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Dismaying teacher shortage in Indian academia

EducationWorld October 06 | EducationWorld Special Report

A rising tide of teacher discontent and disaffection is swelling at a time when an unprecedented teacher shortage is manifesting across the country. Academic institutions are reporting an alarming shortage of faculty. Summiya Yasmeen reports

Within a society notorious for wasting valuable human resources, September 5 — Teachers Day — marked by desultory celebrations and mealy-mouthed homage to India’s 5 million beleaguered and under-valued academics, was a day of sombre introspection. Following the daylight murder on national television of Prof. H.S. Sabharwal in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh by militant student activists, teachers in India’s geographically largest state (308,252 sq km) boycotted all Teachers Day celebrations.

In Bangalore members of the Federation of University and College Teachers Associations of Karnataka (FUCTAK) presented a list of grievances to the state government on the day. In Lucknow the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (pop. 166 million), government school teachers struck work and clashed with police while protesting low wages and poor working conditions. Simultaneously in Meerut University, following a women students-led demonstration against the vice-chancellor on August 29, all Teachers Day celebrations were cancelled. Perhaps never in the history of post-independence India has the teachers’ community been as dejected and demoralised as it is today.

Paradoxically, following the 86th Amendment of the Constitution which makes it mandatory for the State (government) to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the six-14 age group, and national rollout of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (Education for All) programme, never before has teachers’ morale been so critical to national development in this country blessed or cursed — informed opinion is divided — with the world’s largest child population (415 million).

Unfortunately the rising tide of teacher discontent and disaffection is swelling at a time when an unprecedented shortage of teachers is manifesting across the country. Suddenly as government and private schools, colleges and universities are confronted with an unprecedented teacher shortage, alarm bells are ringing in Indian academia, even if not in the sleepy warrens of the education ministries in New Delhi and the state capitals. In Karnataka, 23,000 teaching posts in government primary and high schools are vacant; in benighted Bihar, teacher vacancies number 2.3 lakh. The Unesco Institute of Statistics in its report Teachers and Educational Quality: Monitoring Global Needs for 2015 released in June, says that to meet the Millennium Development Goal of providing elementary education to all children by 2015, “India will need the greatest inflow of new teachers in the world — more than 2 million”.

It’s an indicator of the depth of the growing teacher shortage slowly overtaking India that the bourgeoning private schools sector, which hitherto attracted a perennial supply of best and brightest teachers, is also experiencing a faculty crunch. According to, India’s pioneer online teacher recruitment portal, 500 vacancies have been notified by private schools during the past three months. Moreover the appointments pages of national newspapers are increasingly attracting teacher recruitment advertisements with one school sometimes advertising for 15-20 teachers. Gone are the days of principals of top schools such as Bishop Cotton, Bangalore, Doon School and Delhi Public School boasting about piles of unsolicited job applications from highly experienced teachers on their desks. Today, for the first time ever, jobs are chasing teachers, rather than the other way round.

“Though government schools always had the problem of unfilled teacher vacancies because of budgetary problems, it’s perhaps for the first time that private schools are confronted with an acute teacher shortage. This is largely because post-liberalisation, with the huge demand for people in the IT and BPO (business process outsourcing) sector, the number of young people entering the teaching profession has decreased dramatically. Moreover post 1991, India has witnessed a sharp uptrend in the promotion of private schools. These institutions which specifically cater to the aspirations of the country’s growing middle class are mushrooming at a fast rate and have created an unprecedented demand surge for well-qualified teachers. But while the demand for teachers has shot up, supply has declined. According to our research, India needs 800,000 new teachers every year for the next three years if it’s to make up the shortfall and cater to new student enrollments,” says R.S. Narayan, the Ahmedabad-based director of, which boasts the country’s top private schools as its clients.

