Teachers’ Protest Is Noble: Their Demands Must Be Met

By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

The history of modern Education in the Khasi-Jaiῆtia and Garo Hills is about one hundred ninety years old only and it can be traced to the days when Alexander B Lish of the Serampore Mission had opened a School in Sohra in 1832. Thereafter, in 1841 Thomas Jones, the first missionary of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Foreign Missions began his evangelisation in the Hills and established three schools at Mawmluh, Sohra and Mawsmai in 1842. Further he was also instrumental in sowing the seeds of development of the Khasi language and transformed the Sohra dialect into the written language by the usage of Roman alphabets. Throughout the 20th century whereever the Gospel was preached primary schools were set up by the Presbyterian, Catholic and Baptist Missions respectively. Thus, Education in the Khasi-Jaiῆtia and Garo Hills is essentially a private enterprise for the larger public good.
For a long time Education was considered as a noble vocation and the missionary approach to education was the dominant feature. The general perception is that education and teaching are upstanding enterprises and those in the field must commit to it wholeheartedly, but teachers are humans and citizens too and they are equally entitled to their rights. During British rule, the Government had established Zilla School and subsequently merged the same with the Normal School and Mission High School to form the Shillong Government High School in 1891. However, after Independence and under the Constitution the State assumed the role of a significant player in providing free and quality education to all. The 86th Constitutional amendment pronounced Education as a Fundamental Right and inserted Article 21 A to this effect. In 2012 the Right to Education was also enacted to ensure that every child has the right to free and compulsory education.
In Meghalaya the majority of schools are run and managed by faith-based groups and the Christian Missions are pioneers in the field. Of course, today the situation has vastly changed and the Mission’s run schools are being substantially aided/supported by the State by way of the deficit system of grant in aid etc. Nonetheless, in the past decade or two the State also witnessed an increasing number of educational institutions established by private citizens right from the primary up to university level. As per Government data, the State has a literacy rate of 74.43% and there are up to 6612 primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in Meghalaya. The State has the highest enrolment from class 1 to XII which is 31,058 per one lakh population and has 1,875 teachers per one lakh population.
Although teachers are considered as the single-most vital factor in the educational system, they are also the most neglected sections of workers in the State. Teachers in Meghalaya can be divided into several categories viz, Government, Deficit and Ad-hoc, those employed under the SSA and RMSA schemes and exclusively private school teachers. This existing multi-layered system in education in the State is creating disparities and inequalities among the teachers. The private school teachers (including those in Religious/Church run schools) are by far the most exploited than Government or aided teachers. In her paper entitled, The Plight of Non-Government Teachers In India, Swaleha Sindhi highlighted several pertinent issues that private school teachers in India are facing, viz, (i) private school teachers have no mechanism to redress their grievances (ii) they get a fraction of the salary of government school teachers (iii) they also face a different recruitment and reward structure from those at government schools (iv) they are forced to sign bonds and agreements by the school administrations… and in case they leave, their salaries of months together is devoured and cut off by the school authorities.
The above issues also hold true for the private school teachers in Meghalaya. In April 2019 during the annual convention of the Workers’ Power of Meghalaya (WPM), this writer had the opportunity to interact with private school teachers who had come to attend the workers’ convention. Their plight is obvious – their monthly income is way below the minimum wage of an unskilled labourer, they are denied their basic rights like casual leave, maternity leave, earned and medical leave and do not even have provident fund etc. These are the basic rights that every teacher is entitled to and if he or she is denied them, then there is a serious problem in the system which has to be addressed immediately. As Swaleha Sindhi rightly puts it, “this affects the teacher’s motivation to educate and causes good teachers to leave the profession. These in turn would produce negative effects in student’s learning. To improve the quality of education it is essential to pay special attention to teachers and to implement policies to attract, motivate and retain the most talented individuals in the profession.”
In the recent past, the streets of Shillong are replete with agitated teachers, from the Association of SSA school teachers to Federation of All School Teachers of Meghalaya, who have been clamouring for their basic right to living wages and various entitlements. The teachers’ led agitation also reflects the deplorable condition of the education system in the State. Unlike other plum departments, “Education is neither a profitable portfolio nor can one make a fast buck from it, so no one seems to take keen interest and thus it is left to rot”. The Minister for Education categorically stated that the State requires Rs 29 crore per month to pay the salaries of SSA teachers and meanwhile the budget allocation for education in the State for the year 2021-22 is Rs 980 crores whereby Rs 435 crores of the total budget will be tapped from the State resources.
The budget allocation for education is relatively small as compared to the need for providing quality and free education to all. While analysing the Government’s data it is found that in Meghalaya there are about 9,31,740 students and 56,250 teachers respectively. Now, let us presume that each teacher earns Rs 20,000 per month as income which amounts to Rs 2,40,000 per annum. Thus, the annual expenditure on salaries or the 56,250 numbers of teachers in the State amounts to Rs 1350 crore. Whereas the budget allocation is only Rs 980 crore, leaving a shortfall of about Rs 370 crore. Where will the expenditures for infrastructures and maintenance etc., come from? Besides, the state has to generate Rs 29 crore per month to meet the State’s share for the salary of SSA teachers. Besides Health care, Education is one sector which the State has to give top-most priority to in governance and planning.
The discrimination and the sin of unfair treatment towards teachers should end. All the teachers of Meghalaya, from Private to Government aided to Government schools, must raise a war cry for “Justice, Equality and Dignity” and proclaim their rights for living wages, free health care, education and decent housing. The teachers of Meghalaya must be justly and fairly treated in every aspect and their demands must be met. The State Government must immediately adopt a policy towards providing a living wage to all teachers, implement equal pay for equal work, raise the salaries of all the teachers in the State as per law and by law institute a Private School Regulatory body in order to protect the private school teachers against exploitation.
The Government of Meghalaya has stated in its policy, “To create conditions, which will help motivate and inspire teachers along constructive and creative lines. Their pay, service conditions and fair retirement benefits have to commensurate with their social and professional responsibilities.” This cannot remain in paper only. The State must act. It is the duty and the pivotal role of the State to provide free and quality education and it can only happen if teachers are paid justly.

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.