Rajni has been a guest teacher of physical education at a South Delhi school for seven years. But after India went into lockdown to contain the coronavirus in March, she was told her services were “not needed for the time being”.
“I taught Class 12 and all my students scored 100 percent in physical education this year,” said Rajni, a mother of two. “Almost all Class 12 students opt for the subject.”
Rajni is one of an estimated 20,000 guest teachers who work in Delhi’s 1,031 government schools. Guest teachers are hired on yearly contracts and paid daily wages of Rs 1,041 to Rs 1,400 a day. They are not entitled to pension and other perks due permanent teachers. Their contracts are usually automatically renewed every July, but that was not the case this year.
Almost all of them have been put out of work since the lockdown was imposed and their contracts haven’t been renewed. Some of them have been and to make ends meet. Several guest teachers told Newslaundry that they were only paid for their work until May 8.
Guest teachers aren’t alone in this boat. The contracts of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, or SSA, contractual teachers haven’t been renewed either. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is a flagship programme by the government of India aimed at the universalisation of primary education. Existing schools with inadequate teacher strength are provided with additional teachers under the scheme.
There are an estimated 3,500 SSA contractual teachers serving in Delhi’s public schools. Their contracts are renewed every year like those of the guest teachers, but only 40 percent of their salaries are paid by the state government, with the rest coming from the human resource development ministry.
Facing sustained protests from guest and contractual teachers, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia them, while addressing a press conference on July 2, that they would be engaged in the distant learning plan.
By July 7, guest teachers had still not been reengaged, prompting Sisodia to shoot a letter to the heads of government schools. “It has come to my notice that despite very clear instructions issued on July 2, many schools are not involving guest and contractual teachers in the implementation of the new teaching-learning plan. Our plan will not be effective unless all teachers including contractual and guest teachers who have had a direct role in taking classes with children in pre-lockdown phases are involved once again.”
Sisodia’s order led to schools taking back some guest teachers, but the majority are still waiting to be called. Those who teach subjects such as home science, art and music — categorised as “miscellaneous” — have been left out, as have some teachers of “regular subjects”. They have been conducting online campaigns, writing to the directorate of education, and engaging with school principals — all to no avail.
“After our constant protests and the order from Mr Sisodia, our principal called us to the school and told us to sign a letter saying we were willing to work,” said Rajni. “But she later sent a message with the names of the teachers who would not be joining the school. My name was on the list.”
She added, “Does physical education have no space in curriculum now? I talked to the teacher in charge and requested them to let me join even if they didn’t want to pay my salary. They are justifying their decision saying it’s not possible to take online classes for physical education. But many permanent teachers take vocational courses but their jobs haven’t been taken away. I live alone with my two children. I am managing with my savings, but for how long? All I can do is sit here and wait for the government to help us. In this time of a pandemic, we won’t find another job. Private schools have already laid off their teachers.”
Neha taught music to Classes 6-12 at a senior secondary school in South Delhi. She has been working at the school for the past six years and was taking online classes during the lockdown. “I was regularly sending homework to my students via WhatsApp. And when a teacher in charge of admissions got corona, I took over the admission work. Now, she says we cannot pay your salary for your goodwill.”
She has met the principal three times asking to be reengaged, only to be met with refusal each time. She broke down on the phone talking about her financial struggles. “My husband is a businessman, but his business was shut down due to losses during the lockdown. We are barely managing with our savings,” Neha said. “We have been constantly reaching out to the government but haven’t received a response.”
Reshma, a guest teacher of Sanskrit at a government girls school in southwest Delhi, said, “All we can do is wait. There are no jobs anywhere else. One of my close friends, who is also a guest teacher, has conceived and her delivery is next month. The head of school said they can’t keep her because she was going to deliver. Whenever a permanent teacher goes on maternity leave, we cover for their work, but now the schools have abandoned us using such excuses.”
Manish Gaur, a member of the All India Guest Teachers Association, is at the forefront of the struggle to get guest teachers back in their jobs. He, along with other members of the association, has been regularly visiting the education directorate to convey their concerns.
Guar is a miscellaneous guest teacher himself. “Most miscellaneous teachers have not been called. Around 30-40 percent of the 20,000 teachers were called back. And their contracts and joining dates too are still vague. School heads have now written to the directorate seeking a clarification regarding appointment. The director of education keeps on telling us they will do something about it but the situation remains the same,” he said.
He added, “The government endorses education and praises its teachers. But these teachers are now out on the streets. They are moving around in circles, going from district directors, head of schools, planning board to directorate of education.”
Plight of SSA teachers
Although the order issued by Manish Sisodia on July 2 mentions both guest and contractual teachers, the SSA teachers haven’t been called back to work. Many of them claim that they continued to teach online after the lockdown was announced, but haven’t been paid for the last four months. SSA teachers are paid between Rs 34,000 and Rs 38,100 a month. Unlike guest teachers, they are required to have qualified the Common Teachers Entrance Test.
Poonam is a trained graduate teacher, or TGT, for English to Classes 6-10. “They are just playing a blame game. When I approach the state government, they direct me to the HRD ministry and vice versa. We have been going around in circles,” she said. “We had a meeting with the education adviser to the Delhi government and he assured us they would do something for us, but there has been no action or response from his side since.”
Her husband is a contractual employee at the AYUSH ministry, and he too gets only 50 percent of his salary. Poonam said, “We haven’t been able to pay the EMIs for our home. I have to pay the school fees of my kids. We have no idea how we are going to manage. They have abandoned us at the most crucial time.”
Anita teaches Sanskrit at the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Vidya Enclave. She has had to borrow money from her friends because she hasn’t been paid her salary for almost four months. “They said there is still confusion regarding SSA teachers because they aren’t mentioned in the notice,” she said, referring to her school. “But the order mentions ‘contractual teachers’ and we are the only contractual teachers apart from guest teachers. The Delhi government says the MHRD hasn’t allocated the budget for us and MHRD says until the Delhi government fills their vacancies for regular teachers, they won’t allocate the funds.” She added, “We have to pay the rent and also the fees of our children. It’s a very difficult time for us and no one is ready to listen.”
Mahendra Singh Meena, the president of the SSA Teachers’ Association, told Newslaundry, “The order issued by Manish Sisodia mentions guest and contractual teachers but doesn’t specify SSA, although SSA teachers are the only contractual teachers in the directorate of education, Delhi. We have met with education director Vinay Bhushan and the education advisor to Sisodia, Shailendra Kumar, has assured us of help. But there has been no action so far. At least 13 teachers have told me they are depressed and need to see a doctor.”
Note: The teachers Newslaundry spoke with requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. We have changed their names in the report, or used only first names.