Indeed mushrooming private schools across the price spectrum is arguably the single most important factor contributing to the national teacher shortage crisis. Academic estimates indicate that the number of private schools in India has leapt from 50,000 in 1996 to 77,140 in 2006. In this meteoric growth trajectory, the rash of five-star ‘international’ schools springing up countrywide has attracted great public and media attention (India currently boasts over 100 international schools). Though these highly capital-intensive schools — which offer sprawling playing fields and sports facilities, wired classrooms, five-star residential accommodation and cuisine, and affiliations with the best national and international examination boards at annual tuition fees ranging from Rs.1-6 lakh — offer much better pay packets and working conditions to teachers than traditionally top-ranked CBSE and CISCE affiliated private schools, they too are encountering considerable difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. The groves of academia are buzzing with stories of ‘body snatching’ of teachers by international schools inter se with teachers’ — particularly principals’ — emoluments beginning to match corporate salaries (see box) .

Comments Anu Monga, principal of Bangalore International School (no. of teachers: 60; student enrollment: 250) and chairperson of the newly-promoted The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI). “International schools countrywide are experiencing a scarcity of competent teachers. Since international curriculums demand highly qualified and well-trained faculty, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for schools to deliver internationally acceptable education without talented and committed teachers. We are aware of the unethical ways in which some international school managements are luring teachers from competitor schools. Therefore TAISI has decided to evolve a code of conduct for members with regard to recruiting teachers from member schools. But if international schools want to really reduce teacher attrition they must pay greater attention to continuous teacher training and development. Their focus has to be on motivating and retaining young professionals as teachers.”

Although emerging teacher body snatching wars and unprecedented pay packages for the competent have prompted much head shaking and tut-tutting among leftists and traditional academics, the entry of internationally benchmarked schools into the education sector has served the useful purpose of endowing the teaching profession with new social respectability. By awarding teachers superior working conditions, opportunities to use creative teaching methodologies, uncrowded classrooms, continuous teacher development programmes and most important, pay packets ranging from Rs.20,000-50,000 per month, the country’s 100-plus international schools have made teaching a more attractive and profitable profession. And encouragingly there’s a distinct possibility that the most idealistic — even if not the best and brightest — graduates of the country’s 344 universities and 17,700 colleges may re-evaluate teaching as a career.

“Teachers’ salaries in international schools are high because they’ve corporatised and professionalised the business of school education. A teacher’s job in an international school is no longer inferior to a corporate position. Moreover since parents in these schools pay steep tuition fees, they expect faculty to be knowledgeable and well-versed in the latest pedagogies. Teaching is no longer perceived as a career for second-income housewives. It is maturing into a skilled profession and professional placement firms are being retained by international schools to recruit competent education professionals,” confirms Hemalatha Rajan, the Chennai-based co-founder and director of Ma Foi Management Consultants, rated among the country’s top corporate head hunters.

Teacher snatching epidemic
romoters of the rash of five-star international schools offering leisure-resort style, landscaped, fully-wired campuses bristling with hi-tech equipment and teaching aids, have been brought down to earth with the growing awareness that the unique selling proposition of high-end academic institutions is excellent faculty, rather than luxurious infrastructure. Pressure from upmarket parents paying chastening fees of Rs.1-6 lakh per year upon managements to make good their promise of delivering a 21st century international education is beginning to tell. Consequently, faculty raids popularly known as body snatching have become de rigueur within the esoteric world of India’s estimated 100 international and 9,500 upscale private schools.

Teachers’ common-rooms buzz with stories of heavy poaching by international schools inter se with teachers’ — particularly principals’ — emoluments beginning to match corporate pay packets. For instance Hector MacDonald, whose five-year term as principal of The International School Bangalore (TISB) ended in June this year, reportedly received a remuneration package of $110,000 (Rs.50.6 lakh) per year plus housing and other perks. His successor Dr. Matthew Sullivan has been appointed on reportedly better terms.

Comments Anu Monga, principal of Bangalore International School and president of the newly-promoted The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI): “We are aware of the questionable methodologies some school managements are employing to snatch teachers. We are now preparing a code of conduct relating to recruiting teachers of TAISI member schools.”

The rapid turnover of teachers in international schools is particularly painful for their high networth promoters as teacher training for international school curriculums — IGCSE and/ or the International Baccalaureate diploma — is very expensive. For instance the IB teacher-training programme averages Rs.25,000 per teacher and IGCSE Rs.15,000. Therefore the flight of a trained teacher is an expensive loss.

