Fixing teachers’ accountability is the right step
Education minister Prakash Javadekar has done well to talk of greater accountability from teachers—if India’s education sector has to do well, you have to start at the top. While public sector teachers and professors are paid much above market salaries—a government school teacher typically gets 2.5 times the salary of a private school one—there is little to show for the investment. Thanks to the ASER studies, most know that the majority of students are unable to do maths or read even the books for several grades below them; in a state like Bihar, less than half pass even the state education board’s matriculation exam. At the tertiary level—where only a fourth of the university-age population is enrolled—if just a fraction of graduates are employable, that says a lot about the quality of the teaching. According to a study by research firm Aspiring Minds in 2013, just 47% of all graduates were employable; another study by it, in 2016, found that just a fifth of engineering graduates were employable.
Yet, despite the quality of education suffering, teachers-professors are a strong lobby and have, on most occasions, got governments and regulators to bend to their will. Take, for instance, the way the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), in May, scuttled UGC’s proposal to tweak the Academic Performance Indicators system it uses to evaluate tertiary-level teachers. These changes would have increased the teaching-workload while easing the research-workload—an assistant professor would have been required to devote 24 hours a week to direct teaching and tutorials instead of the earlier 18, while an associate professor would have been required to clock in 22 hours, as opposed to the earlier 14 hours. DUTA immediately ensured the boycott of exam-paper evaluations by the teachers and, for two weeks before it relented, got them to stay off varsity admissions. As a result, UGC rolled back the proposals. Contrast this with the teaching hours clocked by American professors—a 2014 study by Professor John Ziker of Boise State University in Idaho put the average teaching and related workload of a professor at the university at over 24 hours a week, with a median work-week of 60 hours including seminars and workshops. Given the uneven quality of research in Indian universities, it is difficult to see how more hours devoted to teaching will affect that—except for seven IITs and the Indian Institute of Science, no other Indian university or higher education institute figures in the top 200 for the ‘faculty citations’ criterion in the Quacquarelli-Symonds ranking of top global universities. While the draft TSR Subramanian report on the New Education Policy spoke of the need to depoliticise campuses in the context of students, it is just as applicable in the case of teachers/professors.