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  • Anuraag Shukla

Para-teachers in India: a review

Analyzing the policy of appointment of contractual teachers in formal schools using Frank Fischer’s framework

Post-Independence India witnessed an uneven growth in the area of school education. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka made rapid strides in universalizing the primary education. These states enjoyed a historical advantage in terms of literacy and access to education. The demand for education, in these states, was further fuelled by the presence of strong social movements which saw education as an instrument for social transformation. Critical consciousness among the masses, coupled with emancipatory politics resulted in the significant contribution towards the public financing and provisioning of education (Kapoor, 2004). A large number of other states in India, in contrast, lacked any such arrangements. The dominance of Congress, with its factional politics, ensured the continuation of the semi-feudal form of governance in these regions (Sudipta Kaviraj, 1988). Politicians, instead, used education and its sites as a tool to advance their political goals. In such as an institutional arrangement, teachers were nothing but pawns in the hands of the politicians, to be used and discarded at will (Gould, 1972). Appointed locally, teachers were paid the lowest sum in the hierarchy of state bureaucracy. Despite being projected as the beacons of hope against feudalism and sectarian interests in the popular Indian imagination, teachers hardly exercised their agency in terms of curriculum and pedagogic approach[1]. Reduced to a mere ‘state and local agent’, teachers turned themselves into the ‘meek dictators’ of classrooms that had been devoid of any connection with the social and cultural lives of the learners (Kumar, 2005). Kothari Commission (GoI 1966) showed similar concerns in its wide-ranging commentary on Indian education and suggested a way forward by proposing measures such as; common schooling system, the introduction of integrated courses of general and professional teachers, and increasing the educational spending to six per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Lack of political will, conjoined with the political and economic stability sealed the fate of the committee’s recommendations, with the concerns of teachers and teaching becoming the final casualties.

The interest in early childhood care and education (ECCE) has risen sharply in the last decade or so. Several studies have shown that early childhood education and care are crucial for brain development, cognitive growth, and even for the long-term prosperity of individuals. There has also been a realization that without improving early childhood care and education, it would not be possible for countries to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs). This awareness has led many countries to reform their early childhood care and education programs to make them comprehensive and responsive to the needs of the children. Taking cognizance of the developments across the world, the policymakers in India have included the ECCE in their reform agenda.


The decade of the 80s saw the renewed interest in education. The first comprehensive National Policy on Education (NPE) was launched in the year 1986. It promised schooling system (Navodaya Vidyalaya) to rural elites and further proposed a scheme for mass education (Operation Blackboard) which, in turn, sought to provide minimal facilities to all schools. The 70s and 80s were also the decades when India registered the highest percentage of population growth. The previous gaps in the literacy had not filled yet, and a new generation was ready to embrace the schooling system. The overall trend was towards the decentralization of the governance and the democratization of the politics (Yadav, 1999). To fulfill these aspirations, local governance structures were created. The policy-makers hoped that these institutions would ensure local participation and encourage decentralized decision-making, resulting in the increased efficiency and accountability of the system. The commitments Indian government had made at Jometian Conference (1990) along with the looming fiscal crises, added a sense of urgency into these reforms. The help came in the form of the structural reforms which sought to change the nature of educational governance in India. The newly established program, also called District Primary Education Program (DPEP), proposed a time-bound target for achieving Univeral Primary Education under the framework of Education for All (EFA).

Though the practice of appointing the teachers on the contract basis started with DPEP, one could find a precursor to this in the non-formal education programme launched by Government of India as a mean of reaching out to out-of-school children in the age group of 9–14. States such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh had existing structures, under which teachers were appointed on the contractual basis. More of an exception than the norm, these programs were the efforts by the states to reach out to remote areas (Govinda, 2005). It was DPEP project documents which, for the first time, made references to a separate cadre of teachers, called para-teachers. The project documents did not elaborate much on the process through which the teachers would be appointed. Instead, it provided state governments with a broad policy framework with a view to maintaining the quality standards and setting norms for utilization of the resources. It was left to the states to decide the norms and criteria for the appointment of para-teachers.


Para-teachers, its rationale, and expansion



Official policy accounts offered various reasons for the appointment of para-teachers. The policy goals also varied across the states. Impart quality education, mobilizing community participation, assisting existing teachers in school management, addressing adverse teacher-student ratio, and counter teacher absenteeism were some of the reasons cited by the states as a reason for the appointment of para-teachers (Govinda, 2005). While DPEP documents mooted the idea of contract teachers in formal schools, it was the recommendations of National Committee of State Education Ministers (1999) which explicitly put the policy objectives in the public domain:

“Lack of community control over teachers, teacher absenteeism, and low teacher motivation is often cited as reasons for not recruiting new teachers but for only concentrating on reducing wastage and internal inefficiency of the educational system. Even after making allowances for enrolment in private unaided and unregistered private schools, the teacher shortages are very significant. It is on this account that the recruitment of para teachers has to be considered a priority if all vacancies have to be filled up in the shortest period of time. The issue of teacher/para teacher recruitment has to be addressed by all states as the long-term implications are for the states.” (GOI1999: 22–23)


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