Yet better pay packets apart, a contributory cause of accelerated teacher migration from the new genre of capital-intensive five-star schools is the authoritarian command-control management style of first generation school promoters, usually businessmen-turned educationists. “This new generation of promoters not only lack institutional management and teaching experience, they also tend to be too hands-on and interfere in everything from curriculum development, extra-curricular activities to classroom teaching styles. Experienced teachers and principals with numerous job options can’t stomach this,” says a Mumbai-based education consultant.

This newly emergent friction between promoters and high-profile headmasters is exemplified by the recent career graph of Dev Lahiri, former headmaster of Lawrence School, Lovedale. Following his exit from Lawrence Lovedale reportedly for refusing to toe the line of former Union HRD minister Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi, Lahiri was appointed the first principal of the upscale Selaqui School, Dehra Dun in 2003, which he quit, complaining about the ubiquitous presence of promoter Om Pathak on the school campus. The same year he signed up as principal of Kolkata’s The Heritage School, which he quit again pleading irreconcilable differences with the promoter. Currently Lahiri is headmaster of the tried and tested 69-year-old Welham Boys School, Dehra Dun.

Certainly within the hitherto socially under-rated teachers community there is rising enthusiasm about the new developments in school education. Bangalore-based Preeti Vincent, a maths teacher who resigned from the Indus International School in 2004 to sign up with Bangalore International School, confirms that the emergence of international schools has changed the popular perception that teaching is a low-skills profession. Moreover it has given India’s long-neglected teachers community a booster shot of new hope and excitement. “International schools value and recognise competent teachers, offer the best remuneration in the market and pay great attention to continuous teacher development and training with some of them even sending teachers abroad for training. However although the new international schools have redefined the role of teachers, very few involve them in curriculum development and decision making. Doing so is vital to motivating and retaining them,” advises Vincent.

Ellen Deitsch Stern, principal of the IBO affiliated Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai which boasts 72 faculty tutoring 412 students, supports the viewpoint that greater teacher involvement helps teacher retention. “Schools where teachers are given a role in designing and implementing curriculums tend to attract and retain the best teachers. At Ecole Mondiale, for example, we provide extensive professional development opportunities to our teachers to learn inquiry-based pedagogies and even send them to workshops and conferences abroad.”

Inevitably the prime target group of international schools and head hunting firms are under-paid teachers in the country’s 8,097 CBSE and 1,502 CISCE affiliated schools. Given that even in the most highly-rated English medium schools, annual remuneration packages average a modest Rs.80,000-120,000, teachers from these schools are flocking to international schools where twice this pay is common. This teacher exodus to five-star schools has forced CISCE and CBSE schools to raise pay and incentives to retain their most experienced faculty who are being targeted — often harassed — for recruitment.

“Since international schools pay well, experienced teachers in some of the best private schools are migrating to them. This has forced even mid-market private schools to raise teachers’ salaries. At Bala Vidya Mandir we have evolved new appraisal systems under which we pay our teachers performance-based incentives every term. Motivating and retaining teachers has now become the # 1 priority of most private school managements,” admits S.S. Nathan, principal of the CBSE affiliated Bala Vidya Mandir School, Chennai.

But if despite substantially improved pay packages and service conditions, private schools in India are experiencing an accelerating teacher shortage, this is a global phenomenon. Most western countries, especially the US and UK, are also reporting rising teacher vacancies — particularly of maths, science and English teachers. In the US there are an estimated 22,000 vacancies for school teachers. Therefore the emerging teacher crisis in private schools in India is also connected with intensifying recruitment of private school (government school teachers are an altogether different genre) teachers by school managements and local governments in these countries. Currently there are over 25,000 secondary school teachers from India abroad.

The emerging shortage of teachers is not peculiar to upmarket independent schools. Even schools at the bottom of the private education pyramid are complaining of teachers being lured away by the BPO industry and other sectors of the economy. These mostly English-medium unaided schools which comprise the largest group in the private school sector catering to children from lower middle class families, are affiliated with state examination boards and charge annual tuition fees ranging between Rs.5,000-10,000. Since they keep tuition fees low and affordable, teacher salaries are abysmal by 21st century standards —typically between Rs.3,000-5,000 per month. The BPO industry, which is growing at 56 percent every year and offers start-up monthly remuneration of Rs.10,000-15,000, has been quick to discern this unhappiness over pay and working conditions and is mopping up English-literate unaided school teachers by the dozen.

