The myth of acute teacher shortage in India
31 May 2022
Professor Geeta Kingdon has co-written an article calling for the Indian government to consider consolidating public schools and deploying surplus teachers to those areas in most need.
First published in: The Times of India - Economic Times (£, Opinion)
- Read the opinion piece here
Sandip Datta, Delhi School of Economics
Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, University College London (UCL)
Now that children are being vaccinated and schools are learning to live with COVID, the pressure for hiring more teachers in public schools will grow. This is likely in view of strong teacher unions and the recommendation by the New Education Policy (NEP) to appoint one million new teachers at the whopping cost of Rs. 64,000 crores per annum. Before the state governments, blessed by the central Ministry of Education, proceed to such a hiring spree and bust already fragile state budgets, it is prudent to ask whether the NEP has rightly assessed the shortage. The Education Ministry gives a figure of 1.035 million teacher vacancies without explaining how it got that number.
Going by the official District Information System of Education (DISE) data 2019-20, India-wide pupil-teacher ratio in public elementary schools was only 25.1. Given that the Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates a maximum pupil-teacher ratio of 30, nationally, there is no teacher shortage in the sense that if students and teachers could be properly rearranged / deployed, the mandated average could be achieved without hiring any new teachers.
Applying the RTE norms (e.g. at the primary level, 2 teachers for all schools with ’60 or fewer’ pupils, and 1 additional teacher for every additional 30 students or a fraction thereof) even to the existing students and teacher allocations to the schools, some schools suffer from teacher shortages, some have just the right number of teachers and some have surplus teachers. When we relocate the surplus teachers from the last category of schools to those suffering from shortage in the first category, the net shortage is only one a quarter of a million (2.5 lakh rather than 10 lakh). In other words, three-fourths of the shortage identified by NEP is not a shortage at all!
Indeed, even the 2.5 lakh shortage figure turns out to be an overstatement once we correct for the padding up of student enrolments in the official data. As per reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Mid-Day Meal Authority, public schools seriously overstate enrolments to get more state benefits (sweaters, bags and food grains for mid-day-meals). Research by the authors using school-wise data on students and teachers shows that a correction for this overstatement converts the net shortage of 2.5 lakh teachers into a surplus of nearly 1 lakh teachers.
Over the years, a staggering number of parents have moved their children into the low-fee private schools. Between 2010 and 2019, 2.7 crore pupils left public schools for private ones. This mass migration has created an extremely large number of ‘mini’ schools with very low pupil-teacher ratio. By 2019, 48% of India’s about 10 lakh public elementary schools were left with only ‘60 or fewer’ pupils each. The average number of pupils in these approximately 5 lakh schools was only 31, and they had only 13.3 pupils per teacher!
The RTE Act requires that even tiny schools with ‘20 or fewer’ pupils employ two teachers, and it prescribes no minimum size for schools, thus maintaining unviably tiny schools that provide scant socialisation opportunity to children.
Our research shows that maintaining a surplus of teachers and a PTR of 25.1 rather than the permitted maximum of 30, already costs the Indian exchequer nearly Rs. 29,000 crore per annum in excess teacher salaries alone. If new teachers are recruited to fill the claimed one-million teacher vacancies as per NEP recommendation, the nationwide PTR would fall further to 19.9, and would incur an additional cost of nearly Rs. 64,000 crore each year (in 2019 nominal terms) in teacher salaries for the following 30 years or more, since policy in India does not allow teachers to be laid off once hired. Adding this extra cost of fresh recruitment to the existing cost of currently surplus teachers, the total extra cost of the lower pupil-teacher ratio of 19.9 turns out to be a gargantuan Rs. 93,000 crore (US$ 12.6 billion) per annum in 2019-20 prices. As many as 70 countries enjoy a lower GDP than this figure.
Just as there is need for the consolidation of tiny agricultural holdings in India (48% of the holdings are smaller than half hectare with the average size at just 0.23 hectare), there is need to consolidate tiny public schools. Due to the emptying of public elementary schools, by 2019-20 there were 1.3 lakh ‘tiny’ public schools with only ‘20 or fewer’ pupils. These schools had – on average – merely 12.7 pupils per school, 2 teachers per school, and a very low pupil-teacher ratio of 6.7. Teacher salary expense per pupil in these schools averages Rs. 7312 per month or Rs. 87,852 per year at 2019-20 prices!
This India-wide problem requires the intervention of the central government, to incentivize the states to undertake necessary school consolidation (merging nearby public schools). For instance, no central resources should be provided for hiring new teachers in at least the 13 major states in which there is a net surplus of teachers, till they consolidate pupils into larger schools and transfer surplus teachers to nearby public schools that may have a teacher deficit.
Instead of appointing yet more teachers in emptying minified schools, let us have fewer higher-quality schools that are pedagogically and economically viable, with DBT funding for transport to ensure that access is not jeopardised in the pursuit of quality.