The Great Pupil-Teacher Schism

The pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) essentially refers to the total number of students taught by one teacher. It is arrived at by dividing the total number of students enrolled at a specific level by the total number of teachers recruited to teach at that level. The merits of small class sizes are apparent but crucial. The lower the number, the better the learning process will be. Teaching styles can be tailored to create a personalized learning environment. It also makes room for mentorship and motivation experience. Students may be better encouraged to voice their doubts and realize their potential.

The Right to Education Act 2009 places the PTR figure at 30:1 - one teacher for every 30 students at the primary level and 35:1 at the upper primary level. But the real-time figures drastically vary. The All India Survey on Higher Education (2017-18) found that Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand have a student-to-teacher ratio of more than 40. The situation is not as bleak countrywide as in the same survey, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had a PTR of less than 20. This shows that much can be done to strengthen the low PTR.

According to the 2018 Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Human Resource Development, “Demand for Grants 2018-19 of the Department of Higher Education”, approximately 35 per cent of teaching positions at various central universities under the purview of UGC are lying vacant (1,323 professors, 2,217 associate professors, 2,457 assistant professors). The findings shows that while the student enrolment in higher education institutes has increased from 32.3 million in 2013-14 to 36.6 million in 2017-18, the total number of teachers has declined 13,67,535 to 12,84,755. The same report tells that our higher education sector – which covers central, state and private universities, is currently facing a shortfall of over 5 lakh teachers.

There’s a shortfall of 33 per cent in central universities, 35 per cent in IIT’S and 38 per cent in state universities. The report further highlights the stop-gap arrangement of filling the teacher gap by using large numbers of ad hoc or part-time faculty. However, institutions with many part-time faculty performed poorly in teaching quality. The report stated that faculty vacancy even in sanctioned strengths is due to various reasons like the ban on recruitment, lack of funds, and the reluctance of states to bear long term salary burden. In rural and backward areas, the lack of infrastructural support and teachers’ reluctance in moving to non-urban areas makes attracting faculty difficult.

The above data clearly shows that teachers are overburdened, thereby deteriorating their quality. Their high burden may not be remunerated appropriately. Further, the recruitment process for ad hoc teachers may not go through the same checks as that of a full-time teacher. Graduates often reason job security and other monetary benefits as lacking in the academic profession over other jobs.

In popular culture, teachers are generally not seen as heroes. Expenditure on education remains a low prioritized sector. This perhaps owes to a mentality that responds to the infection rather than directly healing the wound itself. While a more significant proportion has to be educated to channelize our demographic dividend, achieving learning outcomes is equally important and, if not accomplished, might make the quantitative growth futile. A balanced ratio plays a significant role in fostering success, as curating materials that actualize the student’s potential produces ripple effects in their life growth. While the larger system heals, individuals can mend the gap by seriously taking up universal qualitative education within their neighbourhoods.

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