Says G.S. Sharma, president of the Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (KUSMA) which has 4,000 members across the state and founder-director of the five Saraswati Vidya Mandir schools in Bangalore: “Almost all the 7,000 unaided schools in Karnataka are facing a shortage of teachers. Most teachers who can speak English fluently have left to work in call centres, where the pay is twice as much. In fact nowadays schools don’t receive any applications when they advertise for teachers. Recently Saraswati Vidya Mandir spent over Rs.1 lakh to place teacher recruitment ads in Deccan Herald; we didn’t even receive 15 applications. Nobody wants to be a teacher anymore.”

Yet if private schools are experiencing teacher shortages for the first time in post-independence India for demand-pull reasons, their problems — and ability to resolve them — pale into insignificance when compared with faculty shortages in the country’s estimated 1,000,000 government-run primary and secondary schools. By a curious and typically Indian anomaly, government school teachers enjoy 30-50 percent higher pay than private school teachers. But even with teachers’ pay pegged at above market price, for years the country’s Central and state governments which are running huge fiscal deficits have neglected to appoint additional teachers. Consequently most of the 31 states of the Indian Union have thousands of teacher vacancies in government schools. In Uttar Pradesh 61,437 teachers’ posts are vacant, in Karnataka 13,500 new teachers need to be appointed, while in Bihar there’s a massive deficit of 2.3 lakh teachers.

Fortunately because of public pressure to meet the target of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (Education for All campaign) which was launched in 2001 and followed by the Right to Education Bill, 2006 that guarantees free education to every child between six and 14 years, state governments have been compelled to make provision for recruiting new teachers. For instance in Karnataka, Basavaraj Horatti, primary and secondary education minister in the BJP-JD (S) coalition government, has pledged to appoint 12,350 additional teachers in the state “by the end of this year”.

More ambitiously in Bihar (pop. 82 million) — on numerous indicators of socio-economic development India’s most backward state and a seething cauldron of caste-driven politics — the nine-month-old NDA government led by Nitish Kumar claims to have already set in motion the process of recruiting a massive 2.3 lakh primary and high school teachers. According to the Bihar Education Service, the state government thus far has received over 10 million applications for the 2.3 lakh teacher vacancies. This overwhelming response for government teachers’ jobs is not surprising in Bihar, a state where corrupt politicians, pathetic infrastructure and crumbling law and order have driven away all private industry.

While the state governments of Bihar and Karnataka are setting about reinvigorating government schools, the almost bankrupt Uttar Pradesh govern-ment has resorted to making up its huge teacher shortfall to meet the Education for All target by mass recruitment of shiksha mitras (para teachers). Shiksha mitras are appointed on one year contracts at miserly pay of Rs.2,500 per month. They aren’t required to have teacher training qualifications (class X/ XII pass is the eligibility criterion) and aren’t eligible for any perquisites or benefits enjoyed by permanent teachers. “The state has sanctioned 158,838 posts of shiksha mitras. Of these 9,324 have already been filled. We hope to fill the rest very soon,” says Kiran Pal Singh, the minister for basic education in Uttar Pradesh.

Yet perhaps the most disturbing fallout of the creeping teacher shortage nationwide is crowded classrooms and single teacher schools. India already boasts one of the highest teacher pupil ratios in the world: 1:60 (according to World Bank data) and over 200,000 government schools have only one teacher who conducts multigrade classes simultaneously. Consequently poor learning outcomes which is a defining characteristic of Indian education (see EW cover story March), is certain to remain an unresolved problem. “In some states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh the teacher-pupil ratio is 1:62. To halve this ratio or at least reduce it to a more manageable 1:40, we need to aggressively recruit teachers. While para teachers are good as a stopgap arrangement, they should be replaced by regular well-trained teachers,” says Dr. S.M.I.A. Zaidi, senior fellow and head of the educational planning unit at the National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA), Delhi.

