Pandemic and Teacher Shortage

Teaching in the pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted everything, and education has not escaped unharmed. Social distancing norms have forced schools to close their campuses and shift to digital mode, making online classes the “new normal”. This shift, of course, has been difficult to adjust to, for both students and teachers. According to UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardized the education of 1.5 billion learners across the globe. Likewise, for teachers, the change is unprecedented, inundating them with things they never expected. This, in turn, has aggravated the teacher shortage in India.

Transition to Digital

The pandemic forced open the facade of digital advancement and exposed the bleak conditions of educators globally. Overnight, the pandemic imposed a radical switch to remote teaching and learning that adversely affected several teachers who were not unprepared for such a challenge. While some of them, usually a concentrated and privileged proportion, could seamlessly shift to online mode, several others battled and are continuing to battle to stay afloat.

For online teaching to be a success, the teachers need to be adept at operating the digital modes of teaching, but that is rarely the case. The teachers lack the skills to use online teaching and assessment tools. Most of them are not familiar with real-time communication apps as Zoom and Google Meet. They find online instruction and assessments to be a laborious task. Technical glitches and patchy internet connection also remain impediments in e-learning.

Despite everything getting online, school and government authorities have not taken adequate steps, such as providing suitable equipment to teachers to conduct the classes, training them to use certain apps, or to educate the teachers about online teaching tools. The pandemic has also compelled teachers to retire early, for the growing fear of contracting the virus and passing it on to family members who belong to high-risk groups.  All the above factors exacerbated the already existing teacher shortage in the country.

Effect on Mental Well-being

During this time, what teachers seem to miss the most is the atmosphere of the schools and classrooms. Complaints of burn-outs by teachers have doubled over the past few months. Low and irregular attendance, lack of attention by students, the fear of technology, poor internet connectivity, and in most cases, the added pressure of household chores, have made online teaching a dreaded activity for many teachers. Learning this whole new normal has left teachers feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and anxious.

Loss of Existing Teachers

The latest employment data published by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) suggests that over 6.6 million white-collar professionals, such as engineers, physicians, and teachers, lost jobs between May and August 2020. According to a report published in Deccan Chronicle, over 40,000 private school teachers were rendered jobless in Karnataka amid the pandemic–many of whom have changed their profession because of uncertainty over reopening of schools and fear of risking the health of family members when schools reopen. This threatens to increase the teacher shortage  further.

Impact on Supply

This is also a testing time for teaching aspirants with very few opportunities to practice their teaching skills. The new cohort of teachers will be devoid of practical teaching skills, which will severely affect their self-efficacy beliefs. Insufficient hands-on experience with students in a classroom would stifle the self-confidence and trust that are essential to perform the job successfully. The absence of motivation for teaching will cause new teachers to trickle out soon.

Addressing Teacher Shortage

The government and schools must plan together strategies to lessen the ordeals of the teachers–providing them the right training and granting them more autonomy in the teaching-learning process and in discussing their working conditions. Since threats of contracting the virus are looming large, schools should give teachers a provision to continue with online classes, even when the schools open their campuses. Conducting special well-being sessions and scheduling low-pressure days for teachers would help them manage their stress and keep them motivated. To ensure the supply of skilled teachers in the education system, the teacher training institutes need to think of novel ways to provide practical training experience to their trainees.

Although the pandemic has ushered the education system into a technological path, a seven-inch gorilla glass screen can never substitute the warmth and care of a teacher. Teachers touch lives in ways that are beyond measure. They make students laugh, encourage academic passion, mentor, and for many, they are an essential support system. In absence of adequate infrastructural, technological, and moral support to them, Indian schools will be devoid of their teachers pushing the country into another crisis–‘teacherless’ schools.

Through its programs, Tomorrowsmith Foundation aims to help the country recover from teacher shortage by make teaching an aspirational career. 

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