By Sandeep Sahu
When was the last time a session of the Odisha Assembly passed off without teachers taking to the street in front of the august house, camping there for days on end and occasionally –as it happened recently – even observing Manbasa Gurubar there? At least I cannot remember any in recent times. During almost every session, there are days when their patience runs out and they try to force their way into the Assembly, only to be prevented by the police. Sometimes, they would march on a rally to gherao Navin Nivas, the Chief Minister’s residence, but would be invariably stopped midway and packed off in vans.
Of course under the broad category of ‘teachers’, there are teachers of all kinds: teachers of government schools, teachers of fully aided schools, teachers of partially aided schools, Sanskrit tolls, Madrasas, teachers of government colleges, teachers of non-government colleges, teachers of the weirdly named ‘488 & 662 category’ and so on. Each set of teachers has a different set of demands, of course. They would range from promotional avenues to regularization of services to exemption of teachers from mid day meal responsibilities. But abolition of ‘block grant’ system would be common to most of them.
As a society, we have never really cared to find out why the teachers of the state are perennially on warpath. Why do they keep thronging the Mahatma Gandhi Road and camping there for days – at times for weeks – together braving sun, rain and cold Assembly session after Assembly session year after year when they should be spending time in their schools doing what they have been hired for? Why doesn’t the government fulfill their demands?
Without going into the individual demands of each set of teachers, it can be safely said that at least some of their key demands are legitimate. Take the ubiquitous block grant system, for example. Why does this utterly disgraced system that has divided groups of teachers and staff in the same educational institution into two distinct categories – one of haves and the other of have-nots – continue even now? It defies logic how there can be such wide variations in the pay and perks of two sets of teachers and staff of the same institution with the same amount of experience and the same workload. While one set would get the coveted UGC scale, the other would have to make do with the block grant which, at times, would be one fourth or even less of the emoluments their more fortunate UGC scale teachers and staff get.
There are reasons to believe that governments of all hues have tried to keep the teachers’ community permanently divided through serious anomalies in the payment structures. May be it fears if united, teachers would be a handful to handle, especially since they are the people politicians bank on to spread their word around at the grassroots level.
Money surely cannot be the reason because it does not seem to stop the state government from launching some welfare scheme or the other involving a burden of hundreds of crores of Rupees on the state exchequer every few weeks. Together, these schemes are worth several times the funds that would be needed to fulfill all the demands of the teachers. The only inference that can be made is that while the welfare schemes bring in votes, ruling parties – and not just the BJD – don’t believe conceding the demands of teachers would fetch votes. Or, to be more accurate, they believe not conceding their demands would not cost them in terms of votes.
Whatever the thinking of the political class, the fact remains that with teachers on the street the year round, education in the state – especially at the school level – would continue to be in a shambles. It is futile to expect teachers to produce champions ready to take on the world when their basic and legitimate demands remain unfulfilled for years on end.
The foundation of the future citizen is laid at the school. If the foundation itself remains weak, there is little chance of a robust, progressive and modern society being built on it. Make them accountable, by all means. But it is about time the state government gave teachers the respect and attention they deserve.