In support of the principle that half a glass is better than no water at all, Rashmi Sinha, the Lucknow-based director of Mahila Samkhya, an NGO which runs the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalas (residential girls schools) across 18 districts in Uttar Pradesh supports the government’s decision to recruit para teachers en masse to reduce the state’s 1:62 teacher-pupil ratio. “There is no alternative to hiring para teachers. But the government should invest in in-service training to develop their teaching skills. If not, they may do more harm than good in their classrooms. Moreover their pay and service conditions should be continuously improved to motivate them,” says Sinha.

Faculty crunch in higher education

potentially crippling problem confronting India’s higher education institutions compr-ising 344 universities (including 20 Central universities), 17,700 colleges, seven IITs and six IIMs, is a newly emergent faculty shortage. Academic estimates indicate that 25-40 percent of faculty positions in higher education are vacant. On September 21, a spokesman of the Union HRD ministry admitted at a press conference: “As far as the Central universities are concerned (sic), there were more than 2,000 teaching posts vacant as on March 31 last year.”

In Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), widely acknowledged as the country’s top liberal arts postgrad varsity, against a sanctioned strength of 560, 140 faculty positions are vacant. In the Delhi School of Economics, 30 percent of teachers’ posts are vacant. In Madurai Kamaraj University — identified by the University Grants Commission as a — university with potential for excellence’ — for over 2,000 students in 72 departments, there are only 153 teachers against the sanctioned strength of 324. Shockingly, the last time lecturers were recruited in Bihar’s colleges was in 1993.

Professional i.e medical, engineering and business education institutes, also report an acute faculty crunch. For instance the nine government medical colleges in Uttar Pradesh have 395 teachers’ situations vacant. In govern-ment medical colleges in Gorakhpur (where the dreaded Japanese encephalitis killed over 183 children recently), Meerut and Jhansi, 50 percent of teaching posts are unfilled. Moreover in the country’s 1,300 engin-eering colleges the requirement of duly qualified professors far exceeds supply.

“India hosts an estimated 1,300 engineering colleges. Together they graduate 500,000-600,000 engineers every year. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) mandates a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:15. This translates into a 33,000-40,000 faculty requirement. If we accept a 5 percent faculty attrition rate conservatively, on average we need 1,650-2,000 new faculty every year in our engineering colleges,” says V. Raghunathan, former professor at IIM-Ahmedabad and chairman of the GMR Varmalakshmi Foundation. “Ideally if our engineering colleges were truly institutions of higher learning, the new teachers ought to be Ph Ds. But sadly, India produces less than 450 Ph Ds in technology annually.”

The situation in India’s showcase IITs and IIMs isn’t better. According to a report in the Indian Express (July 25, 2006) 900 teaching posts are vacant in the IITs. With the proposal to expand seats in all Central government sponsored institutions (including IITs and IIMs) to allocate 27 percent of seats for other backward caste (OBC) students from the next academic year, the faculty crunch will accentuate. For instance, currently IIM-Bangalore has only 73 faculty against its sanctioned strength of 89. “We already have a shortage of 16 faculty members. The faculty requirement will rise to 110 when we implement the quota policy. This means we will have to enhance faculty compensation,” says Dr. A.G. Apte, IIM-Bangalore’s director.

The oversight committee headed by Veerappa Moily which is preparing a roadmap for implementation of the 27 percent OBC quota proposal, has suggested some ways and means to cope with the crisis in its interim report. Among them: raise faculty retirement age to 65 years; engage retired faculty on three-year contracts, extendable to the age of 70 years; expand visiting or adjunct faculty; increase workload of existing faculty; motivate existing faculty with additional compensation; and provide a one-time joining allowance/ relocation grant, jobs for spouses and assured admission in schools to children to reduce faculty attrition. 

Yet given that students’ tuition fees and faculty pay scales are to all intents and purposes frozen by government, recruitment of faculty for India’s showcase institutions of higher learning is likely to prove a tall order. With the Union and state governments reluctant to confer financial autonomy and decision-making to institutional managements, the process of dumbing down the country’s institutions of higher education is likely to accelerate.

