institution. This provision has given the managements of schools and colleges a tool to retrench teachers citing reduced numbers of students. In some cases, teachers are asked to tour areas nearby their institutions to scout for students, which is common knowledge. These realities are known to everybody in India -- from top down.
Yet, there has been only lip service to the cause without actual and planned and focused attempt to redeem the status of teachers in the country. There are three distinct levels of social and official respect to teachers in the Indian society. The top layer accommodates teachers belonging to truly good institutions that offer full respect to them and pays them well as per the law. The lower layer hosts teachers who work in institutions with suspect moral antecedents and are all the time making compromises as far as teachers and their emoluments are concerned.And the middle layer is of teachers belonging to institutions where good and bad practices mingle to make things just acceptable.
This three-level distinction is in everybody’s knowledge, but no school or college management has ever been taken to task for playing foul with teachers. The question is not just about salaries and emoluments; it is also about the overall respect for the teacher as the most critical factor in education. It is also about the facility the teacher in Indian institutions gets to enhance his or her knowledge-levels for the final benefit of the students. If this condition continues, then the larger Indian society will suffer in education in the long run. And that makes it incumbent upon all of us to start respecting the teachers in a comprehensive manner. Today, in a sample survey in 35 countries, India is 6th. Any study on a wider scale may bring down India’s ranking to a lower spot. So, even as we celebrate the study to an extent, we must also hear a wake up call to eliminate the flaws in our social and educational systems and grant a greater respect to teachers. It is not enough to talk glowingly about the ‘Guru’ in ancient context. For, we cannot afford to miss the modern reference.