A treasure trove of teachers, untapped!

Anuradha C

Shortage of school teachers is an existential crisis in the academic world. It’s not a crisis that cropped up overnight. It’s been building for decades. Let’s recount some prominent media headlines we glimpse from time to time.

“Ill-taught child to unproductive worker” – The Economic Times, October 21, 2019
“1 in 6 elementary school teachers not professionally trained in India” – Business Standard, January 31, 2019
“Dismaying teacher shortage in Indian academia” – Education World, October 06, 2019

Such headlines about teacher shortage are commonplace but it doesn’t strike the ordinary reader as alarming. That’s because most readers of newspapers send their kids to private schools in urban areas which do not face much trouble. In fact these schools may even be dealing with a problem of plenty!

The problem manifests itself as you move away from the well-endowed schools to the ones in the crowded suburbs. Small towns might have the numbers but suffer in quality of teaching staff. But if you wish to get a true sense of the problem’s enormity, just make an unannounced visit to any of the government schools in rural India.

Discussions and heated debates about this issue are common in academic circles. The rural-urban divide, lack of infrastructure in government/rural schools, private vs government run schools, salary disparity for teachers – there are several aspects to the problem. Even in Teacher Plus, such aspects have been highlighted regularly.

Instead of reiterating these problem aspects, I’d rather focus on a solution that might ease the situation considerably. The proposal stems from closely following another persisting trend that gets regularly reported in the papers.

“Millions of Women Are Dropping Out of Work” – News18 India, June 28, 2019
“50% Indian women drop out of the corporate employment pipeline between junior and mid-levels” – Business Today, October 5, 2016

I can vouch for this trend, because I am a product of it myself! Women between the ages of 30 and 50 routinely fall out of the corporate ladder, be it engineers, lawyers, architects, finance professionals and many other vocations. Their reasons for dropping out are varied. Focus on family and child care, juggling between home and work responsibilities, relocating to the husband’s place of living, aspiration to pursue an alternate interest, or simply giving up on the gruelling corporate race.

After a few years of voluntary withdrawal from the job scene, a large percentage of these women are keen to restart their careers. And several of them prefer a more fulfilling or socially relevant career the second time around. Teaching rates very highly in their preferred second career choice. So why aren’t these women opting for teaching in large numbers? Why do we still have such an appalling teacher shortage in the country?

Entry barriers to a teaching job
B.Ed. – At face value, it all sounds very simple. The National Council for Teacher Education (A statutory body of the Government of India) lays down the eligibility criteria for school teachers as: “Graduation with at least 50% marks and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.)”. Though this is a seemingly easy qualification to possess, it serves as an enormous entry barrier for qualified professional women aspiring to be teachers.

B.Ed. is a qualification that fetches only teaching jobs, and it takes up two years of a candidate’s time. On the other hand, a post-graduation in one’s own field or an MBA degree would serve as an added qualification for a multitude of career options. So most women seeking a second career would find a B.Ed. as a sub-optimal investment of two years of their time. Especially when they have already lost a few years being out of the job scenario.

Teaching experience – There is no disputing the fact that experience at performing a job matters. Any number of degrees cannot substitute what we learn on the job. That holds even more merit for a sensitive and socially responsible job like teaching. The problem is not seeking teaching experience as a pre-requisite. Its ‘school teaching’ experience that most candidates would lack.

Private tuition teachers, corporate trainers, Youtube tutorial creators. For that matter even mothers of school kids are teachers! It’s just that their teaching happens in different circumstances. Why deny them a chance to teach children formally in a school environment? Why not just give them a trial before dismissing them outright as ineligible?

Full-day job with no flexibility in work hours – One of the main reasons these talented and qualified women are out of the corporate rigmarole is because they don’t want to invest their entire day at work. So a full-time teaching position without flexibility in work hours would be a major dampener to their interest.

If short duration appointments, flexi-hour school terms are offered, I can vouch that thousands of qualified professional women would lap it up!

The proposal
Let me list down quick actionable points that can be considered for implementation by government bodies such as the NCTE, CBSE and the school managements.

  • Create a visiting teacher role for lateral recruits. Professionals from various vocations are welcome to join. Depending on the educational qualification, the subjects offered and the role played within the school administration can vary. For instance, a finance professional would make a great maths, economics teacher as well as a qualified accountant for the school affairs.
  • Teachers can offer to join for a minimum of one academic year. Tenure can be extended based on mutual suitability. Something in the likes of the Government of India’s Short Service Commission can be established for these recruitments.
  • A nation-wide teaching services online portal can be setup. Schools advertise their vacancies, candidates mark their interest against the vacancies. No need to apply to individual schools one by one. When Amazon can match buyers and resellers, why can’t we match teaching jobs and aspirants!
  • Incentivize candidates ready to take up positions in rural or sub-urban locations. A one year rural stint earns you a government recognition, such as a certificate or a recommendation letter. Plenty of non-monetary inducements can be devised.
  • As a substitute for B.Ed, design a practical bridge course that lasts no more than a few weeks. Learnings specific to school education can be imparted. Complete the course, conduct a demo teaching session and you are eligible for a school teaching job!
  • Allow visiting teachers to work flexible hours. It could be two days per week at a rural location. Or three hours every day. Whatever works best for the teacher and the school.
  • Figure out how best their additional professional knowledge can be utilized. An engineer can help set up a science lab, a lawyer can help in RTE management. The scope is endless.
  • After a couple of years of holding a visiting faculty position, the candidate can choose whether to become a full time teacher or not. However, only full-time teachers with school teaching experience can hold critical positions, be it a class teacher or head mistress.
  • Visiting teachers with specialized professional skills can be used to enhance the skill set of existing school teachers. Something like a “Train the Trainer” program. That way, both quantity and quality gaps can be addressed. In fact, there is plenty of scope for mutual learning.

I am sure some of these ideas have already been under consideration. But when implemented in totality, they offer a strong, viable source of alternate manpower. Yet untapped. Just because the proposal highlights suitability of women, does not mean the men aren’t preferred. They are welcome too!

Let me conclude by drawing parallels from our national craze and pride – cricket of course! Until the introduction of the IPL tournament, our domestic cricketing scene lacked fire power and player quality. Infusion of foreign players into teams has spiced up the whole picture. Lateral entry of the super stars from foreign teams has enhanced the abilities of the local players. Now as an integrated unit, these IPL teams are a great showcase of talent and performance. That’s my dream for the academic universe too.

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at anuradhac@gmail.com.

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