TEACHERS NEED TO BE VACCINATED IF WE WANT AN EDUCATED NATION AFTER COVID-19

Ever since I started to work in education, I have been hearing, and to a certain extent even experiencing, the growing apathy of teachers towards teaching. While the competence of private school teachers is dealt with privately, the shortcomings of the government school teachers have been a topic of public debate for several decades. The teachers have been blamed squarely for the “learning crisis” of the school going children in government schools. The public image of government school teachers has been a serious cause for concern. This image is not only very disturbing, but it is also unfair to the thousands of school teachers across the country who work against severe odds to create a good learning environment.

The teaching profession, sadly, is not given enough dignity and importance both by the private school administrators and the government. During the Covid-19 crisis many teachers in private schools have either not been paid at all or have been paid only half their salaries. I know it first-hand because of the distress calls I have received from teachers of well-known schools requesting for the rations that we were distributing in the slums. And yet when most of the schools started online classes these teachers geared up, learnt the technology and have pitched in with online classes in spite of several inconveniences at home. I have seen images of teachers managing their young children while cooking at home and conducting the online classes for half their salary. Government school teachers have been deployed for election and Covid-19 duty and many of them have succumbed to the virus because they were not provided with adequate safety equipment. And this, in an environment, where we do not have enough teachers as it is.

Let us look at the state of Uttar Pradesh for instance. Latest data available with UP basic education department reveals that there is an acute shortage of teachers with over 1.41 lakh posts of teachers and headmasters lying vacant across the 1.59 lakh government primary schools. Officials share anonymously that the true number of vacancies is actually 2.1 lakh. One is therefore not surprised that the net enrolment rate in UP is 9 % lower than the all India average of 88.94% and has the country’s 6th highest annual dropout. And it is in this state, that the teachers were coerced to do election duty earlier this year much against the protest of their unions. “Many of our colleagues had pleaded exemptions from poll duty citing that they have been tested Covid-19 positive, but no one listened,” said the spokesperson of the Teacher’s wing of the Rashtriya Shikhak Mahasangh. In the election duty training program, no safety protocols were maintained with three teachers sitting on one bench and over 50-60 teachers in one room. It is therefore tragic but not at all surprising, that more than 1700 teachers have died of Covid-19 while doing election duty.

The scenario is not too different in Karnataka as well. Schools in Karnataka are facing a huge teacher shortage because as many as 21,947 out of the 75,549 schools in the state hardly have any teachers. The official report of the District Information System for Education says, 767 schools have no teachers at all, while 5,503 have only one and 14,667 have just two. Five educational districts in this state that have more than 100 schools that do not have a single teacher. And to top it all government school teachers during the last panchayat elections in December 2020 were recruited for counting where all Covid-19 protocols went for a toss. Newspapers reported that a large number of people had gathered outside counting centres without any masks. Karnataka has reported of losing 280 teachers to Covid-19 since March 2020. The department of public instruction said 183 primary school teachers and 49 secondary teachers of government schools died due to the virus. There have been similar casualties in aided schools as well. Four senior headmasters have also died of the virus.

What all this leads to is this, it is about time that the government and civic society begins to pay attention to what is happening in the education world. It is time to stop beating up the teachers and creating a thoroughly demotivated environment. It is true that there are many teachers who are callous about their roles and responsibilities but point out any profession that does not have a few bad apples. In an environment of scarcity, we need to motivate these teachers and inspire them to do their best. This is not achieved through lectures and training alone but through the spirit of caring and sensitive mentoring.

In the present reality where our education is in the doldrums, with the lack of qualified teachers as one of the primary reasons, we cannot afford to lose any more teachers to Covid-19. The sad reality is that across India, thousands of schoolteachers are not only passionate about their work but go to great lengths to ensure that each and every child in their class learns. These teachers need to be encouraged. Teachers are as important as health workers and have to be treated accordingly. They need to be given equal priority for free vaccinations in the country.

 

All teachers need to saved and protected. It does not matter if they are government school teachers or private. All of them need to feel valued

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