By Mukut Lochan Kalita
The sorry plight and fate of the TET teachers in Assam are in the headlines these days for both right and wrong reasons. But who are the TET teachers ? Well, they are all newly appointed teachers who got selected after passing the relatively tough and objective Teacher Eligibility Test ( TET) conducted by the State Education department through Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan in 2011-12. Though there wasn’t much controversy in the selection process as it was conducted in a fairly professiol and transparent manner, there has been many hiccups since then and some of them had to indulge in protests asking for their dues and entitlements quite a number of times. Currently, they haven’t received their salary and there are ominous reports about their services to be termited altogether, while there is a political slugfest with the State and the Central government trying to blame each other for this state of affairs. In the meantime, very few are aware of the genesis and the real causes of this situation.
Strange though it may seem, this is a direct result of non-compliance with the Right to Education Act, 2009. As Ambarish Rai, tiol Convenor, RTE Forum, explained, as per the provisions of the Act, there can be no contractual teachers, but only regular government teachers. Technically though, TET teachers are only contractual teachers ! As such, the Central government cannott support the contractual teachers and hence cannot release their salaries. The question is: were not the officials of the State Education department or the decision makers in the State aware of it ? Or, did the Central government fully explain the implications to the Assam government ? Were there no discussions or negotiations while taking this major decision of big bang teacher recruitment ? This can be best explained by somebody inside the government. But we can only look at some the inherent complexities in the RTE Act itself.
As per the provisions of the Act, it becomes the duty of the State to provide children access to schooling within 1-1.5 km from their habitation. So it also becomes the duty of the State to provide regular, qualified teachers in these schools at 1:30 teacher- pupil ratio. It immediately became apparent that there was a huge backlog of teachers to be appointed. In Assam itself, there were vacancies in more than 60,000 posts of teachers at Primary level. Strangely, no teacher appointment took place since the year 2001, not even in filling up vacancies due to retirement of serving teachers. The apparent reason cited was a court order suspending all new teacher appointments. But no one in State government took any visible step to let the honourable court know about the alarming situation. It seems, the State government too was happy with this situation as it did not want to be additiolly burdened with paying salaries to still more teachers, considering fincial mess the State was already in.
With the ectment of the RTE Act, the scerio changed drastically. Now it became the obligation of the State to appoint the teachers. The Central government was to provide the fund required. But there was a catch. As the child had the right to get a properly qualified teacher, the teachers to be appointed had to be ‘professiolly’ qualified. This may appear simple, because after all, everybody knows that teachers have to be qualified and no one would appoint a teacher without proper qualifications.
But what would be the ‘proper’ qualification for primary teachers and who decides that ? Well, the academic Graduation/ Post Graduation degrees may be necessary, but not sufficient qualifications to be a teacher. For that you would need a ‘professiol’ qualification. As per the tiol Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) norms, the minimum qualification is Bachelor of Education (B. Ed) degree. So all new appointees had to be B.Ed degree holders.
Unfortutely, Assam doesn’t have too many candidates equipped with B. Ed degree, the reason being lack of necessary infrastructure for teacher education in the State. With the very few recognized B. Ed colleges, the State had/ has a maximum intake capacity of 3-4 thousand candidates who could be enrolled every year. A simple calculation was enough to show that the State government will take more than 10 years to fill up the 60,000 posts of teachers needed to meet the requirements under the RTE Act. And the candidates had to be professiolly qualified.
So the officials in the Education department thought of making a few compromises. First, it designed/ proposed the Teacher Eligiblity Test (TET) as the equivalent of the professiol qualification. But NCTE, the nodal body for standardization of teacher education, did not agree. The government of Assam asked for time till 2015 to create the necessary infrastructure of teacher education to provide adequate number of teachers with B. Ed degrees from recognized institutions. Till then, so that schools and students don’t suffer, the TET-passed teachers were appointed provisiolly with the condition that they will all acquire the professiol qualification within five years of appointment. Thus technically, the TET teachers remain contractual teachers and their fates remain in balance.
Last year around this time, a very unfortute incident occurred involving a TET teacher. There were media reports of a lady teacher being beaten up by members of a local community. Though, as a rights organization, we always encourage communities to assert their rights, in this case we were quite perturbed by the fact that a lady teacher, who was pregnt, had been so ill-treated with the community taking the law in its hands. We immediately got in touch with the Education department and the concerned district administration. The administration very promptly took action. We also sent a fact finding team. What came out is symbolic of all that went wrong with the TET system.
According to the local community, the teacher since her joining, never came to the school. As it was a single-teacher school and the serving teacher had retired two months back, the school virtually closed down. When frustrated parents tried to find out why the newly appointed teacher was not coming, the answer they received was “she is in training”. And what was this perpetual training ? Why, none other than the ‘professiol’ qualification that TET teachers require in the form of Diploma in Elementary education (deemed to be equivalent to B. Ed degree by NCTE), a course conducted by District Institute of Education and Training (DIET). So in a way, the very idea of providing a properly qualified teacher to children under the RTE, quite ironically, led to a situation of depriving those very same children of any teacher in school for more than three months! Sadly, it seems such a situation can develop in Assam only, given the absolute lack of foresight and manpower planning by the State government in ensuring the fundamental right to elementary education for all children in the State.
(The writer is Convenor, RTE Forum, Assam)