The demand-supply equation in higher education is hardly better. Together, India’s 17,700 colleges, 344 universities, six Indian Institutes of Management and seven Indian Institutes of Technology report thousands of teacher vacancies. For instance the nine government medical colleges in Uttar Pradesh report 395 vacant faculty positions. In neighbouring Bihar government college teachers were last recruited in 1993. On September 21, a spokesman of the Union HRD ministry confirmed that in Central government institutions of higher education “more than 2,000 teaching posts were vacant as on March 31 last year. The situation is also grim in the case of the IITs.” (see box)

Against this backdrop of the bewildering mess which has been made of the chronically under-provided education system, it’s hardly surprising that India’s youth are reluctant to enter the teaching profession — synonymous with shabby, crowded classrooms; dilapidated infrastructure (toilets, water, libraries, laboratories), unsympathetic parents and lack of social respect. “Regrettably teaching no longer attracts committed and talented young people. It’s right at the bottom in the hierarchy of professions. If we want to attract talented youth into the profession, teaching needs a complete makeover. It has to be repackaged as a stimulating, interesting and well-paying profession. You can’t pay a teacher as much as you pay your domestic help and hope to provide quality education,” says Saroj Anand, dean of the faculty of education, Lucknow University.

Kathikay Saini, chairman of the Scottish High International School in Gurgaon, is unequivocal that if schools at all levels wish to attract competent education professionals, they must offer pay packages and working conditions on a par with other professions. “Simultaneously to retain teachers, school managements must invest in continuous in-service training and offer opportunities for professional growth. Corporate style HRD best practices are overdue in the education sector,” says Saini.

Yet at bottom, India’s pernicious teacher shortage crisis is a problem of quality, rather than quantity. The country’s estimated 20,000 teacher training institutions (including government and private sector Montessori, D.Ed, B.Ed and M.Ed colleges) which churn out 300,000 teaching graduates every year, are lumbered with outdated curriculums delivered by de-motivated faculty. “In terms of the number of B.Ed postgraduates, India has a sufficient annual output. But how many of them are sufficiently trained to be effective in their classrooms, is the moot point. Ninety percent of B.Ed postgrads are under-qualified and need further training before they can be allowed to handle classes independently. For instance in Karnataka in the past five years the number of B.Ed and TCH (Teachers Certificate Higher) colleges have doubled. Despite this schools are experiencing great difficulty in recruiting competent teachers,” says Dr. Sandeep Shastry, the Bangalore-based director of the International Academy of Creative Teaching (estb. 2001), a private teacher training institute which offers its 50 students an intensive one-year teacher training programme.

Maya Menon, director of The Teachers Foundation, Bangalore, which has thus far provided in-service training to 2,000 school teachers across the country, endorses the contention that India’s teacher shortage crisis is of adequately trained teachers who can deliver actual learning. “The great majority of teachers with B.Ed certificates are simply unemployable because the quality of education delivered in the country’s teacher training institutions is pathetic. There is over-emphasis on theory and hardly any practical training happens. Moreover the teacher educators themselves are ill-trained and have zero continuous learning opportunities. It’s a vicious cycle,” says Menon.

The upshot of all this is that in the final analysis, with the 86th Amendment to the Constitution having endowed all of India’s estimated 375 million children aged six to 14 years free and compulsory education, the Central and state governments have no option but to re-order their spending priorities and raise their combined annual education outlay from the current 3.5 percent of GDP to 6 percent as was presciently recommended by the Kothari Commission in 1966.

Even as post-independence India’s establishment stands indecisive at a historic crossroads in the new millennium, the education system is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis characterised by enormous teacher shortages, crumbling institutional infrastructure and deplorable learning outcomes. If a radical re-ordering of national spending priorities is not undertaken expeditiously, India’s much-trumpeted demographic dividend could soon morph into a demographic disaster.

With Srinidhi Raghavendra (Bangalore); Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai); Autar Nehru (Delhi); Vidya Pandit (Lucknow); Arun Srivastav (Patna) & Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)

Also read: Why training and upskilling teachers regularly is need of the hour?

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