Bizarre Government Diktats, Pending Demands Sour Teachers Day in Rajasthan

An order was issued that 50,000 teachers must attend CM Vasundhara Raje's state-level event at Jaipur this year on September 5, which has brought to the fore long pending demands of teachers such as transfers, filling vacancies and staffing patterns.

Jaipur: With Teachers Day round the corner, the Rajasthan government has made it mandatory for all teacher recruits and appointees after 2013 (when the ruling BJP government took over), to be present at the grand state-level function to be held at Jaipur’s Amroodon Ka Bagh this year on September 5.

To top that, some district education officers have been issuing their own bizarre diktats to the teachers. The Hanumangarh district education officer (DEO) (secondary) asked teachers to refrain from wearing anything black, be it clothes, shoes, socks, handkerchief or even belt. Perhaps after black flags were raised at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Jhunjhunu rally in March and the more recent protests at chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra in Pipar town near Jodhpur, officials do not want to take a risk.

In another strange order on August 30, the Bharatpur DEOs (secondary and primary) had directed that one-day’s pay would be deducted from their salaries if teachers failed to attend the event.

Bharatpur DEO Ram Kesh Meena confirmed this to The Wire. “Yes, such an order was issued, but the pay cut has been withdrawn. The compulsory attendance still stands.”

Secretary, school education, Naresh Gangwar, however, denied that the government passed orders dictating dress code or sanctioning a pay cut. Sources say most DEOs had received oral directions and acted accordingly. Now, with local media and teachers associations highlighting the issue, the government is distancing itself from the mandatory attendance clause.

Meanwhile, Amroodon Ka Bagh, where the rally has been planned, is a huge ground in the city’s centre, usually used for political rallies. At least 50,000 teachers recruited after 2013 are likely to mark their presence at the event, where around 123 teachers, officers and district collectors would be honoured. All school principals, elementary and secondary education officials have been working to make the it a success. At least 11 committees have been formed to oversee its organisation. Each committee comprising four or five officers has been assigned one assignment.

Identity cards are being issued for the teachers, who will assemble and sit in their respective blocks, so that it becomes easier for officers to identify them. District Education Officers have been given the responsibility of checking the presence or absence of teachers under their block. The government will be providing transportation and dearness allowance to the 50,000 teachers, incurring a cost of Rs 8.5 crore on the whole exercise, say sources.

But not all teachers are happy about having to attend the event. Mahaveer Sihag Shekhawat, general secretary, Rajasthan Shikshak Sangh, told The Wire, “Why has it been made mandatory for post-2013 appointees? Teachers should have been invited and the attendance should be left to their discretion. This mandatory attendance is questionable. Teachers appointed before 2013 have not received any invitation for the event yet, though it is usually conducted every year. The whole thing is obviously connected with the Assembly elections at the end of the year.”

However, there are differing voices too. Basant Jindal, senior vice-president of Rajasthan Rajya Karamchari Mahasangh, says, “It is a good move to call teachers to the event. It is the first time that women, widows, divorcees, disabled teachers have been given their preferred posting after counselling. Otherwise, teachers keep fighting for their choice postings. The teachers should attend it as a show of gratitude. The staffing pattern adopted by this government has provided relief to many teachers.”

Promotions and enrollment rate

State education minister Vasudev Devnani insists that for the first time, at least 1.25 lakh teachers have been given promotion over the last five years. The government has filled most vacancies in the schools. Now, only 22% vacancies remain as against 52% under the Congress government. The enrollment rate has also shown an increase of at least 21% over the last four and a half years.

But Komal Srivastav of Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, an NGO focusing on education, said, “Our ground reports contradict the government’s claim on enrollment rates. Many children dropped out after their schools were merged, but their names were not removed. So there is duplication in some places. There are many instances where schools with even good student count were closed.”

Teachers say due to the closure or merger of 17,300 schools across the state, at least 1.20 lakh teachers were transferred. Teachers also claim that the actual number of schools closed down or merged is at least 24,000. Because of the furore over closure of schools soon after the BJP came to power, the government was cautious not to attract attention. Instead of closing schools on a massive scale, officials started merging schools periodically. Under pressure from the public, some have also been reopened.

