Despite sanctioning the record numbers of Eklavya Model Residential Schools for tribal students since 2014 and setting up of the National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS) to manage these schools in 2018, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has so far been unable to fix the teacher shortage faced across 378 of such schools that are currently functional.
According to the data gathered by the Ministry, just about 4,000 teachers have been appointed across the 378 schools, of which nearly 70 per cent are either contractual teachers or on deputation from state government schools.
According to the guidelines issued to states in 2020 by NESTS, each school had been recommended to have a total of 52 staffers, of which 30 were meant to be teaching positions (1 Principal, 1 Vice-Principal, 12 Post-Graduate Teachers, 12 Trained Graduate Teachers, 1 Arts teacher, 1 Music teacher, and 2 Physical Education teachers). This would mean that 378 schools would have a total of 11,340 teachers.
Officials said that the structure under which the NESTS was set up in 2018, had made it difficult for it to monitor and enforce its own recommendations to the schools as far as teacher recruitment was concerned. After the NESTS was set up, the State Education Societies for Tribal Students (SESTS) were also set up, which would receive the funding from the Ministry and allocate it accordingly.
The guidelines said that while NESTS would be responsible for recommending the syllabi, the school and hostel standards, and the teacher recruitment guidelines, the SESTSs would be in charge of implementing these guidelines with room for local modifications in each of these areas.
“The guidelines never mandated that the state societies must follow our recommendations, which were made considering the minimum requirements to maintain a standard education quality and uniformity across schools,” a senior Ministry official said.
Officials added the Ministry had found that leaving the teacher recruitment to the states was leading to a non-uniformity in the quality of teachers, not enough recruitment happening in reserved positions, and a large number of schools recruiting teachers contractually, in a bid to save on the salary expenses, which was resulting in large gaps in the salaries of teachers working at the same level, discouraging many qualified teachers from even applying. These are the same problems that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute in Odisha had identified at EMRSs in an official report in 2015.
‘Overhauling the administrative structure’
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs concluded that the only way to solve the teacher shortage and bring uniformity in the teaching standards was to completely overhaul the administrative structure under which the EMRSs were run and to change it to the model that was followed by the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs), Chairman of NESTS Asit Gopal told The Hindu.
He explained that this would entail scrapping all SESTSs, and setting up of Regional Offices under the direct control of NESTS. Following this, once the staffers were sanctioned at the ROs, the NESTS would be able to directly sanction the number of teaching positions and recruit as per the Central reservation policies, by which the schools would be bound.
A proposal in this regard has already been sent from the MoTA to the Department of Expenditure of the Union Finance Ministry. But even after the Expenditure department approves it, it would take anywhere between one or two years for NESTS to start recruiting teachers under the new process, until when the current process would continue affecting the quality of education the students were receiving at the schools, officials said.
“Taking a fine-tooth comb”
In a bid to get a head start on the teacher recruitment, the Ministry had last year advertised 3,400 teaching positions across EMRSs in around 15 states and UTs, to be filled by a test conducted by the National Testing Agency. But soon, the test for these positions was put on hold due to COVID-19, forcing the NESTS to take a fine-tooth comb to the guidelines, after which they decided to cancel the recruitment altogether early this year.
“The guidelines under which we currently operate had several unknowns. For instance, we did not understand whether the teachers recruited this way would be paid as per the Centre’s pay scale or states’. Also, we figured that some states have reservations for domiciles, which would become a problem if all the teachers were to be recruited by the Centre. And thirdly, there was confusion about whether the reservation policy would be that of the Centre or of the states,” a NESTS official said.
Of the total sanctioned strength of 684 EMRSs, 503 were sanctioned since 2014-15, as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to have at least one of these schools in each district with over 50% tribal population. Last year, the PM had said that his government intendsed to have a total of 750 EMRSs keeping with the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign.
However, of the schools sanctioned since 2014, less than half (212) were currently functional, as per the Ministry’s records. Among those, 46 schools had their own buildings and the rest operated from the rented or other government buildings either because the construction of the schools was incomplete or had not even started. In the 378 functional EMRSs currently, a little over 1.05 lakh students were enrolled as of March 31 this year.