The Bihar government has mobilised tens of thousands of government school teachers to resume the caste survey after the Patna High Court on Tuesday (1 August) vacated its stay on the survey and allowed its resumption.
Immediately after the HC order, the state general administration department (GAD) issued orders for the resumption of the stalled survey.
The burden for carrying out the survey has, as earlier, fallen on government school teachers. That means they will have to abandon their classrooms and go from door to door as enumerators over the next few weeks.
Soon after the GAD order, State Council for Educational Research & Training (SCERT) director Sajjan R cancelled all ongoing training programmes of teachers and asked them to report to their respective schools and resume work “to complete the survey at the earliest”.
Additional chief secretary (education) K K Pathak wrote to all district magistrates on Wednesday (2 July) asking them to ensure that no schools are left without teachers while drafting the latter for the caste survey.
Pathak’s letter said: “The teachers should be deployed only for caste survey work, and no other administrative work be taken from them. The schools should not be left without teachers”.
But, say teachers’ associations, a majority of government schools in Bihar are functioning with about half their sanctioned number of teachers. “Drafting teachers for survey work will accentuate the crisis of shortage of teachers in schools,” said Bihar Secondary Teachers’ Association president Shatrughan Prasad Singh.
Speaking to Swarajya, Singh said that if proper education is to be ensured, even a single teacher should not be drafted for non-academic duties.
“It is ironic that just two days ago, Pathak wrote to all district magistrates asking them to ensure that teachers in government schools are not used for non-academic work,” he said.
Singh has written to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Education Minister Chandrasekhak and additional chief secretary Pathak requesting them to rescind the order drafting teachers for survey work.
“Let the state government use its employees for such work. Drafting teachers for such duties severely affects education and the future of our children,” Singh said.
Bihar Primary School Teachers’ Association president Anand Kaushal Singh told Swarajya that given the severe shortage of teachers in Bihar’s schools, even if a single teacher is requisitioned from a school, teaching would be adversely affected.
The presidents of both the teachers’ associations pointed out that the state government order requisitioning teachers for the caste survey violates a Supreme Court observation in 2016 that engaging teachers in non-academic work is unconstitutional.
They pointed out that the Union Human Resources Development Ministry has also written to all states asking them not to use teachers for non-academic work.
But, said Shatrughan Prasad Singh, Bihar’s school teachers are routinely drafted for works such as cattle census, general census, other surveys, election duties, pulse polio campaign, verification of family records and organising social campaigns.
“Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often talked of unburdening teachers to allow them to concentrate on teaching. He had even said that teachers should not be given tasks like overseeing mid-day meals in schools. But all that talk has proven to be hollow,” said Shatrughan Prasad Singh.
Anand Kaushal Singh of Primary School Teachers’ Association pointed out that all schools are in mid-session now. “Pulling out teachers from classrooms in the middle of the session will severely hamper teaching. After completing this survey, teachers will have only a few weeks to catch up on lost time before the holiday season kicks in. Students will suffer immeasurably,” he lamented.
The presidents of both the teachers’ associations contended that teaching in schools suffered a lot when teachers were drafted for the first phase of the survey from 7 to 21 January this year and also during the second phase which started from 15 April but was stalled by the High Court on 5 May.
“It is not just going from door to door and enumerating families and households. The data has to be collated and then reviewed. Anomalies which creep in have to be corrected. So that means one month’s work for every teacher in each phase of the survey,” explained Shatrughan Prasad Singh.
According to statistics compiled by the Union Ministry of Education, Bihar has the worst student:teacher ratio in the country.
Of the 48,531 posts of teachers in secondary schools in Bihar, 17,166 posts (more than 35 per cent of the posts) are lying vacant. And of the 28,160 posts of teachers in higher secondary schools in the state, 16,742 posts (59.45 per cent) are lying vacant.
A total of 33,908 posts of teachers are lying vacant in secondary and higher secondary schools in the state.
“With a 45 per cent shortage of teachers in secondary and higher secondary schools, it is sad that the state government wants to create a graver crisis in schools. The actual shortage of teachers would, on any given day, be 60 per cent because teachers take leaves and undergo training as well,” said Shatrughan Singh.
The shortage of teachers is more acute at the primary level. The Primary School Teachers’ Association estimates that this shortage would be about 60 per cent.
“Given this, it is not possible to spare a single teacher from a school for even a day. But the government sacrifices education at the altar of politics,” said Anand Kaushal Singh.
The widely-accepted annual status of education report (ASER) of 2018 and 2022, which was released in January 2023, pointed to low learning outcomes in the state. The ASER revealed that learning levels in Bihar’s schools had dipped.
“Bihar’s school dropout rate is also very high and that’s a direct attribute of the severe shortage of teachers in schools,” said Singh.
The Right to Education Act 2009 recommends one teacher for every 30 students at the primary level, one teacher for 35 students at the upper primary level and one teacher for every 40 students at the secondary level. But Bihar’s average teacher:student ratio is one teacher for every 90 students.
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