Teacher shortage in Jharkhand schools, most pupils have forgotten how to read and write, post-Covid survey shows
Jharkhand's government schools have a massive teacher shortage, a survey by Gyan Vigyan Samiti Jharkhand has found. The survey was conducted in 138 primary and upper primary schools between September and October 2022 to assess their condition after the Covid-19 pandemic. Jharkhand's school system was shut for two years, among the longest in the world. Teachers told the surveyors they felt that most students had forgotten how to read and write by the time the schools reopened in February 2022. In other words, Jharkhand's school system - already weak to being with - has been heavily affected by the pandemic and recovery measures are grossly inadequate.
The survey has uncovered two distinct sets of problems: Chronic deficiencies in school infrastructure - teachers, classrooms and other facilities - that predate Covid-19 and more recent problems created by the pandemic. Of the surveyed schools 20 percent had a single teacher, and 34 percent had just two teachers. Only 16 percent of schools had five or more teachers. Teacher shortages were more severe in primary schools (class 1-5) than in upper primary (class 6-8). Under the Right to Education Act the pupil-teacher ratio must not exceed 30, but the survey found that 47 percent of primary schools and 81 percent of upper primary schools violated this norm. The teacher shortage is exacerbated by the high proportion of para-teachers, who are non-permanent. The account for 55 percent of teaching staff at the primary level and 37% at the upper primary level. Further, 40 percent of primary schools in the sample were run entirely by para-teachers. Para-teachers have less training, lower qualifications and salaries than regular teachers, affecting the quality of education imparted.
Over the last 25 years school infrastructure in Jharkhand has improved in terms of pucca buildings, toilets and a cooking shed. However, a closer inspection reveals glaring gaps. Roofs in half of the sampled schools were not in good condition and a shocking 64 percent of primary schools didn't have a boundary wall, making it easier for animals and humans to wander into the school premises. A majority of school playgrounds - 97 percent among primary and 89 percent among upper primary schools - were indifferent or non-existent. Only half of the sample schools - 49 percent in the case of primary schools and 41 percent for upper primary - had satisfactory water supply while fifteen percent had no water supply within the school premises. Water shortages make it difficult to maintain toilets and run the kitchen.
Jharkhand's government schools finally reopened in February 2022 after a gap of two years. The long shutdown erased educational gains for children from the most vulnerable communities, who rely on these schools. A majority of respondent teachers felt that “most” children enrolled in classes 3-5 had forgotten how to read and write. In the case of primary schools 55 percent expressed this view while 52 percent in upper primary said this. This finding tallies with the results of the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey conducted a few months earlier. Thus, in early 2022, the entire primary cycle (Classes 1-5) in a majority of schools consisted mostly of children who were unable to read and write. This is disastrous, considering that literacy is the base for further education gains. Unlike states like Tamil Nadu which have provisioned for measures to help children after the Covid-19 pandemic, Jharkhand resorted to a "business as usual" attitude after schools reopened.
Some measures have been taken to help students, but these turned out to be of limited value. A majority of respondents who said that 'special learning material' had been distributed to children, but these had nothing to do with the Jharkhand government or Covid-19 specifically. Thirty seven percent of respondents said that bridge courses had been initiated, but upon closer inspection these turned out to be textbooks prepared before the pandemic or extra classes conducted by NGOs or by corporate social responsibility programmes. Measures such as extension of school hours, mobilization of extra teachers, or significant changes in pedagogy or curriculum, which are more in the spirit of bridge classes, have not been taken.
The GVSJ survey took place in 26 blocks spread over 16 districts and consisted of 72 primary schools and 66 upper primary schools. It focused on government schools where at least 50 percent of the children enrolled were from scheduled caste (SC) or scheduled tribe backgrounds. The sample is not representative of all government schools in Jharkhand, but it is likely to be approximately
The survey found that the biggest lacuna was the lack of earnestness, defined as a set of problems like dull teaching methods, irresponsible administration and a lazy work culture that affect the imparting of knowledge. For instance, in many school’s uniforms and textbooks were yet to be distributed months into the school year, or had been distributed to some but not others. School management committee and parent-teacher meetings are held but these have little power or influence. School visits by district or block functionaries are symbolic and mainly focused on record keeping. Teacher complaints about missing facilities or staff shortages remain unanswered while the salaries of para teachers and midday meal cooks are delayed for months.
Furthermore, schools were struggling to provide mid-day meals. Two thirds of the respondent teachers said that their schools did not have adequate funds for the midday meal. What most of them meant is that midday meal funds had not been received for months. This forced them to arrange the midday meal by taking credit from local shops or borrowing from other sources. Current government policy in Jharkhand mandates providing eggs twice a week, and most respondent teachers claimed this was being followed. But informal discussions with the children and their parents revealed that this was not the case. Many schools seem to be using the egg money to buy pulses and vegetables.
The survey also found that attendance rates at the sampled schools were abysmal, but it is unclear if this is due to the pandemic or a more chronic problem that precedes it. The survey found an average attendance rate of just 78 percent in primary schools and 65 percent in upper-primary schools, based on a perusal of school registers. The attendance figures based on headcount, which are likely to be more accurate, are even lower: 68 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
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Most Jharkhand School Students Forgot To Read And Write After Covid: NDTV
Acute Shortage of Teachers, Lack of Water and Power Supply Ail Jharkhand Schools: The Wire
53% teachers say most primary students in Jharkhand forgot to read, write after Covid-19: Scroll
Jharkhand's upper primary schools attendance down to 58%, primary level down to 68%: India Today
Gloom in the Classroom: The Schooling Crisis in Jharkhand: Countercurrents