There is just no way that the chicken can come before the egg. Or the egg before the chicken. So when the 2013-14 report on education released by the human resource development ministry reveals the that 20 per cent of government schools around the country are still waiting for professionally trained teachers, it need cause no surprise. The Right to Education Act is a few years old; it not only asked for professionally trained teachers but also fixed the teacher-student ratio. But where are these trained teachers going to come from? School teaching, especially beyond the big cities and in the primary and upper primary classes that this report covers, has long been a casual affair. In many regions, it is highly politicized too. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the RTE have tried to remedy that, but it is yet too short a time to conjure up rank upon rank of trained teachers. The question is, are things looking better at all?
For some states, yes. Trained teachers and a fixed teacher-student ratio are two of the 22 indicators that comprise the educational development index, on which the study is based. These come under the four heads of access, infrastructure (including number of classrooms, availability of drinking water and separate boys’ and girls’ toilets), teachers and outcomes — such as, dropouts at different stages and the proportion of those appearing for the school-leaving examination to those enrolled in the primary class. Small states have done well, such as Puducherry, Lakshadweep and Sikkim (first to third), suggesting the importance of manageable monitoring. Himachal Pradesh and Delhi are close behind, predictably perhaps, with only the large state of Karnataka cutting in at fifth place. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh come last in the list of 35 states, yet UP has improved noticeably in employing trained teachers as well as in building girls’ toilets. Besides, the state’s children are doing better than the country’s average in reading and comprehension, whereas Bihar, which just precedes UP at the tail end of the list, has trumped the country’s average in mathematics. Can any of this be said of West Bengal? This state has slipped from number 26 —not brilliant anyway — to 32 in four years. But the Trinamul Congress government does not seem too worried by this legacy of its predecessor. Should the state be aiming for the last slot then?