The education challenges can become more serious when lack of teacher qualifications is combined with classroom overcrowding.
Today is World Teachers’ Day, a good day to remember those at the frontline of Education – teachers – who play the critical role of advancing the right to education and equipping students with 21st century skills.
Concerted efforts in India over the last few decades have significantly expanded the right to education. According to established statistics, India has now achieved universal primary education, reduced the number of out-of-school children by over 90%, and attained gender parity at both primary and secondary levels.
The Indian Constitution recognizes education as a fundamental human right and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act envisaged under Article 21-A provides for free and compulsory education of all children in the age-group of 6 to 14 years.
Nationally, programmes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) have enabled the country to achieve significant progress in ensuring access to education.
The recently launched Samagra Shiksha programme (subsumes SSA and RMSA) further advances the aim to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education from pre-school to senior-secondary stage.
However, can we ensure the right to education if there are not enough qualified teachers? The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day – “The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher” – implores us to answer just that.
It is necessary to examine this linkage because around the world, there is an alarming increase in teacher shortages, an expansion in contract teaching, lack of professional development for teachers, and an overall decline in teaching quality. All this ultimately affects the quality of education that students receive.
The quality and access to education is undermined by a teacher deficit. According to Educational Statistics published by Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government Elementary schools had a shortfall of around 1 million teachers against a sanctioned strength of 5 million posts, with Jharkhand having the highest percentage of total vacancies (as of 2016).
This shortage reflects a larger global trend, with the world requiring almost 69 million new teachers to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all.
Added to the challenge of number of teachers, is the issue of quality as reflected in poor student learning outcomes. In India, according to the Annual Status of Education Report conducted by Pratham in 2017, in the 14-18 years age group, only 43% were able to do a simple division correctly, while 25% could not read basic text in their own language.
In addition, amidst teacher shortages and the demand for expanding access to education, contract teaching has increased. The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/18 notes the sharp increase of
fixed-term contracts in India where younger, undertrained and underpaid teachers are hired locally to teach in marginalized areas.
The education challenges can become more serious when lack of teacher qualifications is combined with classroom overcrowding. According to the latest national data on elementary education in India (2016/17), the national Pupil-Teacher-Ratio for elementary education is 23 with state variations ranging from six in Sikkim to 45 in Bihar.
Large class sizes not only impact teaching quality but also disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities who rely on the teacher’s capacity and skill to support them with different learning approaches. In India, where the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 has expanded the number of disabilities covered from 7 to 21, this skill and capacity of teachers assumes even more importance.
Investment in teachers is the need of the hour. As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, let us come together in solidarity to give this relationship the respect and honour it deserves. The right to education also means the right to a qualified teacher.
The writer is the director of Unesco’s New Delhi Cluster Office and Unesco Representative to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka