An English teacher is forced to sell vegetables on the road; a natural science teacher has set up a bicycle puncture repair shop; and a Sanskrit teacher has returned to his village to work on wheat fields. Many guest teachers working on a contractual basis in Delhi government schools and paid on a daily basis have been forced to find alternative livelihoods to make their ends meet after being rendered out of work for two-three months as schools remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and amid little signs of them reopening in the immediate future.
More than 20,000 guest teachers are employed in 1,030 government schools across Delhi. Paid between Rs 1,040 and Rs 1,400 per day, their contracts are renewed every year. They are not paid for Sundays, summer and winter vacations, or any national holiday. Some of them, though, do manage to find work even during summer vacation as teachers are engaged in summer camps and other activities. But the Covid-induced lockdown has made matters worse for them this year.
On May 5, the Delhi government’s education department issued an order stating, “All guest teachers shall be paid up to May 8, 2020, and in summer vacation only if they are called for duties”. This time, however, no guest teacher has been called back to duty as schools are shut.
Schools have been shut since March 19 in Delhi. Classes were shifted online and some guest teachers took part in virtual learning till May 8. The government declared summer vacations from May 11 to June 30 but online classes for classes 9 to 12 continued till May 28 and those who were taking part were paid on a daily basis till May 8.
Then there are around 1000 teachers whose contracts were not extended after March 31 as they have not cleared the mandatory Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET). The test is generally conducted twice a year and next scheduled for July but this year there is uncertainty if it will be held due to the pandemic, forcing the teachers to stare at an uncertain future.
Wazir Singh, 34 — who was working at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Sultanpuri H-block as an English teacher till May 8 – is an MA in English, and cleared BEd and the CTET. “We are being paid on a daily basis, due to which we are unable to save money. When our principal sent us a message on a WhatsApp group, saying we were relieved from duty till further orders, I had no savings. It was like a bolt from the blue. I am the sole earner for my family of five in Haryana’s Panipat,” he said.
To feed his family, Singh hired a cart for Rs 2,000 per month and started selling fruits from 10 am to 6 pm near his rented one-room set in Sultanpuri last month. “I am earning Rs 400 to Rs 500 per day. I have to work to support my family. My father does not keep well and needs medicine. My three younger brothers are studying. I will continue to sell vegetables and fruits until the department calls me back. At least there will be some income,” he said.
Among the non-CTET teachers who have been out of work since March 31 is Devesh Kumar, 40, who was teaching natural science at the government boys’ senior secondary school in Mehrauli. Kumar, who has done his BSc, MA and Bed, has set up a bicycle puncture repair shop near his rented accommodation in Ghaziabad. “I am the only earning member for the family of four — parents, wife and a son. My son studies in class 3 at a private school. I could not pay his fee this academic session as I am out of work since April. I am repairing tyres to make our ends meet,” he said. Kumar, who runs a YouTube channel that imparts lessons on natural science, has been working with the Delhi government school since 2014.
Ajay Veer Singh, general secretary of the government school teachers’ association, said many such guest teachers have been struggling to make ends meet amid the pandemic and the lockdown.
“We have written to the education department and the education minister multiple times highlighting the plight of guest teachers. We had requested them to make some arrangements for the guest teachers during the lockdown since many of them are the only earning members. The government should also give some time to teachers to clear the CTET since it is expected to get postponed due to the prevailing situation,” he said. The next CTET is scheduled on July 5.
Sanjeev Kumar, 34, a double MA in astronomy and Sanskrit from Banaras Hindu University, who has cleared the BEd, is out of work since March 31.
Kumar was teaching Sanskrit at the government boys’ school in Nangloi before returning to his village in Himachal’s Bilaspur district in April. He has been working on his wheat fields since then. “I have not been paid since April even though I took online classes after the schools were shut. We don’t even have money to hire help for farming here. I’ve been working day and night to grow vegetables at home so that we do not need to spend on it. I have to support my wife and two kids,” he said.
A senior DoE official, requesting anonymity, said, “Due to the prevailing situation government cannot accommodate so many teachers and pay them. These teachers will be called back when there is a requirement. There is enough time for them to clear CTET till then.”
The Delhi government new norms make it mandatory for its teachers to qualify CTET, Binay Bhushan, director of education, said. “The guest teachers have never been paid during summer vacation. We will have to see if they are needed in July. We will call them back accordingly,” he said.
Shoeb Rana, president of the all-India guest teachers’ association, said many guest teachers used to get work during the summer break at summer camps for Mission Buniyaad classes and remedial classes. “Around 70% guest teachers would be called for duty every year and were paid on a per-day basis. But this year, schools are shut and thousands of teachers are going through a tough time. There is uncertainty over the reopening of schools. Guest teachers will not get work until the schools reopen physically. The government should provide some assurance for our re-joining,” he said.
Asked about the government’s plan to take back guest teachers, Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia said, “The matter is to be taken by the services department, which is under the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi. Service matters are not discussed with us.”
Despite several attempts, the L-G’s office did not respond to calls and texts sent for a comment.