The education ministry gives a figure of 1.035 million teacher vacancies without explaining how it got that number. Going by the 2019-20 District Information System of Education (DISE) data, the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in public elementary schools across India was only 25.1.
Assistant professor, Delhi School of Economics
Geeta Gandhi Kingdon
Professor, education and international development, University College London (UCL), UK
The education ministry gives a figure of 1.035 million teacher vacancies without explaining how it got that number. Going by the 2019-20 District Information System of Education (DISE) data, the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in public elementary schools across India was only 25.1. Given that the Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates a maximum PTR of 30, nationally, there is no teacher shortage in the sense that if students and teachers could be properly rearranged or deployed, the mandated average could be achieved without hiring any new teachers.
Applying the RTE norms – e.g., at the primary level, two teachers for all schools with ’60 or fewer’ pupils, and one additional teacher for every additional 30 students or a fraction of that – even to existing students and teacher allocations to schools, some schools suffer from teacher shortages, some have just the right number and some have surplus teachers.
When we relocate the surplus teachers from the last category of schools to those suffering from shortage, the net shortage is only 2.5 lakh rather than 10 lakh. In other words, three-fourths of the shortage identified by NEP is not a shortage at all.
Indeed, even the 2.5 lakh shortage figure turns out to be an overstatement once we correct for the padding up of student enrolments in the official data. As per reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Midday Meal Authority (MMA), public schools seriously overstate enrolments to get more state benefits (sweaters, bags and food grain for midday meals). As our April 2021 research (bit.ly/3woltZT) using school-wise data on students and teachers shows, a correction for this overstatement converts the net shortage of 2.5 lakh teachers into a surplus of nearly 1 lakh teachers.
(Only) Three Bags Full…
Over the years, a staggering number of parents have moved their children into low-fee private schools. Between 2010 and 2019, 2.7 crore pupils left public schools for private ones. This mass migration has created an extremely large number of ‘mini’ schools with very low PTR. By 2019, 48% of India’s about 10 lakh public elementary schools were left with only ’60 or fewer’ pupils each. The average number of pupils in these approximately 5 lakh schools was only 31, and they had only 13.3 pupils per teacher.
The RTE Act requires that even tiny schools with ’20 or fewer’ pupils employ two teachers. It also prescribes no minimum size for schools, thus maintaining tiny unviable schools that provide scant socialisation opportunity to children.
Our research shows that maintaining a surplus of teachers and a PTR of 25.1, rather than the permitted maximum of 30, already costs the Indian exchequer nearly ₹29,000 crore a year in excess teacher salaries alone. If new teachers are recruited to fill the claimed 1 million teacher vacancies as per NEP recommendation, the nationwide PTR would fall further to 19.9, and would incur an additional cost of nearly ₹64,000 crore each year (in 2019 nominal terms) in teacher salaries for the following 30 years or more, since policy in India does not allow teachers to be laid off once hired.
Adding this extra cost of fresh recruitment to the existing cost of currently surplus teachers, the total extra cost of the lower PTR of 19.9 turns out to be a gargantuan ₹93,000 crore a year in 2019-20 prices. As many as 70 countries enjoy a lower GDP than this figure.
Just as there is need for the consolidation of tiny agricultural holdings in India (48% of the holdings are smaller than half a hectare with the average size at just 0.23 hectare), there is a need to consolidate tiny public schools. Due to the emptying of public elementary schools, by 2019-20, there were 1.3 lakh ‘tiny’ public schools with only ’20 or fewer’ pupils. These schools had, on average, 12.7 pupils and two teachers per school, and a very low PTR of 6.7. Teacher salary expense per pupil in these schools averages ₹7,312 a month, or ₹87,852 a year, at 2019-20 prices.
Writing on the Blackboard
This nationwide problem requires GoI’s intervention to incentivise the states to undertake necessary school consolidation (merging nearby public schools). For instance, no central resources should be provided for hiring new teachers in at least the 13 major states in which there is a net surplus of teachers, till they consolidate pupils into larger schools and transfer surplus teachers to nearby public schools that may have a teacher deficit.
Instead of appointing yet more teachers in emptying mini-fied schools, let us have fewer higher-quality schools that are pedagogically and economically viable, with direct benefit transfer (DBT) funding for transport to ensure that access is not jeopardised in the pursuit of quality.
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