It’s all about teacher excellence

Urvashi Nangia

Formal schooling in India begins at the age of three and goes on till the age of 18. Central to the schooling system are the teachers. If there are no teachers, there is no school. The Kothari Commission, 1966 said, “Of all the different factors which influence the quality of education and its contribution to national development, the quality, competence and character of teachers are undoubtedly the most significant.” India has 9.7 million teachers from grade 1-12 for 248 million students across 1.5 million schools (UDISE+2019-20). The Indian education system faces a shortage of 1.1 million teachers.

The Global Teachers Status Index 2018 (conducted by the Varkey foundation) shows that in India, only around 25 per cent of the parents would definitely encourage their children to be teachers. Figures across the world, unfortunately, are even lower.

The study emphasizes that, “Teacher status is a necessary consideration for governments around the world. Status is not just a nice thing to have, but something that can be a direct contributor to improved student performance, via an increased likelihood of more effective teachers entering the profession and remaining in the profession. Whilst status is already high in some countries, it remains a mid-ranked profession in many, and therefore presents a real and present challenge to governments as they seek to improve the capacity of the teaching profession.” The study shows that teachers are considered at par with doctors in only three countries. In most other countries, a social worker or a nurse are considered equivalent professions. The same study shows that in India, the teacher is perceived like a librarian.

Illustrations: Soumya Menon

India’s National Education Policy 2020 recognizes this. It says, “Teachers truly shape the future of our children – and, therefore, the future of our nation. It is because of this noblest role that the teacher in India was the most respected member of society. Only the very best and most learned became teachers. Society gave teachers, or gurus, what they needed to pass on their knowledge, skills, and ethics optimally to students. The quality of teacher education, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, and empowerment of teachers is not where it should be, and consequently the quality and motivation of teachers does not reach the desired standards. The high respect for teachers and the high status of the teaching profession must be restored so as to inspire the best to enter the teaching profession. The motivation and empowerment of teachers is required to ensure the best possible future for our children and our nation.”

Respect and recognition for teachers can come from the State, school heads, other teachers, students, wider community including parents, and the teachers themselves. A few of these are discussed below.

Awards/rewards for excellence are one of the easiest ways to increase recognition of teachers. Some of the existing ones are the National Award for Teachers (Ministry of Education), National Award for innovative practices and experiments in education for schools and teacher education institutes (NCERT) and National ICT awards for school teachers (NCERT). At the global level, the Global Teacher Prize is touted as the Nobel for Education with a prize money of USD 1 million. It was recently awarded to a teacher in Maharashtra.

While it is great for an individual to receive an award, a handful of teachers rewarded for their efforts is certainly not enough. It may not lead to a change in the larger system. There may be limited mechanisms in place for the prize winner to get a bigger audience and impact positively at scale. Also, many questions arise as to the legitimacy of awards. Who gives the award and why? On what basis is the awardee selected, i.e., what is the ideology and the politics behind the award?

Surely, there must be more sustainable ways to build recognition for more number of teachers. In fact, doesn’t the whole profession need recognition?

Pay and career progression
Another way to recognize teachers is to offer them a decent pay and ample opportunities for career progression. As per the UNESCO, State of Education Report for India, 2021, average salaries in government schools of all school teachers are around Rs. 31,280 per month, whereas in private schools it is Rs. 13, 564 per month, with variations across levels and types of teachers. Salaries of teachers form almost 90 per cent recurring expense in education across states in India, however, teachers are still amongst the lowest paid public professionals.

The terms of contract also influence the pay and benefits received. The salary differential between teachers on contract and those without contract, is higher in the private sector as compared to the government sector. A teacher without contract could be getting around 45 per cent lower salary than a teacher with a three-year contract.

Additional benefits like leave, pension, insurance, provident fund and gratuity also make a huge difference. However, as the report shares, 59 per cent of teachers in the private sector and 19 per cent of teachers in the government sector were found to be ineligible for these benefits. It also shares that only 11 per cent in the private sector and 41 per cent in the government sector received the maximum allowable benefits.

The National Education Policy, 2020 takes note of this fact and suggests developing a merit-based salary structure, tenure, and promotions based on multiple parameters like peer reviews, attendance, continuous professional development, community service, etc., for recognizing and incentivizing teachers.

