Monday, 7 February 2011

The Noble Profession

The classrooms across the city and many of its suburbs are set to wear a deserted look. The children, for one, aren't really complaining. Their teachers, on the other hand, are; not complaining, exactly, but are voicing their concerns over the impending census duty. And, they have every right to protest this "national duty", as I shall discuss it in detail in this essay.

For those who're unaware (yes, I believe there are quite a few), the Census of India takes place every 10 years, to not only gauge the increase in the total population, but to also note the changes in the standard of living, birth rate, family patterns etc. And to carry out this mammoth task, the Government of India and the Census Board delegates this work to the local municipal bodies--in over six hundred districts throughout the country--who in turn employ, or rather enlist the services of civic employees, school teachers etc.

So far so good, right? I mean, this is a duty of national significance and not to mention, of great magnitude. And it is the job of government employees to aid the Government in any such undertaking. This is precisely where the authorities make a mistake.
Enlisting civic body employees is not restricted to a handful of them, being sent to every god-forsaken corner of their respective wards; it usually requires a great percentage of the work force to engage in enumeration, often as high as 60-70% of a municipality's full workforce. To add to it, the teachers, in both aided and non-aided schools are roped in for enumeration. This is not the first instance where teachers are compulsorily roped in for such activities--election duty during the Lok Sabha, State elections as well as the municipality are extremely common, and are, at times, carried out for three years in succession. 

So, who bears the brunt of these "national duties"? The students? Yes, of course; but they're not complaining. Nor are they directly facing any of these hardships, other than perhaps a significant delay in the completion of their syllabus. It's the teachers who're directly, and most affected by such "duties". 
In any democratic nation, people's participation in such processes strengthens democracy, firstly; and then, the people as responsible citizens. But, by what right does a democratic nation 'compel' its people to perform such duties? The very fact of the country being a 'democracy', and the 'compulsion' it has on its people is a paradox. But for the government, these duties are 'justified', as they do not consider 'teaching' a valuable profession; all this as India is on the threshold of implementing much-needed reforms in education, including the Right to Education. 

The potential of any nation is calculated by the quality of its youth, more so, the students, especially in primary and secondary school. And the quality of these crucial school years is directly related to the quality of teaching. The point is: reforms in the education sector are incomplete without key policies affecting teachers' well-being. Many, like the government, are of the opinion that teaching is not a challenging, or a productive profession. Such misguided, and callous, remarks sadly illustrate the real 'illiteracy' prevalent in India
With extracurricular duties, like Census enumeration and election duty, both private and public schools teachers are diverted from their school duties, and are even threatened with heavy fines and possible incarceration. The teaching force, thus is stressed from both ends; on one side, they have their official responsibilities in schools, catering to over 60-70 children in each class, along with examinations; on another side, they're coerced into doing these 'national duties'- often during the academic year or even the vacation--whatever little they get. 

I have seen first hand what many teachers (and other enumerators) have to go through, each having to visit about 140-150 households; in one area if lucky, or worse, spread out. Then, there's the language barrier. It's funny how a 'national duty' has its forms printed in the regional language, and requests for these forms in English, or even in Hindi, is laughed off like a humourless joke. To add to their woes, the public who're being enumerated have absolutely no clue about the dates of birth of their spouses, parents etc. and are often very hostile and uncooperative. Even worse is that teachers are paid a pittance, if they're paid at all, that is.
All in the name of national duty.

What I fail to understand is: why doesn't the government employ people, who are currently unemployed, registered in the Employment Exchanges, and, in many cases, are adequately qualified. I often resort to cynicism because of such stark paradoxes: a group of professionals being overburdened, unnecessarily while another group stays unemployed. This is democratic India, I suppose. 

One might say I'm motivated by a personal agenda; my mother's a teacher in a local private school. To that, I say: yes, I am. I know what a teacher has to go through even in regular academic years. Added to that are these duties, and of course, lack of motivation and proper work conditions are a constant issue.

So, is there a solution to this? As always, there is a solution. All that the government and administrative bodies/agencies need is a little creativity, some sensitivity and most importantly, the political will to implement reforms meaningfully for them to make maximum impact. 

Until then, I guess, teaching will remain the "noble" profession that it always has been, in this great nation of ours.

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