By most yardsticks, India’s 9 million-strong teachers community hasn’t distinguished itself. Almost one-fourth of the country’s population is comprehensively illiterate and another 600-700 million citizens are at best functionally literate with the result that industrial, agriculture and factor productivity in contemporary India is among the lowest of all countries worldwide. Quite clearly, the teachers community, which played a substantial role in the freedom movement by inspiring youth with idealism and nationalistic fervour, has also failed to invest the virtues of compassion, integrity, egalitarianism and secularism in midnight’s children.
On the contrary, the teachers fraternity has acquired a notorious reputation for malingering, chronic absenteeism, corporal punishment and indifference to children’s learning outcomes. Even in most of the country’s 37,000 colleges and 800 universities, overpaid professors while away the hours in ivory towers, contributing little by way of research and creation of new knowledge.
Yet viewed from the perspective of the beleaguered teachers, it’s also true that State and society have not accorded them social respect and adequate pay and perquisites. Except in a few private and international schools, India’s K-12 teachers are grossly underpaid and overworked. The popular stereotype is of a poor, overworked and uncomplaining individual fully committed to the education of their students, spoilt, rich brats included. But with the public — even if not government — having belatedly awoken to the reality that in the hyper-competitive 21st century, real, rather than ritual, learning is critical for individual, corporate and national success, the hitherto neglected issues of teacher training, education, and remuneration are receiving overdue attention. In the first issue of what promises to be a scorching summer, our cover story reports this entirely welcome development.
In the equally inspiring special report feature, managing editor Summiya Yasmeen beams a spotlight on the country’s 594 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs) — free-of-charge, class VI-XII, co-ed boarding schools for meritorious rural children established and funded by the Central government — which are the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s most valuable bequest to the nation. These are the crown jewels of the country’s public education system. Alas, a succession of stingy, uncaring governments at the Centre, has neglected their growth. Therefore, their small number is wholly disproportionate to the millions of meritorious but short-changed children of neglected rural India.