There are both champions and detractors of para-teacher schemes in India. Champions claim that these schemes reduce pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs), eliminate single teacher schools, lower the cost of providing elementary education and may increase teacher accountability to local panchayats. Detractors, on the other hand, rue the lower professional training and allegedly lower educational qualifications of para-teachers (compared to regular teachers), and they also dislike the dual salary structure whereby para-teachers are paid much lower salaries than regular teachers within the same schools.
This snippet, taken from Geeta Gandhi Kingdon and Vandana Sipahimalani-Rao’s article titled Para-Teachers in India: Status and Impact, from the Economic and Political Weekly (Mar 20, 2010, Vol XLV No. 2) intrigued me immediately as a debate that needs to happen more strongly.
The fact that we need para-teachers (defined variously, but broadly as non-full time teachers) as a possible quick solution to the immense teacher shortage in India (1.2 mn required or more based on other reports), which could grow exponentially if you were to start improving the student-teacher ratios, is undisputed. So is the fact that we need them dispersed over a large geography. The equally important fact is that these educators need to be brought into the mainstream over a period of time as well, reducing or eliminating some of the more obvious disparities with their full-time colleagues.
The skill and talent exist – within existing teachers, para-teachers, and very importantly the competitive tuition or coaching private marketplace – but the economics is skewed and inclusive utilization of these resources is a challenge.
As always there are multiple parts to the problem:
- Teacher Education itself needs to concentrate on investigating ways to upskill and make supporting infrastructure, including technology, available; while at the same time making sure that existing teachers are set higher standards and given the right kind of training environment
- Educational providers and education technology companies must make a concerted effort to enable teachers to transcend distance through the use of technology and innovation in pedagogy (an important piece of which, in my opinion, is going to be portability with network access)
- Policy makers must concentrate on providing an easy to implement career progression for para-teachers – sort of a vocational strategy for the educators profession strand
- Students need to be more exposed to using technology and participating in distance education initiatives. The state of educational data mining or learning analytics in even the largest distance education providers is abysmal, to say the least.
The challenges can be met, but require strong leadership at local levels supported by policy changes at the top. And as I said, there needs to be more broad-based research, especially around effectiveness and productivity.