Faced with the challenge of boosting teachers’ ranks and improving school environments, India looks to curb the explosion of privatised education by once again making quality education synonymous with public education.
Of the three-and-a-half million public primary school teachers in India, seven hundred thousand are so called "para-teachers", educators who may look the same and carry out the same work as regular teachers but earn the equivalent of only $50 USD a month, representing only an eighth of the average teachers' salary.
Sh Ram Pal Singh, President of the All India Primary School Teachers Federation (AIPTF), says that more than half of the "para-teachers" are not qualified. "If you consider that 11 percent of primary schools in India are "single teacher schools", and that we have a shortage of some 1.1 million teachers, you will understand that we have a long way to go to ensure quality education for all children."
Finding a solution to the problem lies in the AIPTF's most important objective to properly implement the Right to Education Act, which was adopted in 2009, explained the AIPTF President. "We want our para-teachers be properly trained, and we want their terms and conditions to be equal to those of regular teachers," he said.
Quality school materials and safe and healthy learning environments are other concerns sitting atop AIPTF's agenda. "The fast growing Indian middle class no longer accepts their children to be taught in poor conditions. The explosive growth of private schools, where parents have to pay school fees, illustrate dissatisfaction with the performance of our impoverished public school system,” explained Singh.
“The public authorities, both at the federal and state level, must sharply increase investment in public education. Spending should be six percent of GDP but at least keep pace with the economic growth."
Today, although 80 percent of schools in India are public schools, studies indicate that this percentage may decline to 50 percent in 2030.
"Poor people cannot afford the school fees that private schools ask parents to pay, according to the AIPTF president. "Many operate as "public private partnerships" and are run on a for profit basis. Education entrepreneurs encourage their teachers not to join unions, and sometimes even forbid them to become union members, as a result of which terms and employment conditions in private education lag behind those applied in the public school system."
In order to lower drop-out rates, the Right to Education Act 2009 does not allow children to repeat a school year. While AIPTF supports the idea that every effort should be made to help children successfully complete primary education, it does not want to compromise education standards and abandon exams. "More and better teachers are the solution, not loosening standards," said Singh.
With 2.3 million members, spread over 24 State organisations, the AIPTF it the largest member organisation of Education International in the Asia-Pacific region.