The last change in teachers’ salaries came when Namita Bhagat, 23, was a student herself.
Now, she’s the one doing the instructing—part of a new generation of teachers who deal with large class sizes, poor infrastructure and great expectations from families sending their children to school for the first time.
Happy days: Namita Bhagat, a teacher at a Delhi government-run primary school, is one among the many whose pay will go up.
Bhagat earns Rs12,000 a month in basic salary and allowances for teaching 35 children between the ages of 9 and 12 for five hours a day, with a half-hour break in between.
The Sixth Pay Commission’s report on Monday could boost Bhagat’s basic salary by as much as 70%, though some teachers say the pay hike will be a more conservative 40%, based on initial numbers they have yet to interpret fully. The report also raises the maximum salary Bhagat can earn as a primary schoolteacher, now marked with small, fixed annual increments of up to Rs500.
And it is not only Bhagat and her government school colleagues who will welcome the announcements related to pay. Most private schools stick to government-determined pay structures, despite the freedom to raise salaries in line with a boom in education and a rise in demand for teachers. Only a handful of international schools have broken away from the once-a-decade rise in teachers’ salaries, paying twice as much, or Rs32,000-38,000, to a teacher with a few years’ experience.
The formula is an aberration in an economy where salaries are soaring in sectors seeing intense demand.
“I don’t know” why salaries are not rising, said N. Sehgal, principal of Delhi Public School (DPS) in Noida, part of one of the biggest private school franchises. “Teachers deserve a higher salary.” But DPS Noida pays Rs500 a month above the government-determined pay scale to its teaching staff. Sehgal said the school would emulate the government pay hike.
Beyond private schools underpaying teachers, advocates and state governments seem more worried about unrecognized, unauthorized private schools—meaning they do not have permission from education authorities to function—in rural India. Citing anecdotal evidence, they say such schools do not follow any rules in teachers’ pay.
“They get teachers to sign on the full amount of salary, but give them only half. When teachers from such schools get into our system, we talk to them and come to know what is happening in these unrecognized schools,” said K. Chandramouli, Andhra Pradesh’s state project director of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government programme aimed at putting every child in school.
Low salaries for teachers mean the best graduates do not join the profession, in turn pulling down the quality of education offered in schools.
“The salary differentials have gone very, very high. There are many more opportunities outside, in the IT (information technology) sector and services, or the BPO (business process outsourcing) sector,” said Poonam Batra, professor in the Central Institute of Education, Delhi university, and a key figure in the university’s four-year undergraduate programme that focuses on equipping teachers such as Bhagat to cope with crowded classrooms and first-generation learners. “Attracting the best talent is a problem not just in schools, but also in higher technical education institutes such as IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and IIMs (Indian Insitutes of Management).”
While IITs and IIMs will also see pay hikes, staff members there already have the opportunity to earn extra income through consulting, an area that has also grown of late.
Teachers’ salaries have generated research and debate overseas as they struggled to understand how big a role instructors play in making education better. A September 2007 report by consultants McKinsey and Co. on schools in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries— How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top—found that the quality of a school system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.
According to the study, the best schools do three things consistently well: they tap the right people to teach, develop skills and target support to ensure every student benefits.
Prabhat Jain, promoter of Pathways World School in Gurgaon, which offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum, says human capital is what makes a difference to the school, not a good building. So, he matches the five-star feel of his schools (air conditioning to reclining seats on buses) with paying his teachers Rs32,000-38,000 a month. Heads of department, with more teaching experience, can earn up to Rs80,000.
Some international schools say they spend and retrain teachers to fit into their system, costs absorbed as part of hiring. “Their style of teaching is not as efficient” as those abroad, said Ramani Sastri of Bangalore’s Canadian International School, where teachers’ salaries begin at Rs25,000.
Most schools in India do not benchmark their teachers’ pay against other schools, Indian or foreign, but a number of school administrators say that is the only solution. “We must be competitive. We watch very carefully how salaries are increasing,” said Robert Hetzel, director of the American Embassy School in New Delhi. Local hires among teachers with five years of experience is Rs8.16 lakh per year, or Rs68,000 a month.
Higher salaries are an incentive to remain in the profession and invest in further training, that improves their quality of teaching. But for many such as Bhagat, the impetus to keep learning largely comes from themselves or their families. Bhagat comes from a line of women in education; her mother and grandmother were school principals.
And so, in the evenings, after a day of teaching others, Bhagat turns into a student—attending classes for a master’s in education.