Currently, there are very few incentives and the career graph is quite flat in both government and private schools. Also, there is no system to link professional development to better roles. However, the NEP 2020 wants to ensure that each stage would have high quality teachers and there would be an opportunity for career growth at all levels. The policy also says that vertical growth on merit will be encouraged, which means that teachers will be eligible for academic leadership positions in schools, BRCs, CRCs, DIETs, etc.

Working environment
As per the RTE act, teachers are required to work for a minimum of 45 hours per week including preparation time (or seven and a half hours a day for a working week of six days). Studies by Ramachandran et al., 2018; Sankar and Linden, 2014; Akai and Sarangapani, 2017 show that in India, teachers’ workload is quite intense and they take care of instructional as well as administrative work. This fact challenges the popular perception that teachers in India don’t work too much. Further, the support structure for a conducive working environment is largely missing.

A conducive environment not only means proper infrastructure, but more importantly, it includes the creation of fearless and supportive teaching-learning communities across schools.

If the environment builds trust, has collaborative relationships, a supportive culture and improvement-focused evaluations and assessment, a teacher’s work would be recognized consistently throughout the year.

Schools have to become safe spaces to learn and grow, even for teachers. Ensuring that the service environment is not lonely or competitive, but instead more collaborative and connected is really important. If the teacher networks are strong, there is a higher probability of feeling understood and supported. After all, who can recognize and understand a teacher more, if not another teacher?

For instance, if schools have opportunities for continuous professional development, regular teacher meetings to discuss challenges and arrive at possible solutions, mutual classroom observations, honest sharing of constructive feedback, open communication channels with academic leaders/ principals – it can really make teachers feel connected, recognized, and supported.

Empowering teachers to be transformative intellectuals
Giroux explains, “First, I think it is imperative to examine the ideological and material forces that have contributed to what I want to call the proletarianization of teacher work; that is, the tendency to reduce teachers to the status of specialized technicians within the school bureaucracy, whose function then becomes one of the managing and implementing curricular programs rather than developing or critically appropriating curricula to fit specific pedagogical concerns. Second, there is a need to defend schools as institutions essential to maintaining and developing a critical democracy and also to defending teachers as transformative intellectuals who combine scholarly reflection and practice in the service of educating students to be thoughtful, active citizens.”

There needs to be recognition from the wider community – the parents, the political leadership – that education is not a commodity to be purchased. It is a service rendered by teachers towards the creation of better individuals and a better society. When education is viewed as a commodity and teachers are viewed as mere technicians, their work gets severely limited to completing the prescribed curriculum and teaching for examinations.

Recognition from the students
Another way to recognize teachers is by enabling them to build positive student-teacher relationships. A good pupil-teacher ratio, offering more autonomy in trying out new teaching methods or selecting teaching learning materials best suited for their own classrooms, creating spaces for co-learning, etc., are some of the ways schools can strengthen the student-teacher bond. Any teacher beams with pride when a student recognizes their effort in improving academic and/or personal lives. This is what gives most teachers the motivation and strength to choose and remain in this profession.

Recognition by the teachers themselves
Many a time, recognition doesn’t come externally. Policy changes don’t happen, leaders don’t take notice, systems don’t foster recognition and so on. However, teachers must believe that what they do is worthy even when others fail to acknowledge it.

Teaching is one of the most powerful professions in the world. What teachers do on a day-to-day basis transforms lives.

• Giroux, H. A. (1985). Teachers as Transformative Intellectuals. Social Education, 49(5), 376-79).
• Government of India. 2020. National Education Policy 2020. New Delhi, Ministry of Education.
• UNESCO. 2021. No Teacher No Class: State of the Education Report for India 2021. New Delhi, UNESCO Regional Office.
• Varkey Foundation. 2018. Global Teacher Status Index 2018. University of Sussex and Varkey Foundation. media/4867/gts-index-13-11-2018.pdf

The author is the founder of Kashti, an educational initiative which aims to inspire compassion, critical awareness and conscious action for a better world. Currently, she holds workshops with primary and pre-primary teachers as well as parents on ‘Raising Readers’, ‘Re-Centering Play’ and ‘Foundational Mathematics’. She can be reached at or you can see her work at

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