School is where kids spend most of their waking hours. We want the best for our kids. Yet, we look the other way when the very people who mould them in their formative years, their teachers, are paid a pittance.
In Bangalore, teachers in the majority of schools are paid ten to fifteen thousand rupees a month for a workday that begins at 8.30 a.m. and goes on until 2.30 p.m. These very schools charge to the tune of a lakh a year by way of tuition fees, and have thirty kids in each section. Some of the international schools do better in terms of what they pay their staff.
The lot of teachers in Delhi seems much better than those in the south. Government schools everywhere have benefits like pension on retirement. Neighbourhood pre/play-schools are by far the worst – for four hours a day, teachers are paid as little as five thousand rupees a month.
I have heard the principal of a reputed institution complain about the amount he has to shell out to hire drivers for school transport. The amount was the same as the salary a teacher in the school was paid! Cooks and cleaners earn as much a month as full-time teachers!
Another true story – the housekeeping staff at a school went on strike demanding higher wages. If their demands were met, the salary of the teachers wouldn’t be very different from that of the cleaners.
Let’s see what the arguments In favour of paying teachers a paltry sum can possibly be:
- “It is a noble profession, don’t bring money into the picture” – Then why pay teachers at all? Isn’t the medical profession noble too? Don’t doctors make a fortune?
- “It is an easy job” – Hardly. I worked in the corporate sector for a decade, before spending a year volunteering at a school. The latter was physically taxing and emotionally draining, and required preparation.
- “There are the perks – two months off in summer, more holidays than in a corporate job” – A teacher can hardly avail any sick leave, leave alone earned leave. Neither is there any flexibility in terms of working hours. The corporate sector has 22 days of earned leave (apart from 12 holidays) – there you go… that’s more than a month. Add to that the (huge) added advantage of work-from-home possibilities – and I don’t see any perks in a teaching job anymore!
- “Most teachers are women, and they don’t need to earn” – Ha! Really? That makes me see red, a topic for another day perhaps.
- “The pay is commensurate to education and experience.” – Exactly. That’s the point. Don’t we want skilled, committed teachers for our kids? How are we going to attract talent if we send out the message that we don’t value what a teacher does?
I’ve heard many say “Why would I teach at a school when I can earn more conducting classes? I can work from the comfort of my home and keep an eye on my little one.” Why indeed.
The pay-scale in the social sector is higher. Freelancing works out better. A fresher in the IT industry earns thrice as much as a teacher with a few years of experience. It would take a really dedicated, passionate soul to get him/herself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, eager to spend the day with kids at school. Or someone mediocre who is not equipped, qualified, or motivated enough to do anything else.
I agree there is a problem. But what can I do?
If you are a parent, find out what the school pays its teaching staff while seeking admissions.
If you are a teacher, ask, make demands.
If you are a student, make a card for your teacher, appreciate his/her effort. That’s the best you can do right now. But, when you grow up, make policy changes, work for implementation. If you value the contribution of your teachers in making you what you are, don’t underestimate their role in shaping the future of your children, your country, and the world.
Arundhati Venkatesh is an engineer by degree, a mother, an observer of life and people, a feminist, a minimalist and a compulsive maker of lists! An IT professional in her previous life, Arundhati now works for an NGO that empowers the differently-abled. Arundhati reviews children’s books at saffrontree.org. You can also find her at www.womensweb.in – an online magazine for the thinking woman. She records her adventures with her son at http://arundhativ.blogspot.