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Has state learnt its lesson?

Nothing much to cheer about as teachers set to celebrate September 5

Two days from today, schools and colleges across the country will celebrate Teachers’ Day. It is the time when teachers’ contribution to society is celebrated.
However, in Meghalaya it is the only time when the importance of the profession is highlighted. For the remaining part of the year, teachers, especially those in rural government and aided schools, have to fight for their rights because “in our state, nothing is achieved without agitation”.
After months of protests, strikes and sloganeering, the state government finally blinked in March and hiked salaries of all categories of teachers by 100 per cent. “We are grateful to the government for the announcement but much is needed to be done to improve teachers’ condition in the state,” says Lasforious Marngar, president of the All Meghalaya SSA School Teachers’ Association (AMSSASTA).
Marngar was quick to add that teachers have received the revised salary for March and April and arrears for three months after which there is a lull. “The government has assured us that it would look into the matter at the earliest.”
Shout out loud
Various umbrella bodies of SSA teachers have been fighting for their cause for years now. Besides demanding for salary hike and uniform payment for trained and untrained teachers, the organisations are agitating for basic rights, like maternity leave and pension, and implementation of central SSA rules.
Aristotle C. Rymbai, president of the Meghalaya SSA School Association (MSSASA) Central Body, says they have a seven-point demand charter for the government.
Enumerating the demands, Rymbai says MSSASA wants implementation of mandatory norms of SSA and RTE 2009 and shifting of all posts of Primary and Upper Primary Teachers from the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan State Education Mission Authority Meghalaya (SEMAM-SSA) State Implementation Society to the Education Department on regular basis.
“It is clearly mentioned in the SSA norms that posts be created in education departments of states/union territories on a regular basis with same salary and service conditions as of State budget teachers. But in our State, the government allowed creation of these posts under State SSA Implementation Society known as SSA-SEMAM on contract,” he points out.
When asked what the state government is contemplating about the recruitment and regularisation demands, Ambrose Marak, director of SSA-SEMAM, said he was not the authority to speak on the issue. Queries sent to School Education Minister Deborah Marak also remained unanswered.
A section of the SSA teachers are denied basic rights as the state does not follow the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 and the Right to Payment of Maternity Benefit and Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, which are applicable to employees of other departments and institutions. Women teachers get only 15 days during childbirth. This is another demand that MSSASA is fighting for.
Under the new HRD Ministry notification, all SSA teachers need to have minimum professional qualification in the form of Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed) to keep their job. This is the basis for categorising trained and untrained teachers. But Meghalaya does not have enough number of training centres in its rural pockets creating a void for teachers there.
“There are teachers who live in the back of beyond and do not have access to the internet. Also, the online process of registration for D.El.Ed has several technical faults which need to be addressed. We have submitted a memorandum to the government seeking clarification on the online process. So we are demanding extension of the deadline for acquiring training,” says Marngar of AMSSASTA.
“The government should ensure that all untrained in-service teachers in the state are enrolled for the course. This is because, though untrained, these teachers put in equal efforts and many of them have been serving for more than 13 years,” adds Rymbai.
Recently, a group of teachers from Garo Hills had urged Chief Minister Mukul Sangma to set up more training centres in the region and he had promised to look into the matter.
Pointing out the dichotomy in the system, Defender S. Lamare of AMSSASTA says they have to attend various training programmes organised by the government. “Despite all these, we remain untrained,” he smiles wryly.
Uncertainty over the D.El.Ed results of the batch of teachers from 2013-14 is another issue and MSSASA is demanding rectification of the anomalies at the earliest. The diploma course is conducted by National Institute of Open Schooling and sponsored by the state government.
“When we raised this issue, TG Momin (Director of Educational Research and Training) assured us that we should enroll for the training course first and the results will be corrected later. However, no time frame was given and it was a verbal assurance,” says Marngar.
MSSASA is also protesting against Teachers’ Eligibility Test, which has been mandated by the National Council for Teacher Education, for in-service teachers and has been demanding a comprehensive education policy for years now.
No security; challenges
Lamare says there is no pension and provident fund for SSA teachers. “A welfare fund is all we have. We had an informal discussion with authorities concerned but no formal memorandum has been submitted in this regard,” he adds.
Babu Kular of the Joint Action Committee of All Teachers Association of Meghalaya (JACATAM) says deficit and ad hoc teachers do not even have promotion and they continue in the same post till superannuation.
Last year, the state government spoke about extending retirement benefits to deficit lower primary schools under the New Pension Scheme. But Kular says JACATAM will follow it up with the government as the scheme is yet to be implemented.
Kular says there are other contentious issues, like absence of medical and transport benefits and less number of leaves. “Ninety per cent of the demands that we had raised have been approved by the Fifth Pay Commission. Now, we are awaiting a Cabinet nod. With proper implementation of the Fifth Pay Panel recommendations, all these problems will be addressed. We expect a reply from the government by December,” he adds.
Besides the usual problems, there are several challenges in the job. “Under the RTE regulations, schools have to take in special children for inclusive education. But we are not trained to handle those children who need special care. We have urged the government to provide us basic training so that we can do justice to these children,” says Lamare.
Marngar points out that despite the paltry salary, teachers give in their 100 per cent and provide extra lessons to students even after school hours.
For teachers in remote areas of the state, the task is even more daunting. With no infrastructure (sometimes proper school buildings are also absent) and poor communications, these teachers have to strive to fulfil their duties.
Collateral damage?
Malala Yousufzai, in her Nobel Prize speech, had said, “One book, one pen and one teacher can change the world.”
A teacher, especially at the school level, plays a vital role in shaping the future of students. It is his or her primary duty to ensure proper education. But with loops of protests by teachers in the state, education has suffered a jolt and students have been on the receiving end.
Rymbai of MSSASA admits that protests by teachers do affect students “but the future of teachers will also be affected if we remain silent”.
AMSSASTA’s Marngar asserts that the association abstains from frequent agitations so that studies are not hampered. “We protested last in December 2016. We are aware of our duty,” he says.
SC Saha, retired headmaster of Laban Assamese Girls’ Higher Secondary School, says protests over monetary issues were always there, “even during our time but they were not as frequent as it is now”.
Introspection
The state government is promising to spruce up the existing education system and ensure quality education. But in action, it has done little to ensure that teachers, who will play a pivotal role in its endeavour, are insulated from adversities.
Rymbai says in Meghalaya, nothing can be achieved without raising your voices and taking to the streets.
“As per the constitutional provision of India, education is on the concurrent list. It is necessary that the state government takes immediate measures for the betterment of the teaching community to achieve the prime objective of quality education in Meghalaya. The success of any effort to improve the quality is solely dependent on teachers. Partial implementation (of rules) or implementation that does not reflect the spirit of the (national) policy defeats the entire purpose of it. It is time to come up with a definite education policy, one for all,” concludes the president of MSSASA.
~ Nabamita Mitra

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