On August 2, the Rajya Sabha passed a Bill amending the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, providing elementary school teachers another small window to acquire requisite professional qualifications under the legislation.

When RTE was passed, it was estimated that a total of 10.6 lakh teachers would require professional training, which was to be completed within a maximum of five years from the Act’s implementation – that is, by March 2015. Today, the number of unqualified teachers stands at 11 lakh, as per the Human Resources Development minister’s statement in Parliament.

With the passage of the Amendment Bill, these teachers now have time till March 2019 to acquire the minimum qualifications.

Not enough teachers

Non-availability of professionally qualified teachers in several states was a challenge amidst which RTE – which mandates free and compulsory elementary education to children from ages six to 14 – was enacted in 2009. International pressures to achieve universal elementary education through short-term policy measures had resulted in the gross neglect of developing institutional state capacity to prepare teachers.

The huge demand for teachers to meet the student-teacher ratios specified in the Act compelled several states to seek exemption from adhering to the qualifications norms during recruitment. Unqualified candidates were pumped into the teaching profession, adding to the large number of para teachers that had infested the state school system since international donor-supported educational reforms of the 1990s in some of the most educationally challenged states of India.

By the time the RTE Act was implemented in 2010, there was a huge deficit of professionally qualified teachers in the country. Even today, several states continue to face acute teacher shortage because of the poor institutional capacity to train teachers.

Many of these states have chosen to recruit teachers on contract and have compromised on the mandated qualifications. In addition, several states have virtually abandoned the responsibility of creating professionally qualified teachers. Some, like Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, have not recruited primary school teachers in years.

‘Teaching shops’

The bulk of those who do qualify to be teachers, observed the Justice Verma Commission – a Supreme Court-appointed panel that studied the state of teacher education – in its 2012 report, are trained through sub-standard “teaching shops” (private institutes) that fail to address the pedagogic needs of diverse classrooms. Additionally, gross neglect of developing institutional capacity to prepare teacher educators led to faculty vacancies of up to 80% in several District Institutes of Educational Training, according to the Status of Implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 report of the RTE Forum, released in 2016-’17.

District Institutes of Education and Training are government district-level institutions constituted after the National Policy on Education 1986, to work in elementary education; teacher training is one of its primary roles.

Inadequate number of teacher education institutions and a high percentage of professionally untrained teachers continue to be a big problem in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam and West Bengal.

What then brings optimism that these 11 lakh teachers will acquire the requisite qualification in a period of less than two years, when they could not do so in the last seven years? The government’s optimism seems to be coming from the firm resolve that these teachers will attain the required certification through massive open online courses on the recently launched Swayam Portal for online learning, run by the government. However, there is enough ground for scepticism too, given that distance learning measures via the involvement of IGNOU and National Institute of Open Schooling, suggested in 2010, have been found to be poorly operationalised, creating no real impact on the ground.

Even if we were to share this optimism, given that there are an estimated 11 lakh untrained teachers,a distance learning architecture will need to be operationalised and monitored for transaction and evaluation of registered teachers, for the period September 2017 to March 2019.

More importantly, the unqualified contract teacher existing in the school system gets no more than one-third of the salary due to professionally qualified teachers as per the current pay commission. Will the states be ready to pay all elementary school teachers their due, once they attain the requisite qualification?

Not enough time

The Human Resources Development minister believes that all that untrained teachers need is “theoretical study” which will be provided through online courses, and because they are already in the school system, they do not need any practical training. Even then, the available period of 18 months falls short of the two years required to acquire a diploma in teacher education, prescribed as the minimum qualification for teaching classes up to Class 5.

As per the National Council for Teacher Education teacher recruitment norms(2011), the stipulated qualification for teaching Class 6 to Class 8 is either a four-year Bachelor of Elementary Education or a B.Ed degree after senior secondary; or a two-year B.Ed after graduation; or a two-year Diploma in Education (DEd) plus a graduate degree. How then is it possible for teachers who are in the school system to acquire the requisite qualification that demands a minimum of 4 years of investment, in less than two years?

This amendment therefore may come as a reprieve – if at all – only for primary level teachers, who need a two-year diploma as a minimum qualification. What about the untrained teachers at the upper primary level? Clearly, the extended period up to March 2019 does not provide a sustainable and feasible way to fill the increasing gap of qualified teachers and enhance the quality of classroom teaching and learning.

Legally sound?

More importantly, the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education, accepted in toto by the Supreme Court of India and subsequently by the Central Advisory Board of Education committee; stipulate that “as a matter of policy, the first professional degree/diploma in teacher education should be offered only in face-to-face mode.” This recommendation forms part of the 2014 National Council For Teacher Education regulations.

The amendment thus puts into question the robustness of the central legislation itself and points towards some of the more serious consequences of its dilution. First, it clearly signals that the National Council for Teacher Education is a weak regulatory body and despite its statutory status remains subservient to the government of the day. The emphasis on mere ‘paper qualification’ indicates how teacher knowledge is rendered redundant in a culture of performativity; and teachers are once again relegated to the margins of the education system.

The National Council for Teacher Education regulations came into effect in November 2014 as a result of a Supreme Court order, based on the Action Plan for the implementation of the Justice Verma Commission recommendations. The Supreme Court order directs, that all “recommendations made by the Implementation Committee (of the Justice Verma Commission recommendations) shall be binding on the Government of India, the Government of all States and Administration of Union Territories and also NCTE [National Council for Teacher Education] and University Grants Commission and all of them shall implement the same without any objection and without modifying the same”.

The amendment bill passed to facilitate unqualified teachers to acquire professional qualification stands contrary to law and is therefore liable to attract litigation.

Poonam Batra is Professor of Education, Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi