Guest teachers in K’taka forced into daily wage work as COVID-19 ends teaching careers

Guest teachers are non-permanent faculty whose contracts are generally renewed every academic year at government institutions. But COVID-19 put an end to that.
Daily wage worker
Daily wage worker
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Suresh* is often scared when his phone rings. He is afraid that the call could be from a loan shark or those he borrowed money from during the lockdown in 2020. A 35-year-old MA, BEd and MPhil graduate, Suresh used to work as a guest lecturer at a village in Karnataka’s Ballari district. He traveled 70 km every day for seven years and made a living of Rs 9,000 per month by teaching Kannada to Pre-University College (PUC) students. But after last year’s lockdown, this work stopped suddenly and he was left struggling to make ends meet.

“When the lockdown started, I was out of job and till today I haven't been called back. Life is extremely difficult now. For a few days, I was able to get work in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) but now that is also over,” Suresh said. 

During the lockdown, his father passed away and he had to take a loan of Rs 40,000, on top of his existing loans, to perform the final rites. “All my wife's jewels are pledged for money and I have no hopes of recovering them. I feel really ashamed to say it. Today my wife is working as a porter (a daily wage worker) because I can’t find any other work. People in the village gossip about this every day, which is very painful to hear. I really don't know how to ensure food for my family anymore. Maybe I can try coming to Bengaluru as a porter."

This is not an isolated incident. Many government PU guest lecturers and guest school teachers told TNM that their work in government institutions suddenly ended during the pandemic, and they have been unable to reclaim their livelihood in the months since. Guest teachers are those whose contracts are generally renewed every academic year, though they are never hired as permanent staff. 

But the lack of in-person classes at schools and colleges this year meant that many temporary staffers weren’t hired back to these educational institutions. 

No government relief, deputations

Chitralekha K, a guest teacher from Puttur, Dakshina Kannada, told TNM that she used to earn Rs 7,500 per month working at different schools year to year. “When the lockdown was imposed, life became very difficult. We received no help from the government. During the lockdown, we could only survive by rolling beedis at home and because of some foodgrains we received from charities." 

As the months passed and their chances for reappointment grew slim, some left the field altogether. Chitralekha gave up teaching and found other work, though none paid as much as her teaching job. “I have a DEd but now I work with my husband selling food out of a push cart. This business also took a hit after the lockdown. I have a son studying PU and a daughter studying in SSLC and I’m not sure how to pay for their education.”

Organisations such as the Government PU Colleges Guest Faculties Association and Guest Teachers’ Struggle Committee — affiliated with the All India Save Education Committee (AISEC) — had submitted memorandums and requested ministers and local administrators to come to their aid. However, no action was taken for them.

According to the AISEC, nearly 20,000 PU college guest lecturers and 3,000 school guest teachers used to work in the state, though about 15,000 of those faculty members were not reappointed. This number could not be verified with government data. 

“We visited Education Minister S Suresh Kumar requesting him to provide salaries to the guest lecturers during the lockdown as the money would have already been allocated in the budget. However this didn't happen,” said Rajesh Bhat, secretariat member of AISEC, Karnataka chapter.

“These guest faculties ensured that the students received good results all these years and have kept the quality of the institutions high. But during the lockdown, the government didn't even bother to give them ration kits like they did for many,” he added.

Other guest faculties also said that they have not received any help from the government, even over a year after the nationwide lockdown was imposed. While several revealed that there are vacancies in these institutions, the government turned to deputation instead of filling the positions.  

“There are vacancies in our college but even after working for these many years, we haven't been made permanent employees. Instead, during this pandemic, the government has resorted to deputations. Deputations are when a government lecturer goes to another government institution close to him and teaches there for three days in a week and the other three days in his college. But this does not help them, us (guest faculty), or the students,” said a person from Koppal district, who used to work as a guest faculty.

Experts note that it is wrong to have contract-based employment for teachers and that the government has improperly handled the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we look at the situation of guest faculties, we see that in general they do the same amount of work as compared to permanent faculty. The simple fact that they have been reappointed continuously for so many years means there are vacancies for those posts in colleges. Therefore, either the government  should absorb them as permanent faculty based on their experiences as per the norms or it should fill up the vacancies by making fresh appointments,” said Niranjanaradhya VP, senior fellow and programme head of the Universalisation of Equitable Quality Education Programme of the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School.

He added, “The guest faculties’ situation is just evidence of how inhumanly the government treated them. They have worked for several years, but during a crisis when they were finding it difficult to have three meals a day. The government should not have done this. It is basically denying them a dignified life and equal pay for equal work .”

He further explained that the departure of several guest lecturers from teaching will hurt the already-struggling government institutions.

Government response 

An official in the office of Primary and Secondary Minister Suresh Kumar told TNM that guest lecturer positions were meant for those interested in teaching for short periods when there were physical classes but were not meant to be long term jobs. The official states that they had planned to increase the honorarium of the guest faculties but it was impossible under the circumstances. 

He also said that there couldn't be any long term plans for the guest faculties, as the premise of guest faculty was itself to fill gaps where there hadn’t been an appointment yet. He said the government couldn't provide them with a permanent job or a salary. 

While some guest faculty members have been doing this work for well over a decade and consider it their full time career, the official states that the process of appointing guest teachers was itself different and that just because they had worked for a long time, the guest faculty couldn’t be appointed as permanent.

*Names changed

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