Anything that the current Prime Minister does, actively or passively, becomes big news and a social media phenomenon. It will not be entirely unexpected if his Teachers' Day overtures do, too. Even as I write this, the text of Narendra Modi’s email message to teachers across the country has already made it to the headlines in many channels.

While acknowledging the importance of assimilating information and mastering skills needed for vocations and occupation, Modi has exhorted teachers to “widen the horizon of thinking of (their) students. Encourage them to think critically about broader issues concerning our Nation, society and the environment.”

In his message, he also pointed out, “Lessons in good citizenship inculcated at a young age will go a long way in creating a better society. This could be as simple as traffic rules, cleanliness, gender sensitization, concern for the weak and reverence for the elders. I hope I can count on your support to make a beginning this Teachers’ Day. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to this task; this duty.”

Undoubtedly, noble sentiments and pertinent advice, but if teachers are indeed critical for grooming, in the Prime Minister’s words, “good citizens who are capable of preserving the past and creating the future,” the country has reason to worry. Neither numbers nor attitudes appear conducive to a teaching environment that can truly widen horizons of thinking or create good citizens.

School children at Nandikotkur village in Andhra Pradesh. Pic: Heather Cowper via Wikimedia

Where are the teachers?

A look at some numbers first.

According to information shared in the Lok Sabha on 18 December 2013, 19.84 lakh teacher posts had been sanctioned across the country under the government’s flagship educational scheme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), against which States/Union Territories had appointed 14.80 lakh teachers. That translated into a shortage of over 5 lakh teachers in schools under SSA alone!

On 4 August, 2014, in response to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Zubin Irani shared that there was a shortage of over 6 lakh teachers at the primary level across states in India. Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for over 2 lakh vacant teacher posts while Bihar has over 1 lakh positions open.

According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009, all elementary education teachers have to be professionally trained. But the available infrastructure or facilities for developing proficiency in teaching in these states, which face such acute human resource crunch in their schools, also appear grossly inadequate to tackle the challenge.

The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), a statutory body of the Central Government, grants recognition to institutions both government and private for imparting pre-service programmes, including the B.Ed. programme, for school teachers. Information shared in the Lok Sabha on 6 August 2014 shows that Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which are struggling to fill the lakhs of vacant teaching posts, have received sanction for only six additional institutions each, over and above the existing ones that impart teacher education. 



Number of teaching posts lying vacant under state and SSA

Pupil Teacher Ratio at primary level

Number of B.Ed Colleges

Additional Teacher Training Colleges Sanctioned

Uttar Pradesh

























Madhya Pradesh





Data Source: Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha

Then again, it is not just about the number of training institutions that the country has. In reply to yet another question in the Rajya Sabha about the standard of teacher training in the country, the Minister conceded that the percentage of candidates who successfully passed the last five Central Teacher Eligibility Tests (CTETs) ranged between a meagre 0.68 per cent and 10.41 per cent of total candidates who appeared for these examinations.

Clearly, the institutions that do exist are either unable to impart the desired quality of instruction, or, what could be more portentious, the profession has lost its appeal for capable, deserving individuals.

Other challenges

In a country with such complex sociological barriers at work, numbers are certainly not the only challenge. A shocker of a report from Human Rights Watch released in April 2014 points to the persistent discrimination faced by school children from India’s marginalised communities, in particular Muslim, Dalit and tribal children.

The report poignantly titled, They Say, We’re Dirty, points to the various forms of persecution and discrimination that persist in schools, most often perpetuated by teachers. Teachers often ask children from specific communities to sit in isolation, make insulting remarks and even condone others addressing them by derogatory names or labels.

In one school visited by the Human Rights Watch team, 58 Ghasiya children were placed in a single grade irrespective of their ages, and were asked to sit separately from the other students. According to one child, as quoted in the report, “The teacher tells us to sit on the other side. If we sit with others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately … The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says we ‘are dirty.’ The other children also call us dirty everyday, so sometimes we get angry and hit them.”

Another 12-year-old Muslim boy studying in a school in Delhi complains that leadership roles are never given to a child from their community. ““The teachers don’t let us participate in any sports. Class monitors are always chosen from among Hindu boys and they always complain about us Muslim boys,” he says.

These certainly do not speak of either environments or individuals who would open up ‘wider horizons” for socially conscious citizens of the future.

In fact, as author Jayshree Bajoria pointed out at the launch of the report, “India’s immense project to educate all its children risks falling victim to deeply rooted discrimination by teachers and other school staff against the poor and marginalized; instead of encouraging children from at-risk communities who are often the first in their families to ever step inside a classroom, teachers often neglect or even mistreat them.” 

For PM Modi’s vision to be realised, therefore, perhaps a necessary condition would be sensitisation and concern over such realities and a plan to tackle them on priority. Effective education for teachers, better working conditions for them, administrative agility and efficiency in plugging infrastructural as well as human resource gaps, and incentives for inclusive education are not things that India can compromise on any more.