Say they feel pressured by civic body's overemphasis on academic achievement of students

When P. Jagatheeswaran, a teacher of a Chennai Corporation-run school, attempted committing suicide on Thursday, there were spontaneous protests by teachers. The teacher's condition, according to sources in the private hospital he was shifted to on Friday, was critical. The worrisome incident not only highlights the stress levels prevalent among teachers of Chennai schools, but also points to the need to address some concerns immediately.

Nearly 4,000 teachers are employed across the 281 Chennai schools that over one lakh students in the city go to. While Thursday's incident highlights the stressful working conditions of teachers, the pressure faced by them cannot be viewed in isolation.

It has to be seen in the context of the Chennai Corporation, over the last few years, taking significant steps to enhance the image of its institutions. Obtaining 100 per cent pass and ranks in the public examinations figured high on every school's agenda, with periodic pressure from higher officials.

There are also several other issues ranging from the impact of resettlement of slums on Chennai Schools, to the expectation to compete with private schools. “If we have a few failures in the class in half-yearly, we get warned and unless we show signs of all students passing in the final examination, we are questioned,” said a teacher of a school in north Chennai.

Poor enrolment

Many teachers observed that their stress levels soared even more after a decline in admission of students to Chennai Schools was noticed. According to a senior official of the Chennai Corporation, even though many of the Chennai higher secondary schools have a large number of students on the rolls because of good results, enrolment has become a challenge in most of the primary and middle schools. When compared to the 63,641 students on the rolls in Chennai primary and middle schools in 2010-2011, the number of students in 2011-2012 has reduced to 58,929.

The gradual reduction in the number of students led to the merger of 30 Chennai Schools in June 2009 in localities where slums dwellers were resettled in Kannagi Nagar a few years ago. This has reduced the number of Chennai Schools to 281. Now, with the question of a major resettlement of 15,000 families in slum tenements looming large, most of the teachers say that they are scared of the fallout.

“Already there is intense competition from other schools. If slums are resettled in June, a large number of students will leave Chennai Schools. We are scared,” said a teacher of a Chennai School, which has a large number of students from a slum near the Cooum.

Teachers also face pressure in subtle ways from other quarters – parents, for instance. “There are many residents of slums who want sent their children to English medium schools. They want their child to understand English words. So, many of the teachers even try to mix English words with Tamil while teaching,” said the headmistress of a Chennai School in Triplicane.

Even after the change of name of Corporation School to Chennai School and opening of over 100 English medium sections, the teachers are unable to convince the parents to send their child to Chennai School. Parents say they want their children to go to the best school, said a teacher.

The competition from other schools including 327 matriculation schools, 350 aided schools, 475 unaided schools, 19 Anglo Indian schools, seven central schools and 36 CBSE schools in the old city limits is intense. After expansion the Chennai Corporation has identified areas where more Chennai schools are required in added areas. But it is yet to make a decision.

Higher officials of SSA, DIET, Corporation and the State education Department have also started exerting pressure on principals, say heads. “They in turn irritate us,” said a teacher in a school in North Chennai.

“However, some of the teachers are also into real estate broking and other business. This is affecting students. The government has to investigate this,” said a teacher.

President of Chennai Corporation Teachers Union P.Sivanandam said that the Chennai School teachers have to display more discipline at such a challenging situation and should be role model for students.

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Aloysius Xavier LopezJune 28, 2012

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