Shekhawat says, “There are three categories of government school teachers: teachers who teach till Class VIII, senior school teachers for Class IX and X and lecturers for Classes XI, XII. After the merger, the post of either lecturers or senior school teachers was removed and schools are making do with teachers from two categories only. At least 1.20 lakh teachers were transferred, leading to large-scale discontentment. That is why many are unhappy. The enrollment rate has gone up in schools because of the mid-day meal scheme.”

He added, “According to the state government’s claims, enrollment has increased by 21%. But there has been no consequent effort to increase the number of teachers or fill vacancies. This has impacted the staffing pattern and demoralised the staff, who are already overburdened with work other than teaching.”

Midday meal scheme in Rajasthan. Credit: Reuters

Contrary to the government’s claims, the enrollment rate has increased because of the mid-day meal scheme say activists. Representative image. Credit: Reuters

Improved availability in rural schools

On the other hand, the government claims that as a result of staff rationalisation, teaching and other staff over-concentrated in urban areas has been moved to rural areas, ensuring availability of staff to schools. This has ensured optimum utilisation of staff strength, the government says.

However, the last review of staffing pattern was in 2015 and since then, at least 50,000 posts have been done away with.

In 2015, there were 2.85 lakh teachers and education officials under the secondary board. Even today, the numbers haven’t changed. After the exercise, the government issued a disclaimer that these posts have not been scrapped, but as and when the requirement arises, would automatically be filled.

The state government seems to be satisfied about its educational reforms. Radical changes like merger of schools, no detention policy, teacher-transfers linked with performance, staffing pattern, fees fixing committees and counseling of students and parent-teacher meetings in government schools has earned plaudits from the Centre.

According to the official portal of CM Raje, primary schools located in close proximity of secondary or senior secondary schools have been integrated for better supervision at the school level and optimum utilisation of resources.

Proximal primary and upper primary schools in the same revenue villages have been merged. The government says no schools have been closed down in the process, only integrated for better administration. Education officials claim that the improved management of these schools has resulted in increase in enrollment across all classes. Class I-V has shown an increase of 19% increase in enrollment, Class VI-VII shown an increase of 8%, a 12% increase in Class IX-X 12% and 19% increase in Class XI-XII. The transition and retention rates have also increased this year, especially for girls.

Earlier, a student had to change schools at least thrice to complete study from Class I to Class XII because there were no large (Class I-X or Class I to XII) government schools, leading to drop-out during the transition. Post-integration, this issue has been resolved. The pass percentage has increased from 66% to 78% for Class X and from 81% to 84% for Class XII.

Government school in India. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even schools with good student count have been shut. Representative image. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

No improvement in poorly performing districts

But a recent survey reveals that tribal-dominated Pratapgarh remains the district with least pass percentage in Class X, the same as in 2013. Udaipur, Pratapgarh and Bundi were the districts with lowest pass percentage in Class X. In 2018, there has been no improvement, belying the claims of the government.

Moreover, long-pending pension demands have not been addressed. Teachers recruited after 2003 are not entitled to pension. The government hasn’t implemented the Seventh Pay Commission properly and the salary for the lecturer post is much less than that of the Centre. A government teacher’s salary ranges between Rs 30,000 to Rs 80,000 per month.

Teachers say they are overburdened with administrative work. While Census and election work are part of their duty, they are also asked to oversee provision of mid-day meal and milk distribution, and even pursing people to build and use toilets, severely affecting their primary duty of teaching.

Teachers are also demanding a transparent and standardised transfer policy. Shekhawat said only those teachers who can pay a bribe of Rs 5 lakh get transfers, while others are left in a lurch.

“Although the government put the suggested Private Public Partnership (PPP) of 300 government schools on hold after protests by teacher association, parents and opposition parties the government has not taken kindly to the teachers who led these protests. None of them have been promoted over the last year,” he said.

It remains to be seen if the government can actually afford to ignore the teaching fraternity. With 4.65 lakh teachers-officials on the electoral rolls, it is one of the largest vote banks.

Among the many reasons that could tip the scale in someone else’s favour is the diktat that teachers have to attend the function in Jaipur. An event that should essentially acknowledge teachers’ contribution, is instead being forcefully turned into a gratitude rally.