ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Countering Their Negative Image

Government School Teachers in India

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India by S Giridhar, Chennai: Westland Publications, 2019; 389.

For several decades now, the public image of government schoolteachers has been a serious cause for concern. The “learning crisis” (as it is popularly referred to) that has garnered so much public attention has been attri­buted to teachers—their classroom practices, absenteeism, work shirking and involvement in local as well as party politics (Muralidharan et al 2014; Kingdon et al 2002). Increasing enrolment in private schools is also blamed on government schoolteachers. At the same time, it is indeed interesting that policy documents continue to see schoolteachers as the cornerstone of the education system. The draft National Education Policy, 2019 declared,

None of this (facilitating transformation of the education system) will be possible without passionate and committed school teachers and faculty in higher education institutions who will take charge of transforming the education system … (p 31, Draft NEP 2019)

The sad reality is that, across India, thousands of schoolteachers are not only passionate about their work but go to great length to ensure that each and every child in their class learns. Positive narratives of dedicated government teachers and well-run schools rarely find space in the media or scholarly journals, which seems to prefer negative narratives—one that legitimises the image of a crumbling and dysfunctional government school system. As a result, these narratives have reinforced and strengthened the belief that privatisation is the only answer, and it had also led to sustained advocacy for greater privatisation of school education. There has been a vocal lobby, arguing that school vouchers as the only way forward (Shah and Shah 2017), another section has argued to legitimise contract teachers as the only way to make teachers “more accountable” and reduce absenteeism (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2013; Atherton and Kingdon 2010). Such scholars also argue that contract teachers work just as well as regular teachers, they cost less and that they may actually be made to be more accountable. Unfortunately, this kind of narrative seems to grab the attention of people who matter in the educational planning space—both within India, in multilateral agencies and among the “opinion makers” across the world. As a result, teachers—especially in government schools—are vilified and have gradually become objects of contempt. This trend is not only very disturbing, but it does great injustice to the thousands of schoolteachers across the country who work against severe odds to ensure their children learn.

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Updated On : 13th Oct, 2020

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