Poll duty for govt school teachers affects teaching

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Even anganwadi workers can’t do their jobs properly

Sitamarhi: Election duty for government teachers and anganwadi workers has affected teaching in schools and the distribution of rations.

“Around four months are spent on election duty during an election year,” Prabhakar Kumar, a teacher from a Kendriya Vidyalaya, informed The Observer. “We… are not paid adequately.”

Election duty consists of registering voters, conducting surveys, counting and organizing awareness drives.

In the past, the teachers’ union has protested against drafting teachers for election duty. The union has demanded that the Bihar government regularize the services of ad hoc teachers and pay them enough for election duty.

Chanda Shah, a government teacher at the Lakshmi High School, shared: “We were sent to far-flung areas for election duty for which we were paid like unskilled labour. Being a woman, I face more difficulties as I have to manage home and teaching besides election duties.”

In 2016, the Centre considered taking government teachers off non-academic work — such as election duty — to allow them to focus on teaching. However, it took no concrete measures. The Bombay High Court recently upheld the Election Commission’s view that assigning the poll duty to government teachers should be permissible under the law. The judgment also stated any disobedience may result in termination of service. This has further demoralized government teachers.

A survey by the National Institute of Education Planning, an autonomous body, revealed that teachers utilize just 19% of their working hours for teaching. In the remaining time, they are involved in election duties, carrying out surveys and Pulse Polio campaigns, and maintaining midday meal operations. While private school teachers ensure they complete their syllabus, their counterparts in a majority of government schools fail to do so. Even centrally funded schools like Kendriya Vidyalayas and Jawahar Navodya Vidyalayas are affected by the absence of teachers.

Anganwadi workers are required to provide rations and teach primary students from underprivileged backgrounds. In 2010, a central government notification exempted anganwadi workers from election work. But they are drafted for poll duty whenever an election comes.

Nibha Devi, an Anganwadi worker, said she has to distribute rations among children. When she is on election duty, she is unable to do so. She is not skilled to conduct census surveys, she added.

Pradeep Singh of Beejak Seva Sanstha, an NGO working in Bihar in the field of education and literacy, said education in government schools in Bihar suffers due to the engagement of teachers in election duty.

Sitamarhi’s Sub-Divisional Officer Navin Kumar, who acted as a Returning Officer, said the decision to deploy government teachers and Anganwadi workers for election duty is taken by the state government. Since elections to the Lok Sabha parliamentary and the state assembly do not take place every year, election duty is not the main reason for the low quality of education. Adequate training is given to teachers drafted for poll duty. “We hold seminars and camps to teach them smooth functioning of the election process,” Kumar added.

The Niti Aayog had in 2018 accepted that the deployment of teachers in non-teaching activities is one of the reasons for poor learning outcomes. It suggested the creation of a pool of human resources to exempt teachers from election duty.



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