Parliament on Wednesday passed an amendment to the Right to Education Act, giving teachers currently working in primary and elementary schools without the requisite qualifications more years to acquire them. This amendment is in itself unremarkable. It is just one more extension for unqualified teachers to meet the requirements of the Right to Education Act.

However, while introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar appeared to suggest that the government had found a miraculous solution to the problem of lakhs of teachers in the system who do not have the minimum teacher education qualifications required by the Right to Education Act.

Javadekar said that existing teachers without qualifications could now get their degrees via the government’s online education portal Swayam or 32 government education TV channels. “They will get free education,” he said. “They will not have to go anywhere to look for a college.”

Does this mean that the Union government intends lowering the already low minimum qualification requirement for basic teacher education diplomas and degrees?

Easing requirements

By the minister’s own count there are 11 lakh teachers in India without the qualifications stipulated by the Act. Of these, 1.5 lakh have registered for a degree in order to gain the qualifications they need to keep their jobs. The remaining 9.5 lakh (7 lakh in private schools and 2.5 lakh in government schools) appear not to have made any attempt to do so although the Right to Education Act was notified in 2010.

But the minister reassured them that they would not lose their jobs. He said,

“…In 2 years 11 lakh teachers will be qualified … and that uncertainty in their minds today – will we lose our jobs?... Jobs will not go, but they will have to study.”

To start with, in 2010, the government had already relaxed qualification requirements for working teachers without the requisite degrees or diplomas. While all new elementary school teachers must have a Diploma in Elementary Education certificate from a college where they attended classes, did project work and practiced teaching in a school environment, which was supervised – working teachers were permitted to do their degrees online or through distance learning.

Santhosh Mathew, the chairperson of the National Council for Teacher Education, the apex regulator of teacher training institutions in India, told that “according to the Justice Verma Commission report on teacher education – upheld by the Supreme Court – the first degree of teacher education cannot be in Open Distance Learning mode”.

Mathew added that when the new regulations, based on the commission’s report, were notified in 2014, an exception was made for teachers already teaching in schools. “[T]hey could get a DElEd [Diploma in Elementary Education] in ODL [Open Distance Learning] mode,” he said. “But it is [still] not possible to get a BEd in ODL mode unless you have a previous degree – a DElEd – that was collected at the end of a face-to-face programme.”

Photo credit: AFP.

Teacher training

Since 2010, when the Right to Education Act was notified, states have had to evolve ways to help their working teachers gain the qualifications required by law. They have, in the main, opted to do this through the State Councils for Education Research and Training or the National Institute for Open Schooling. The programmes devised for these teachers by the state councils and the national institute have to be approved by the National Council for Teacher Education. In the case of the state councils, the National Council for Teacher Education approval, given annually, is based on its assessment of the state’s capacity to train a specific number of teachers in one year. As the capacity of the state councils is finite, it is hard to get approvals for more than a few thousand teachers a year.

Both the State Councils for Education Research and Training, the National Institute for Open Schooling, and other reputed distance learning institutions stipulate a minimum qualification to admit or register students for the diploma in elementary education. In the case of the National Institute for Open Schooling, it is 45% in Class 12 – shockingly low in the age of marks moderation. In many states, existing teachers do not meet this requirement. The National Council for Teacher Education requires them to re-take their Class 12 exams, and produce evidence of their improved marks, before they can be registered for the Diploma in Elementary Education.

This may, to some extent, explain why so many teachers – the majority in private schools – who are fearful of losing their jobs have not managed to register for a teacher education programme yet.

When students lose

Javadekar told Parliament that all 11 lakh teachers will be registered for online programmes on Swayam between August 15 and September 15. The courses will commence on October 2. Teachers will learn the “theoretical and other matters” online or on TV, will not be required to do practicals “as they are already teaching”, and take the exams, that will give them the necessary certificate. The courses may be on Swayam, but institutions like National Institute for Open Schooling or Indira Gandhi National Open University, all of which have minimum educational qualifications to register, will award the degrees.

This seems to suggest that the government intends to do away with the minimum qualification requirement to obtain the teacher education qualification. For the manner in which Javdekar set out his solution, all 11 lakh teachers will be enrolled, will pass their exams and in two years have the certificates that will allow them to continue teaching.

If this indeed is the case, teachers (and private schools that hire poorly educated and unqualified teachers) gain and students lose. This perhaps signals that the government is keener to earn the goodwill of teachers, who will be voters in 2019, and is not so concerned about primary and elementary school students who have a right to be taught by teachers who meet at least the very low qualification requirements that education diplomas and degrees require.