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13 Jun 2024
Shweta Chooramani

When Half a Million Teachers are Missing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Alone, How can the Representation of Girls in Science and Maths be Improved?

Focusing on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India, Shweta Chooramani, in this blogpost, argues that the lack of trained and motivated teachers is a hindrance to the empowerment of girls through STEM.

The persistent underrepresentation of girls in STEM fields is frequently discussed in policy reports and the scholarly literature (e.g. UNICEF, 2000). It is argued that STEM and technologies are key drivers of the transformation of education, and empowering girls through science-mathematics education drives lasting change. But this theory hinges on a crucial assumption – that trained, motivated teachers are present in our schools. The underrepresentation of girls in STEM compels us to critically address the fundamental challenges that hinder girls’ access to quality science education, especially in underserved communities.

As the very foundation of STEM education hinges on the presence of qualified teachers, in this post, I delve into the fundamental question of the availability of teachers, with a focus on India, in particular Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The most significant obstacle to girls’ access to quality science education in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is the large number of vacant science and mathematics teacher positions in secondary schools. The hype created for ICT integration does not change the reality that over 500,000 teacher vacancies exist in government schools across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alone, as stated in UNESCO’s State of the Education Report for India, 2021. This translates to roughly half a million missing teachers in these vulnerable states with a high multidimensional poverty index per NITI Aayog (Government of India’s think tank) Report. This startling fact throws a wrench into our optimistic narrative. The National Education Policy 2020 of India refers to teachers –  who are said to be “the heart of the learning process” (p. 5) – as one of the fundamental principles for quality education. Without addressing this critical need, the full potential of technology for STEM education cannot be realized.

A 2018 report by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability warns that Uttar Pradesh’s teacher shortage cripples science education for future generations. Slow recruitment and a lack of urgency in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar create a vicious cycle. In the next section, I will explore why these states struggle to fill vacancies despite a high need for qualified teachers.

  1. Teaching is not a preferred profession for top graduates of science and mathematics.
    Science and mathematics graduates in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar often find teaching an unattractive career option, and those who are interested may not qualify for available positions. According to the 2023 UNESCO Missing Teachers Report, a perplexing disparity emerges on the supply side of teachers. The overall enrolment in Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) programs appears stable, admissions to Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed.) and Master of Education (M.Ed.) programs are declining. There are insufficient takers for M.Ed., and places are vacant. This is crucial because M.Ed. qualified teachers are essential for upper grades (6+), where complexity increases and engaging lessons are vital to spark STEM interest.
    Top graduates avoid the teaching profession due to low pay and overwhelming duties beyond instruction. Teachers handle lunch prep, finances, and community surveys, creating a vicious cycle of overwork. Notorious under payment and overwork leads to a lack of qualified applicants is the harsh reality for majority of government school teachers in India. Adopting performance-based incentives, proven effective by MIT research in Andhra Pradesh, could attract and retain qualified teachers.
  2. Those who are interested in the teaching profession have low success rates in standardized eligibility tests in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
    The Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009 mandated the standardized Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) and Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) at the state level to assess the “knowledge, skills, and attitudes” of prospective teachers in all schools. Despite this, shortage of teachers often leads to the recruitment of underprepared or unqualified teachers, lacking crucial specializations in high-demand areas (Wallet, 2015). Not to mention, the CTET has witnessed persistently low pass rates which raise questions about the competency. In 2019, only 18% and 30% of candidates qualified. This raises an alarming question – is UP and Bihar’s higher education system churning out unemployable graduates, or are private unregulated B.Ed. colleges merely selling certificates that hold no value?
  3. Practice of hiring art graduates to teach science and mathematics in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar leads to poor learning outcomes among students.
    The decline in STEM-qualified teacher candidates is further amplified by another issue: the preponderance of arts graduates enrolling in Diploma in Elementary Education (D.EI.Ed.) programs potentially due to the absence of state-regulated admissions processes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This directly impacts the subject knowledge base of future teachers, particularly in critical STEM fields like science and mathematics. The narrative deepens when we shift focus to rural areas, particularly Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where a staggering 85% and 81% of teachers, respectively, are concentrated. To address this, quotas, like those used in Maharashtra and Karnataka, could help ensure a balanced supply of science and math graduates compared to arts. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 calls for scholarships to be offered to students from rural backgrounds enrolling in teacher education programmes and 50 hours of professional training every year.
  4. Lack of women and minorities as science and mathematics teachers to motivate girls to a STEM career.  The absence of female teachers and school leaders can have a cascading effect, impacting girls’ educational trajectories. Research suggests a potential link between a lack of female role models and lower enrolment rates, decreased student engagement, higher dropout rates, and ultimately, diminished aspirations among girls (Education Commission, 2019). Chudgar and Sankar (2008) further emphasize the importance of female teachers, particularly in societies with entrenched gender segregation. Their research suggests that a female presence in schools can alleviate parental anxieties concerning their daughters’ safety and well-being. This finding holds relevance for states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, located within India’s Hindi heartland, which have a history marked by caste divisions and high rates of gender-based violence. Unfortunately, currently a lack of publicly available data on the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) on the social composition of the teaching force, encompassing details such as caste and linguistic background, hinders efforts to address these concerns.
  5. Poor governance, transparency in data availability and accountability leads to weak translation of policy provisions into implementation. The Right to Education Act (RTE) mandates that all government school teachers hold minimum qualifications set by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). However, inadequate state funding for teacher education (MHRD, 2019) restricts the development of sufficient training institutes. It is further exacerbated by uneven supervision. Schools receiving visits from academic specialists in Bihar lags with only 68% coverage and lowest in Uttar Pradesh at just 57% (UNDP evaluation, 2021). This lack of monitoring leaves critical issues unchecked, like unfilled teaching positions, neglected science/math classes, and teacher absences, all hurting student learning.

