Education is the foundation on which the pillars of a country stand. If the education sector is harmed, the future of the whole nation will be in jeopardy. India is a country where teaching as a profession, and teachers in particular, are respected more than any others. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a shift in that norm.
In the pre-Covid era, the education sector was a lucrative business and teachers were paid well by most private institutions. But since March 2020, all our educational institutions, from kindergarten to the PhD level, are working in a new online format. Most youngsters like this format as they can attend classes in a relaxed environment—often too relaxed. The advantages and disadvantages of these online classes would be understood only in the coming years.
However, the lives of teachers in most private institutions are in peril, especially when compared to their counterparts in government institutions. There are many private educational institutions where a teacher with a PhD degree is paid a three-digit salary! In spite of this meagre salary, there are many dedicated high-quality teachers working in these institutions, doing yeoman service for society. Unfortunately, many among the public fail to notice the contributions of these teachers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put the lives of many such teachers in greater turmoil. In spite of working from morning to evening, engaging students over online classes during the lockdown, and doing their administrative duties, many teachers are being paid only a partial amount of their salaries by institutional managements, who are citing reasons like economic instability. This is being done despite the fact that most private institutions are collecting full tuition fees and other accessory charges from their students. Many students are still being compelled to buy textbooks, notebooks and even uniforms from their schools. But the schools are not paying the salary due to the teachers. Managements have even terminated the services of many qualified teachers, apparently due to the pandemic making them cut back on costs.
So, is Covid-19 being used as an excuse by institutions to hide their misdeeds and not give teachers their due? Going by the reports available, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. A society that undermines the worth of a teacher is on the verge of collapsing. Can we expect dedication and sincerity from teachers who are not valued for their services? For an average student, the purpose of education is to get a decent life ahead. That’s why they join postgraduate or doctoral programmes, spending nearly 20 years of their life in academia. But if society doesn’t value their time and energy, there would be very few takers for such degrees and programmes in the near future. And a society cannot survive only with professionals like engineers or doctors. We need good musicians, historians, scientists, literary figures and more importantly more philosophers for maintaining a healthy society. All these individuals can only be nurtured if we build a pool of good and qualified teachers.
It’s true that Covid-19 has put technology at the forefront of education, moving teachers to the back seat. Many students now cherish the lessons provided on educational apps rather than by teachers in an offline classroom setup. But has anyone assessed the quality of the students who grew up in such an environment? Even for developing content for emerging educational apps we need good teachers. And we cannot expect good teachers to come up if they are not taken care of financially. Ultimately, everyone works for his or her daily bread.
We are living in a period where academic ranks or other credentials rarely matter for the purpose of employment. There was a time when everyone with a college degree used to get a government job, but today even people with PhDs and postdoctoral experience are finding it difficult to get hired by someone. The world today is for people with particular skill sets and a knack for innovation, no matter what qualifications they hold. This can be developed only by good education, for which we need good teachers. Therefore, agencies like the CBSE, AICTE or UGC should make sure that all teachers are paid their full salary in these pandemic days, otherwise it might eventually endanger the country’s education system.