Editor’s Note: This month, that is January 2021, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Work and The Workplace, where we invite various articles to highlight the profound changes that our workplaces may or may not have undergone and the effect that these changes have had on our personal and professional lives and ways of living in the time of the pandemic. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the pandemic ravaged the world, almost no individual, institution, or industry were spared from its unsought wrath. Every sector either suited up to dive into the modalities of a work-from-home culture or came to a screeching halt. We saw compassion and solidarity, and we also saw exploitative systems strengthen their despotic course. The education sector—an industry considered to be recession-proof—wasn’t immune to the consequences either. A UN report revealed that 1.6 billion learners have been affected in more than 190 countries. A blighted education realm has impacted 94% of the world’s student population and up to 99% in lower-middle and low-income countries.
The onus to keep educating the youth has fallen heavily on teachers everywhere. There are several instances of teachers going above and beyond for their students in lockdown. Teachers in West Bengal were reported sitting under trees or in community halls of villages to teach students in rural and tribal areas. Then there were reports about a teacher from a village climbing up a Neem tree every morning to get internet connectivity and perform his duty. A teacher from Aurangabad created Marathi Nursery rhymes for teaching young preschoolers about hygiene. While these stories may warm and break our hearts altogether, let’s also not forget about how teachers have been mistreated in this pandemic.
Over 60,000 teachers in Maharashtra and 40,000 teachers in Karnataka have lost their jobs. For the ones who got to keep their jobs, the throes of overworking were met only with salary cuts or no salaries at all. Consequently, many teachers suffered from mental health issues due to the arduous efforts taken for less remuneration.
Central Square Foundation reported the story of Vikas Jhunjhunwaala, who runs Sunshine Schools in Delhi and Ghaziabad. His worries revolve around three key liabilities—rent, teacher salaries, and textbooks. He was unable to pay the rent for one school building for three months, and salaries of teachers for two months ever since March; and only 3-4% of parents were paying for the books that had been bought on credit beforehand. Similar private schools catering to low-income communities are amongst the worst hit in the pandemic as parents couldn’t afford to pay the fees, and the government offered them no aid.
However, several premium schools saw salary cuts and job losses despite having taken a full fee from the parents. An ex-teacher from a premium school informed me saying, “The reduced salary was too less for the amount of work we do; plus our husbands and other family members staying at home had already overburdened us with work; so many of us decided to quit.”
These female teachers giving up their jobs corroborates the paranoia around the gender gap intensifying—as women are bound to be affected disproportionately in the pandemic. In a 2018-19 survey, the female to male teacher’s ratio stood at 73:100. Additionally, in general males occupy more positions as we go higher up the hierarchy—tending to the gender-bias.
The table below provides comprehensive employment data of teachers across gender and social/religious groups.
Returning to the job crisis, another trend that fermented chaos was teachers morphing into informal sector workers. Padma, a private school teacher who holds an MBA degree, now works strenuously in the field as a daily wage labourer along with her husband. Several others resorted to odd jobs or were forced to eke out a living as manual labourers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
While private school teachers seem to have witnessed more job losses and salary cuts, public school teachers have had their own share of grievances. A government school teacher told me about the travel fee deducted from their salaries. She said that their reasonable requests for compensating the travel fee in the hefty internet data charges had fallen on deaf ears.
The Wire also reported bizarre incidents of government school teachers coerced into working on the frontlines. In one such incident, a teacher for children with disabilities was assigned to “challan duty”. The teacher complained, “I have challan duty from ten in the morning to six in the evening, with one day off in a week. I reached out to my students only when unit tests were around the corner to help them prepare. I have no time to make lesson plans, check their progress. I used to know at which stage of learning every student is. I used to assess how they are, which stage they have reached, how to take them to the next level. Now I wonder why I became a teacher.”
The National Foundation of Teacher’s Welfare was set up in 1962 under the Charitable Endowments Act, 1890. Their fund is supposed to provide relief to teachers under “indigent circumstances”. Why has the fund not been released for the teachers in a pandemic? Addressing this question does not seem to be a priority for the present incumbent government.
Teachers protested across Punjab and Bengaluru to demand jobs, unemployment allowances, or relief packages. To avoid large gatherings, teachers in Bathinda ran a powerful slogan-writing campaign on public walls to claim their rights. Their outcries for their rights have only been met with the government’s empty promises. Such has been the plight of Indian teachers in this pandemic.
From illegal job losses to a digital chasm scuttling the education sector—teachers have been flagellated by a system more virulent than the virus. As the upholders of education; the ones endowed with the responsibility to create a better India, they deserve to be heard. Their unfettered fight for their rights continue, and their suffering is a testimony to the failure of our government and society.
- The Hindu
- Tribune India
- The Swaddle
- Hindustan Times
- Times Of India
- The Better India
- The Wire
- The Wire
- Mumbai Mirror
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