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Lessons to be learnt

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
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FOCUS The RTE Act talks of upgrading teacher quality in Government schools

A class apart Teachers can play a crucial role in making children interested in learning
A class apart Teachers can play a crucial role in making children interested in learning

I ndia is among the few countries to have a day specially dedicated to teachers, besides a clutch of awards to recognise their good work. Yet somehow, these gestures have failed to send out a strong message to most teachers in our government schools — the largest provider of school education in the country — that they are actually doing a crucial job for society. There's good reason too. Poorly paid for a long time (till the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented), teaching has often been seen as a thankless job, many times the last resort to grab a government job. With little motivation from the government to excel, no mechanism to attract only those who truly want to teach and hardly any importance given to accountability, many teachers have long stopped performing at their optimum, marking presence only to earn their wages. For elections, census, RTI work, etc., they are often shunted out, in what amounts to a covert admission that there are more important tasks to be done than just classroom transactions. Naturally, all this affects children attending school.

What holds out hope, however, is the clear mandate of the Right to Education (RTE) Act to ensure that all schools and their teachers meet certain specified norms. This was long due, say experts in the field. The challenge to arrive at success is enormous though, they point out.

“There are many training institutes but there has been a lack of commitment to make it a success. Now with the Act, we are asked to prepare many new teachers to tutor more children joining school besides training the existing ones. The number runs into lakhs and it is clearly not an easy task,” states Kuldeep Aggarwal, director, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), one of the agencies earmarked by the Government to train primary school teachers under the RTE Act. Many States are yet to wake up to the call. The deadline of 2017 to implement the Act entirely looks impractical. Shanta Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the nodal agency to implement the Act, calls the deadline difficult. “The first year has been slow in achieving its target, but I feel time is not an issue, if there is commitment from the States,” she says.

Since education is a concurrent subject, a lot depends on the willingness of the States to implement the Act successfully. Sinha says each state has a way of responding to the Act. But hope lies in the fact that no State can get away from it. Sinha was recently been in news for re-opening schools in the Maoist-infested tribal belt of Chhattisgarh. She disagrees with the common view that the poor don't want to educate their children. Her trip to Maoist infested areas despite warnings from the police was to hammer home this point. During public hearings as part of the Act, she has sensed the same feeling in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

“I am going to Manipur for a public hearing this week besides two other places in West Bengal.” Right now, the NCPCR is in the process of looking at the entitlements of children in schools like books, facilities, scholarships, etc. It is yet to look at teacher training.” When time comes, we plan to propose a dialogue between the teacher unions, parents and students for a mutually reinforcing environment,” says Sinha.

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

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