Sunday, August 30, 2015
Where are the teachers?
The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, August 30, 2015
These questions came to mind as I read a fascinating article in Economic and Political Weekly on how a shortage of teachers in Rajasthan is affecting not just female literacy but also limiting the choices for girls who want to study science and math (http://www.epw.in/special-articles/why-women-teachers-matter-secondary-education.html). The article, by Kameshwari Jandhyala and Vimala Ramachandran, is based on research in three districts in Rajasthan -- Barmer, Baran and Ajmer. Each of these districts has a substantial percentage of scheduled tribe, scheduled caste or Muslim population.
The article brought out the inextricable link between literacy and the availability of teachers. If there is low literacy, especially among girls, there will be fewer women available to become teachers. If there are not enough women teachers, in conservative and low literacy areas, parents will not send girls out to study. As a result, low literacy amongst girls will continue.
What is even more significant is that although conservative parents are willing to send girls to primary school, this is where their education usually ends. Secondary schools are often too far, and parents prefer girls’ schools with women teachers. But there are not many of them.In Rajasthan the percentage of women teachers is already below the national average. It is only 19 per cent at the secondary level and in some of the poorer districts it goes down to 9. If you look at the enrolment rate of girls and boys, you see a steady decline in the presence of girls in the higher classes. The decline is even steeper if you look at the figures for SCs and STs.
Furthermore, in the few all-girls’ schools offering secondary education, the science stream often does not exist because there are no women teachers available to teach these subjects. Unless we increase the enrolment of girls in secondary schools and colleges, and give them the chance to study science, we will never have enough women qualified to be science teachers.
So, on the one hand, governments give incentives to encourage girls to go to school. Some States offer bicycles, others give free uniforms and books so that even poor families can send their girls to school. Such incentives have increased enrolment even if the quality of teaching is poor. On the other hand, the girls who make it to secondary school are confined to non-science subjects. Without science education, there is not even a whiff of a chance of these girls ever entering the world opened up by science and technology.
The saddest aspect that comes out in the study is the plight of the girls who somehow manage to convince their families that they want to pursue science. They can do this only if they go to study in co-ed schools where there are science teachers. According to the article, the girls who overcame objections from parents and attended co-ed schools had a rough time. They spoke of harassment, sexual innuendos, inadequate physical safety, fear of moving around, even to go to bathrooms within the institutions, derisive talk, and so on. Women who attended college or teachers training institutes also faced this. How can you learn and grow in such an atmosphere?
Reading this, I was reminded of the recent tragic case from Sangrur town in Punjab where a 16-year-old Dalit girl set herself ablaze and died because she was harassed by four young men on her way to the government school. The school was 10 km from her home and these men would follow her everyday and taunt her. In her dying declaration, she said: “I dreamt of becoming a doctor. It wasn’t my dream alone but also that of my brother. I’ve had to kill my dream and take my life. I couldn’t bear the humiliation. They crossed all limits.”
Multiply this, and what the article narrates, and you get a picture of what is happening with education in India. General figures of literacy rates do not tell us the full story. It is this kind of detail — the lack of women teachers, the need for more women teachers to teach science, the importance of a safe environment for girls in secondary schools and colleges — that will make a real difference. It is this that will give substance to the apparent “right to education” that every girl is guaranteed in India.