Missing teachers may be the weakest link in emerging India's unfolding story.

Indians are known for their eductaion in the whole world and India 's best education is because of its teachers. It is so unfortunate to know that India is short of 1.2 million teachers; 42 million children aged between 6-14 do not go to school; roughly 16% of all villages do not have primary schooling facilities and 17% schools have just one teacher. UP doesn't have a single teacher in more than 1,000 primary schools and roughly 15% teaching posts lie vacant in schools across Maharashtra. This figure rises to 42% in Jharkhand. Only Kerala , with an average of six teachers per primary school, is the exception to the rule.

The big picture is bleak. India's average student to teacher ratio is 1:42, a high figure by international standards.

In Bihar, the ratio is as high as 1:83. Though student enrolment has gone up in recent years, the dropout rate has kept pace. In 2005, PM Vajpayee said that he was pained to note that "only 47 out of 100 children enrolled in class I reach class VIII, putting the dropout rate at 52.79 %." He blamed the "unacceptably high" rate on "lack of adequate facilities and large-scale absenteeism of teachers." In five years, this hasn't changed. The reason — lack of qualified teachers — remains unchanged as well.

But, some experts are hopeful of change. "The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has supported recruitment of more than 12 lakh teachers in the states. Out of those more than 10.5 lakh teachers have already been recruited. However, due to inadequate rationalisation of teachers , many teachers prefer to work in urban areas. Hence there is a shortage of teachers in rural areas ," says Urmila Sarkar, chief of education, Unicef.

There are other problems too. "The pupil-teacher ratio remains high in rural areas. This becomes acute in far flung areas where the basic facilities are not available for the teachers to stay in with families. Also there are issues related to absenteeism of teachers which affects the quality of teaching learning processes. However with the notification of the the Right of Education Act RTE), the scenario is expected to change in a good way in the rural areas," says the Unicef expert.

But, India's missing teachers are a problem considering the government faces the challenge of implementing the RTE Act, "Across the world, the best minds opt for teaching profession but this is not happening in India. So we need to give them more incentives ," says the minister.

Missing teachers are a a big problem. But poorly-trained teachers could be an even bigger one. At a recent Technology, Entertainment and Design global conference, Microsoft founder Bill Gates emphasized the importance of a good teacher. "How much variation is there between teachers, the very best and the bottom quartile. How much variation is there within a school or between schools? And the answer is that these variations are absolutely unbelievable. A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class – based on test scores — by 10% in a single year," he said.

Gates was, of course, speaking of the US. But there are lessons for India. The government has just begun the process of filling 1.2 million teaching vacancies and promised it will spend Rs 2,31,000 crore on education in the next five years. It may be a while before any of this shows results. Till then, its missing teachers may be the weakest link in emerging India's unfolding story.


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