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Where's the teacher?

Private participation in primary and secondary education increased rapidly during the decade. But things can change on a large scale only if the sector manages to find the top talent it requires as good teachers.

twitter-logoManu Kaushik | Print Edition: December 27, 2009

First, the good news: India needs nearly a million teachers at the elementary level and halfa-million at the secondary level. And private school chains are ready to pay up to Rs 30,000 a month to fresh primary school teachers. Great numbers for the unemployment scene!

Now, the bad news: Less than 10 per cent of the current teachers are worth hiring, 80 per cent became teachers because they had no other choice and the teachers training setup simply cannot process the numbers required.

Over the past decade, India's education system has been shining at the upper end, when it comes to the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, whose alumni now head many global corporations. But the boom also put the spotlight on the large numbers of schools with poor infrastructure and poorly-paid teachers outnumbered by students.

According to government estimates, India faces a shortage of 800,000 teachers in primary and upper primary schools. Over the next 10 years, secondary schools will have to recruit 500,000 teachers. This has left schools with a pupil teacher ratio (PTR) of 32.4 at the elementary level, given that 5.7 million teachers are handling 185 million students. The average PTR improves for higher classes, but that could be because most students have dropped out by then.

R. Govinda, Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), says the low PTR at the secondary and higher level is a result of low average pass percentage, high drop outs and low gross enrollment rates.

"In addition, there are only a few schools which teach from Grade 1-12. The present structure breaks the students' momentum once they pass out of the highest grade (5 or 8 or 10) in their school," says Govinda. The shortage of teachers has prompted many players to focus on teacher training, compensation and technology. The Bangalore-based National Public School (NPS) chain, for example, pays Rs 30,000 per month, against government levels ranging from Rs 14,500-21,500 per month.

K.P. Gopalkrishna, Chairman, NPS Group, says his package aims to make the teachers' social lives better.

"There is serious competition for talent from other sectors and it is difficult to attract qualified teachers. Today, less than 10 per cent of the teachers are worth hiring," says Gopalkrishna.

Anand Sudarshan, CEO and MD, Manipal Education, says the situation at higher levels is even more ironical, as graduating students at elite institutions can walk away with monthly pay packets that are multiples of what a professor earns.

Then, according to him, only 20 per cent of the teachers are teachers by choice; the rest land up in the profession because they could not get any other job.

Institutions such as BITS Pilani are thinking one step ahead. They put bright ME or MS students in a teaching job with a moderate stipend. "After grooming them for a few weeks, we ask them if they want to continue working with us… almost 80 per cent of them want to stay put," says G. Raghurama, Deputy Director, BITS Pilani.

Sudarshan says there are plenty of good people in other professions who would have become teachers if the compensation had been good. "There is a strong possibility that these professionals may start teaching part-time if they are given assurance that the income they earn from teaching will be tax-free," he says.

What Next?

One solution: Give autonomy to institutes and teachers. Experts say students at higher education institutes don't need a subsidy. "Why should a student, who is getting job offer of Rs 32 lakh annually, need government support?" asks Sudarshan.

Prof Rangan Banerjee, Dean (RandD), IIT Bombay, said IITs and IIMs are facing a faculty shortage because the country is not producing enough PhDs.

"In most countries, the number of PhD degrees awarded annually range between 5 and 9 per cent of the engineering graduate degrees awarded… In India, only around 1,000 students go for a PhD every year. This is just 0.33 per cent," says Banerjee.

His solution: Multiply this number by 10. "But it's not an easy job. Involvement of industry to sponsor special doctoral fellowships is one way," he says.

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