In conclusion, the potential of ICT to revolutionize education and address learning inequalities hinges on motivated, well-equipped teachers who can effectively teach STEM subjects in students’ social contexts. Technology amplifies good teaching, but it cannot replace qualified teachers. A 2015 OECD international comparative study underscores this point. While the study examined the impact of digital tools on student learning, it found “no appreciable improvement” in core subjects across countries heavily invested in ICT for education in the past 10 years. For gender specific issues, more female science and math teachers from marginalized communities could serve as powerful role models, closing the aspiration gap.
To achieve change, there is an urgent need to hold government authorities accountable. Schools need answers to critical questions: When will vacancies be filled? When will teachers receive training? This involves strengthening the capacity of school leadership to ask relevant questions, write appeals, and demand accountability from District and State authorities regarding delays in teacher recruitment. At the state level, an urgent shift towards teacher recruitment is essential.

 

The Author:

Shweta Chooramani (schooramani@berkeley.edu) is a global development professional with two decades of experience in interdisciplinary research and education projects. She leads the US-based think tank Neeman Global Capital, that aims at empowering women in the Global South. With two decades of global development experience, she passionately advocates for investing in teachers’ motivation and capacity building.

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3 Responses

  1. Abraham George

    This is a very well written article on the state of education in UP. These issues exist in other states too though the gravity of it might vary. Thanks for highlighting them, Shweta.

  2. Nirmala

    It is an insightful article and does highlight the need for policies that takes in the reality of qualified teachers in government schools and filling up vacancies in the system, creating an incentive for trained teachers. Good article!

  3. Shweta Chooramani I Neeman Global Capital, US

    Thanks for reading George. I humbly believe, no amount of knowledge can bring change if there is no political will and leadership intentionality. What frustrates me most is that Uttar Pradesh, a politically important state with the distinction of having provided the maximum number of Prime Ministers to India, STILL faces a troubling on-ground reality in all SDGs (be it education, health, poverty, gender equality, labor supply chain exploitation for global luxury brands).

    I am curious what the third term is going to do about the missing teachers. I wish I could ask Narendra Modi ji, are there any concrete plans in place to address the issue of teacher shortage? I wish I could ask, maybe it’s time to take action based on the recommendations outlined by UNDP and NITI Aayog Official. I wish I could ask, maybe global friendships can pause until our own house is in order?

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