Samita is a teacher at a school in Shahpuriya village, Sirsa district, Haryana. She was recently transferred to Baliyala in Fatehabad, 127 kilometres from her home. As the mother of a differently abled child, the choice before her was to quit the job or stay home to look after her daughter. Like Samita, many women, who make up nearly 40 per cent of Haryana’s teaching staff, are caught in a bind because of the Teachers Transfer Policy-2016 that the School Education Department has been aggressively implementing since mid-August. Under this policy, teachers can apply online for transfer to their preferred schools. If no vacancies exist in the teacher’s preferred station, they are transferred anywhere in the State.
Worse, the government has decided to merge schools and create a “cluster” system, reportedly for resource efficiency and rationalisation in accordance with the National Education Policy.
For instance, a senior secondary school would be designated as a cluster school, covering an area of up to 7 km. Under this system, government middle schools with fewer than 20 students in Classes 6 to 8 and high schools with fewer than 25 students in Classes 9 to 12 will be merged with the nearest middle, high, or higher secondary school within a 3 km radius.
Schools located within a kilometre of each other will be consolidated into a single school unit but with different campuses. Primary and middle schools are to be made co-educational, surplus staff transferred, and headmasters rehabilitated in teaching posts with full protection of benefits.
As many as 288 schools (including 183 middle schools, of which 149 are girls’ schools) have been merged so far under the one village, one school policy, with more on the anvil. These moves have been done with the objective of maintaining the teacher-student ratio, but the mergers have led to the transfer of teachers, and the transfers, in turn, have resulted in a shortage of teaching staff in many schools.
On September 27, students and their guardians locked up the gates of the Government Girls Senior Secondary School at Nindana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s ancestral village in Meham Division, in protest against the teacher shortage. A local newspaper reported that five teachers of a total staff of 13 had been transferred recently. The school has not had an English teacher for the past three years. There have also been protests in Education Minister Kanwar Pal Gujjar’s constituency in Yamunanagar district.
Students, parents, and teachers have been on the warpath since September 1 against what they see as the disruption of the school education system. On September 16, students from the middle school and high schools in Kharakbhura village, Jind, protested against the lack of teachers. The middle school only had a headmaster and a Sanskrit teacher, and the high school had teachers for only three subjects.
Four days later, students of the Government Girls Senior Secondary School at Bahu Akbarpur village in Rohtak district locked the school gates and blocked the Delhi-Hisar national highway. They were upset that their English, mathematics, and science teachers had been transferred on September 1 and no replacements had arrived.
At Malikpur village in Safidon district, the high school had only the headmaster on the staff, leaving 160 students, all from poor families, high and dry. In Chichdaana, Panipat district, there were complaints that there were only two teachers for 180 students for Classes 6 to 10. Five teachers had been transferred in August with no replacements. In Faridpur village of Hisar, some 100 students of the government high school sat on a dharna even while preparing for their exams. Their demand was that all the six transferred teachers be reinstated.
High teacher shortage
The government has been defending its teacher transfer policy and the school mergers. Teachers say they are not against transfers if it will address the imbalance of teaching staff across schools. The fact is that there are around 38,000 teacher vacancies. Teacher organisations such as the Adhyapak Shikshak Sangh say the figure is much higher.
Satyapal Siwach, an educationist, told Frontline that the “transfer drive” was in fact a “school closure” drive. The mass transfers and mergers had rendered many schools redundant. His daughter, he said, was an English teacher but was asked to teach science because there were no science or maths teachers in the school.
Citing Education Department figures, Siwach claimed that 4,801 of 14,503 schools were slated to be merged or closed down. There was a huge backlog of vacancies in teaching posts. Of a total of 1,30,054 teaching posts, there were 38,957 vacancies.
Rather than through selection boards, the government recruits teachers on a contract basis through the Kaushal Rozgar Nigam (Skill Development Corporation). Currently, there are some 12,500 contract teachers. Though they were not initially part of the transfer drive, a circular issued on September 28 made it mandatory for guest or contract teachers to also submit their first choice for transfer district on the online portal. Sensing the unease among contract teachers over the transfer policy, the Khattar government assured them that they would be absorbed in schools near their homes. But there is no certainty.
While massive transfers occurred in 1970-71 during Bansi Lal’s reign as well, according to Siwach those were punitive in nature. The objective now is to reduce the number of teachers with scant regard to the quality of education.
The department has also claimed that by merging schools, 38,957 teacher vacancies had been reduced to 26,000. The Chief Minister has gone on record to say that a single teacher can teach four subjects.
According to Siwach, such teaching was possible only at the primary level. From Classes 6 to 12, subject-wise teaching was the norm. According to him, the workload of individual teachers had gone up and the student strength per class had increased. Earlier, a primary section would have a maximum of 30 students; with the mergers, this had doubled but with no corresponding increase in teacher strength.
Moreover, the merger of schools has increased distances, making it difficult for children to commute to school. The unavailability of transport, the size of the villages, and the poor economic background of the largely agrarian families have not been taken into account in the merger process.
According to Jarnail Singh, a former school principal and convener of the Jan Shiksha Adhikar Manch, a State-level body of teachers and parents, the government was acting on the notion that regular teachers did not do any work and yet were paid a lot. In 1997, he filed a public interest litigation petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking directions to ensure that no teacher was arbitrarily transferred before completing a term of five years. Jarnail Singh, a former president of the Haryana Vidyalaya Adhyapak Sangh, the largest association of teachers in the State, said that successive governments had diluted the court order that protected the posting tenure of teachers.
Commenting on the transfer policy, Singh said its effects were visible in his own village, Tejli, Yamunanagar, where nine teachers were transferred out of a high school that was upgraded to a senior secondary school, but the vacancies were not filled.
Even as government schools are being merged, the government is supposedly silently promoting admissions to private schools. The government converted nearly 1,000 State government schools into Model Sanskriti Schools, had them affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education, and levied admission fees at all levels, including primary classes.
Under a second model launched in July 2022, known as the Chief Minister Equal Education Relief Assistance and Grant (CHEERAG), students from families with an annual income of less than Rs.1.08 lakh would be subsidised by the government if they wanted to move from a government school to a private school. Jarnail Singh said it was ironic that fees were being levied in government schools under the Model Sanskriti Schools programme while private schools were being subsidised by the government.
Another issue being raised is the introduction of skill kits from Class 6 upwards as part of the Skill Development Scheme to train children in their parental occupations. This has been done although the government is mandated to provide free education to children up to 14 years under the Right to Education Act.
When the BJP formed the government in 2019 for the second time, it had the help of the Jannayak Janata Party. It could not have won 40 seats on its own without the support of the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes. It is this segment today that is hugely affected by the school rationalisation project. Reports from the ground claim that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the transfers and mergers even among those teachers who are ideologically close to the BJP and the RSS. The government seems oblivious.
- The Teachers Transfer Policy-2016 that the School Education Department has been aggressively implementing since mid-August has affected a lot of teachers who are posted in faraway schools
- The government has already decided to merge schools and create a “cluster” system.
- The mergers have led to the transfer of teachers, and the transfers, in turn, have resulted in a shortage of teaching staff in many schools.
- As many as 4,801 of 14,503 schools were slated to be merged or closed down. Of a total of 1,30,054 teaching posts, there were 38,957 vacancies.