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India: Global Campaign for Education – more teachers needed

©UNICEF India/2006/Puett
24 April 2006 - Last February, the Prime Minister of India said that he was pained to note that “only 47 out of 100 children enrolled in class I reach class VIII, putting the dropout rate at 53 per cent.” This, he said was “unacceptably high” and attributed the high dropout rate to “lack of adequate facilities, large-scale absenteeism of teachers and inadequate supervision by local authorities.”

While access to schools improved, challenges persist, with many children leaving primary school without learning the basic skills of reading and writing. Even though the literacy rate of the country has reported a sharp increase from 18 per cent in 1950-51 to 65 per cent in 2000-01, one-third of the population, or nearly 300 million people aged 7 and above are still illiterate; 42 million children in the aged 6 to 14 do not attend school. Lack of teachers (especially female), teacher absenteeism, irregular classes, overcrowded classrooms, and traditional methods of rote learning have diminished the quality of teaching and learning, and the support teachers and schools can provide children.

The focus of this year’s Global Action Week (24 to 30 April 2006) is ‘Every Child Needs a Teacher’, which is certainly the case in India.

Though enrolment rates have shot up, there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of teachers. Within India, the teacher absence rate ranges from 15 per cent in Maharashtra to 42 per cent in Jharkhand. With 16 per cent schools in the country having less than two teachers, the average Pupil Teacher Ratio is 1 to 42. Bihar has the worst teacher pupil ratio at 1 to 83. Uttar Pradesh still faces difficulty to provide even a single teacher in 921 primary schools.

Teacher absence is correlated with daily incentives to attend work: teachers are less likely to be absent at schools that have been inspected recently, that have better infrastructure, and that are closer to a paved road. Absence rates are generally higher in low-income states.

To overcome the problem of teacher shortage and teacher absenteeism the para teacher scheme has been introduced in India. Para educators are generally members of the same community in which they teach, and therefore share many of the experiences and cultural practices of their students, including their primary languages and cultural practices.

The state of Rajasthan has successfully overcome the problem of both teacher shortage and teacher absenteeism through these para teachers under the ‘Shiksha Karmi Project’, which is also the origin of para teacher scheme in the country. India at present has more than 500,000 para teachers in a number of states.

The Government has pursued a fivefold strategy since the 1990’s to improve the quality of education in general. These include improvement in the provision of infrastructure and human resources for primary education; provision of improved curriculum and teaching learning material; improvement in the quality of teaching learning process through the introduction of child-centered pedagogy; attention to teacher capacity building, especially female teachers; and increased focus on specification and measurement of learners’ achievement levels.

With increased involvement of community in management and running of schools, as well as enhanced teacher support and development, it is expected that the issue of absenteeism will be addressed in time to come.

UNICEF India is committed to ensuring quality education for all children, especially girls. The current Master Plan of Operations in cooperation with the Government of India (2003-2007) supports the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the national plan for the universalization of elementary education, to ensure all children have access to quality education and complete a full course of primary schooling.

In addition, UNICEF, with its partners, is developing and demonstrating a replicable model of quality education, the Quality Package, that can be scaled up. To measure progress, the District Information System in Education (DISE), a UNICEF-supported initiative, has emerged as the official computerized database for monitoring key education indicators (gross/net enrolment, school infrastructure, teachers), covering 539 districts across India in 2005.

In collaboration with the Education Department of the Government of Gujarat, UNICEF has launched a Life Skills programme in three districts of Gujarat, covering about 147 schools. A total number of 243 teachers have been trained. The four day training programme equips the teachers with the ten basic life skills of self awareness, empathy, problem solving, decision making, effective communication, interpersonal relations, creative thinking, critical thinking, coping with emotions and coping with stress. This has already kick-started the process of turning class rooms into child friendly spaces, with no barriers between teachers and students.


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