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THE PREDICAMENT OF UNDERPAID SCHOOL TEACHERS IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

Shortage of medical supplies, rising cases, series of lockdowns; were the few headlines that had grabbed every bit of the attention span one had left to offer in the past two years. The pandemic brought about humongous changes in people’s lives, everyone had to adjust and adapt to a lifestyle never seen or lived through before. Another thing it did is bring to the spotlight a system full of loopholes; a system that does nothing to guarantee benefits to the very same people who are trying to patch up the flaws. The Covid-19 pandemic turned lots of lives upside-down, but some were already bad and the conditions were just aggravated. The average salary for a Primary Teacher is ₹2,55,800 per year (₹13,860 per month), which is ₹1,31,700 (-34%) lower than the national average salary in India. The given numbers are just the starting point of concern. This piece further highlights how it’s high time the teachers are paid their dues.

 GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS HAVE A POOR STATE OF AFFAIRS

The Unified District Information system for Education (UDISE) is a management information system for the schools in India set up under the Ministry of Education. According to the UDISE report for 2019-20, only one in four teachers were trained on how to use a computer to impart knowledge. The situation is undoubtedly far worse in government schools which results in putting those students at an undue disadvantage. It isn’t fair to the children that they receive fewer amenities just because their families aren’t financially sound enough to afford private educational institutions. Education is an amenity that everyone deserves and requires. It is also the starting point to curing so many of the issues which pollute our society. A good education provides one with multiple and positive prospects to have a better life filled with opportunities, along with receiving the chance of looking at the world from a different perspective than what the environment around you taught you. There are a lot of hindrances in the way of leading a secure life, however, the capacity and ability, which comes along with knowledge, does reduce some barriers. Every person should begin their journey on an equal footing but this isn’t achieved when some people come from a more privileged background which already gave them access to various advantages which others might not have received. Only an inequitable system puts a price on one’s education and thus limits a person’s ability to move up the professional ladder in life.

LACK OF TEACHERS IN INDIA

Further on, because of low pay grades, there aren’t enough teachers to teach in government schools. This situation got worse because of the pandemic as many schools had to drastically reduce the salaries of the teachers because of a dearth in revenues which led to many teachers leaving their job and opting for better-paying careers, and if one did decide to stick it out then they often ended up finding themselves in extreme financial difficulties. According to UNESCO’s 2021 State of the Education Report for India: “No Teacher, No Class” (herein mentioned as the UNESCO report), our country needs 11.16 lakh teachers to close the present gap and currently houses around 1.2 lakh schools with only one teacher, with 89% of it being in the rural areas. In the case of Miss A. Sundarambal vs Government of Goa, Daman, and Diu, 1988, a division bench declared teachers to not be ‘workmen’ under section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The said case dealt with the issue of a termination which was deemed unfair on the appellant’s side, a school teacher; the court didn’t direct the management to reverse the order but the latter had to pay the appellant Rs. 40,000. Now, the question that arises is whether the meager sum of money was equivalent to the job loss? The appellant lost out on a series of protection just because teachers weren’t protected under the aforementioned act. Despite being one of the most essential pillars in the betterment of society the teachers are often not paid their due. There is a certain amount of respect awarded to teachers, especially in India where teachers are often considered equivalent to God, but that esteem just stays limited in the form of social currency and isn’t converted to a form of job security and higher salaries. The division bench’s refusal to include teachers in the definition of ‘workmen’ laid on the fact that the words of the section didn’t align with what teachers are; they aren’t “employed in any industry to do any manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward. The catch that lies here is to not blindly rely on the wording of the acts but to dig deeper and let the intent of the actors play an important role in making a decision. That is precisely what took place in the reversed judgment of the case of Birla Institute Technology v. State of Jharkhand & Ors. The Supreme Court suo moto took up an appeal and said that teachers do fall under the ambit of the definition of “employee” under section 2(e) of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 and thus are entitled to the benefits of the said act. This reversal was based on the division bench taking note of the purpose behind the act and not solely restricting themselves to the printed words. The literal interpretation of acts should be a guiding text and not binding.

FURTHER SEGREGATIONS BETWEEN TEACHERS

As of 2022, the labor laws of the country are divided into four codes- the code on Wages, the Industrial Relations code, the Social Security code, and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions code- and the teachers aren’t included in any one of them. When private school teacher accepts a job, they sign a contract with the institution and are bound by their rules and regulations, which essentially means that they are governed by a private body. The issues that arise in this scenario can present themselves in the form of situations of less or no payment for extra working hours and others. If a certain amount of salary paid is not enough to sustain in this economy then those very teachers have to go ahead and work extra hours, some may provide coaching or take up any other job which suits their qualifications. Thus, the people end up with two working jobs and no time to save for themselves. Such a sorry state of affairs often leads to people spiraling and heading down a bad mental health path. The educators are responsible for a huge part of the children’s well being and taking care of them is the first step to making sure the children are subjected to a healthy environment. Ordinarily, when one says ‘teachers’ many do not differentiate between a regular teacher and a contract teacher. The latter is bought on board for a shorter amount of time, given lesser salaries without being entitled to even the scant benefits the regular teachers are, all while being allotted the same load of work or sometimes even more. Demands for better working conditions have been brought up in Parliament for quite some time but nothing substantial could ever be decided upon. 

CONCLUSION

With approximately 9.7 million teachers present in India as of 2021, this class of people needs to be stopped ignored any further, considering the magnitude of their work holds. The UNESCO report lays down some recommendations, one of them being declaring teachers to be frontline workers. The frontline workers during the course of this pandemic took care of others with little to no regard for their safety, so did the teachers. The entire education system had to undergo a complete makeover and the educators were given the role of enablers to play. They took over colossal challenges and tried their best to ensure a smooth transition for the students, even if that meant sacrificing all minutes of their waking hours by putting themselves into their work, trying to adapt to the new technology and the changing pedagogy, all while making sure the students received the well-rounded education they deserve. It has always been said that school is our second home, and rightly so, considering the number of hours a child spends over there and the knowledge they absorb. However, in that case, wouldn’t it be correct to say that teachers are the second set of parents? Is that the reason why they are expected to live out a life of toil with minimum returns other than a sense of gratification derived from their job? Teachers have the power to shape minds and build lives, they need to be stopped being treated as second-class citizens and should be awarded benefits proportionate to the efforts put in. 

Author(s) Name: Ankita Jha (Xavier Law School, Kolkata)