Noida: About 4,500 teachers of secondary and higher secondary schools--grades IX to XII--in India are themselves educated below secondary school, according to data on the Unified District Information System For Education Plus (UDISE+) dashboard for the year 2021-22. Moreover, less than 25% of all teachers received training on the job in that academic year.

This is in addition to those teachers who have the requisite professional qualifications, but from universities that are themselves not good enough to train the teachers, according to Sheshagiri K.M. Rao, an education specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Teachers’ professional development is a continuous process, and training should continue even once the teachers start working, experts told IndiaSpend. “There are constant disruptions in the form of artificial intelligence, Covid, etc., and to meet these challenges, teachers need support,” said Rao.

Indian students show poor learning outcomes, as we reported in July 2023. “What we know is that a good teacher can and does make a difference where students from the poorest of the poor are concerned,” said Padma Sarangapani, professor and chairperson at the Centre for Excellence in Teacher Education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

However, the situation in which teachers work to produce those results should also be considered, added Mitra Ranjan, media coordinator at the Right to Education Forum. “Instead of providing them with training, teachers in Bihar are asked to share selfies to mark their attendance at 6.45 a.m. How is scaring teachers on the job going to improve students’ performance?” he asked.

As parts of India vote in the last of the seven-phase polls to elect the 18th Lok Sabha, we analyse the state of teacher training--both before recruitment and during service--across the country.

Schools hire teachers with less than minimum qualification

Uttarakhand had the highest proportion of underqualified teachers at all levels (primary, middle school, secondary and higher secondary) in the country. More than two-thirds (67%) of all teachers who teach grades I to IV in Uttarakhand do not possess the required academic and professional qualifications to do so, government data show.

In all the states, the proportion of underqualified teachers on the job is higher at the primary and middle school levels compared to that in secondary and higher secondary levels.

About 3,634 teachers in secondary schools around the country are educated below secondary level, making them less educated than their students. Similarly, 914 teachers who teach grades XI and XII around the country are themselves middle school-qualified. Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have the highest number of such teachers.

Only 96% of the teachers who teach these grades are graduates or postgraduates--that is, four out of every 100 teachers have less than the requisite qualifications. In addition, only 78.4% of them possess a Bachelor of Education degree or higher which qualifies them for teaching these grades. Of all the teachers currently employed, only 77.5% are eligible as per the current criteria.

The National Council for Teacher Education is the body responsible for determining the appropriate qualifications for teachers, as per Sarangapani. It is not named in the RTE, but the law makes provision for an academic authority authorised by the government who will lay down the minimum standards for appointment as a teacher, she explained.

In addition, the teachers who possess the qualifications may have been trained at subpar institutes, rendering their credentials suspect, as per Seshagiri. “There has been a clampdown on these institutions, but they’ve had their run,” he told IndiaSpend.

Besides the problem of unqualified and under-qualified teachers, there is also the issue of shortage of teachers in absolute terms. There were about 986,565 vacancies for teachers in schools in India in 2022-23, accounting for 15% of all sanctioned posts, as a parliamentary committee’s report noted in March 2023.

However, the RTE norm is not just about national pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) or average PTR, but the classroom, as per Sarangapani. Teacher availability, as measured by the pupil teacher ratio, is specified in the RTE. Except Bihar, all the states have the required PTR of one teacher per 35 students as per the standards set by the RTE. In Bihar, however, each teacher caters to about twice the number of students as compared to the all-India number at all levels.

Besides, says Sarangapani, “If we look at the PTRs at the school level, 81% of schools that had PTRs above 35:1 are in rural areas.”

There are other factors that contribute to the PTR, and Sarangapani cautions that it should be read carefully. “In the north eastern states, the PTRs are as low as 7% in places. That does not mean that there is a surplus of teachers; instead it shows that the schools are small and far apart and the terrains are difficult, making these schools difficult to staff,” she said.

There are around 117,285 single teacher schools in India. Only 34.4% of all schools in India had the number of teachers required to be compliant with the RTE, according to documents provided by the RTE Forum.

“The law came into effect in April 2010, and it gave the state governments three years to appoint the required number of qualified teachers. The deadline was extended to 2015, and then to 2017, after which we have not heard about it,” explained Mitra.

Better models, more research needed for in-service teachers’ training: experts

No higher secondary school teacher in Telangana in any kind of school received in-service training in the academic year 2021-22, as per UDISE data. Less than 5% of teachers at this level received this training in eight of the 28 states and eight Union territories (excluding Ladakh). In 11 of these states and UTs, only 5-10% of teachers received in-service training.

Gujarat trained 5.46% of its high school teachers--grades IX to XII--which was the lowest in the country. Uttar Pradesh, Mizoram, Bihar, Meghalaya and Madhya Pradesh trained fewer than 10% of their high school teachers.

Only seven of the 36 states and Union territories trained more than half of the high school teachers on the job. In addition, 31 of the 36 states and UTs trained fewer than half their elementary school teachers.

Indian classrooms are not simple situations, said Rao. In-service training can help teachers become more attuned to their working situations and the needs of their students. Accordingly, 20 days are set aside each year for government-mandated in-service training. It is likely that most teachers meet these days, said Sarangapani.

In-service training is the responsibility of the state, as per Ranjan. At the state government level, State Councils for Educational Research Training develop courses for teacher educators and the Institute of Advanced Study in Education impart training. In the districts, the teachers are trained by the District Institutes of Education and Training.

However, few states assess the teachers they employ, according to Rao.

Even those teachers who attend the training days may not be getting the most out of it, said Ranjan. “If you give the teacher a module on education without understanding the situation in their school or the needs of their students, it is not going to be very helpful,” he explained.

On-the-job teachers in India are taught using the “cascade model”, in which one teacher learns at a central location and then imparts those skills to their colleagues in the village or block, said Sarangapani. The problem with this method is that not all schools are as well-equipped as the main training centre, as one case study from Andhra Pradesh found. Teachers have also reported loss of quality of training during the transmission from the Centre- or state-level down to the block level.

Since Covid, the Union government has shifted its funding for in-service training to the online Nishtha platform. “Now, it is hard to tell how much training a teacher gets,” said Rao.

Research shows that professional learning that focuses on instructional practices can help improve students’ learning for teachers of all kinds of experience. Further, teacher development needs to account for the realities of the classroom environment and school leadership to be effective.

“There can be no perfect model for teacher training when basic teacher training is lacking, but we need to include teachers’ inputs and the children’s needs rather than letting an outsider with no knowledge of either develop a manual,” said Mitra.

While the right teacher can theoretically make a difference in the teachers’ ability to engage their students, especially those from marginalised backgrounds, we may not be able to quantify this, rued Sarangapani. “We do not have enough studies in India showing us the impact of good teachers because most of the funded research is busy in showing that government teachers are overpaid and not doing a good job, and that if you hold them accountable, they will start performing,” she said.

IndiaSpend has written to the Ministry of Human Resource Development to ask about data on PTR at the school level and the amount spent on education research in the last five years. This story will be updated when we receive a response.

(Anushka Kogta, an intern at IndiaSpend and student at AJKMCRC, contributed to the reporting for this story. With inputs from Nileena Suresh)

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