Teachers’ demand and my role
In a welcome move, the block grant system for teachers has been abolished in the state and has been replaced with grant-in-aid system. This is expected to benefit teachers, students and promote the quality of education. Odisha introduced the block grant system in 2004 to support teachers of the schools and colleges that were earlier not getting any support from the government. This was done to boost teachers’ morale, invite better talents into the teaching pool and to bring about the necessary improvement in the quality of teaching across the state.
By abolishing block grant system and introducing grant-in-aid system the teachers will be entitled to get grade pay, dearness allowance (DA), increments and with better remuneration the quality and the status of teachers should be enhanced respectably.
I ask this honestly to myself, “Why don’t we, as a civilised society, respect teachers?” Teaching in the state had come to a standstill in 4000 high schools and 1500 colleges for the last seventeen days due to the indefinite strike of teachers. The education of at least 11 million students was jeopardised. While we, as a state, are aspiring to contribute more than 6% to the national GDP, our children are struggling in a tottering education system. The teachers don’t get any respect, the students are directionless and the parents are clueless.
The block grant school teachers get a fixed salary of Rs 13,500 per month while their government counterparts are paid at a scale of Rs 9300 to Rs 34,000 and Rs 4200 grade pay, including general provident fund, gratuity, medical facilities and insurance. They are demanding parity in pay. For similar qualification, job experience and work, the government regular teachers are getting almost three times more salary. Obviously, the block grant teachers were demanding abolition of the block-grant system and wanted the consolidated salary system to stop. Presently, they get only a lumpsum monthly salary which is without any allowances or other service benefits. I am not one to pontificate about who is right and who is wrong and how legitimate is the teachers’ demand.
But what is glaring is the lack of communication of the civil society with the teachers. The civil society includes all of us, you and I. More than 880 NGOs in Odisha work in the education sector. Many of them have been working over decades. Do we ever find non-profit, social organisations taking up the cudgels on behalf of issues needing valid and genuine attention? Don’t we think that such major changes need well-researched and objectively prepared advocacy briefs? Who would have the case ready for presentations to the government and other agencies? I hold myself responsible. The state and the demanding sections, both the parties, need support in terms of knowledge management and advocacy exercises. The Odisha School College United Teachers’ and Employees’ Association has been staging demonstration for the last 17-18 days at Lower PMG square demanding fulfilment of their demands and I was least involved in understanding the situation, to put mildly.
I personify the common citizen whose wards are in schools, or the civil society representative, who claims to have worked in education sector, supposedly reforming things that come my way. It concerns the future of our children, of our race, of our state and either ways, we must reach at a decision. The civil society is completely silent, stupefied. Why this apathy? Except reporting about incidents in the Lower PMG area, why are we not discussing the issues in detail? Why am I not bothered? Is it because my children do not go to these schools? Why this apathy? Why this limbo? The best of graduates, in demand from the best of employers, do not want to join a profession that is publicly disparaged or seen as a second/third-best option for graduates. Societies that are serious about attracting the best people into teaching must look seriously at the status of teachers – alongside other factors such as their salaries.
In a Global Teacher Status Index, teachers had the highest status in China and Greece and the lowest in Israel and Brazil. Most European countries, including the UK and the USA, ranked somewhere in the middle of the index. UK is higher on the teacher status index than most other European countries, including Finland or Germany and France, with growing GDP per capita. France and Germany have had serious public debates about the quality of their education systems that may have adversely affected the status of teachers. We do not have such public brainstorming/ debates concerning education, which is supposed to be the only backbone (can we have multiple backbones?) of our economy and future life in this country and the state.
After the landmark announcement, the teachers have thanked the state because they could see concrete, tangible action to solve the imbroglio. But I believe my role, as a citizen, a parent, member of the society, beckons me to play a more active part in taking a deep dive into the issues around me related to our lives and the future of the state. I can’t be passive, detached and yet pass the buck to the government and the governance. After all, you and I are the state. We take positive interest or we pseudo lament.
(The Writer Is a Public Policy Expert)