We are the Crisis – Struggles of Teacher Trainees

In most of the recent larger working class mobilisations teachers played a prominent role – from protests against austerity in Spain to the revolt against the regime in Egypt. There are various reasons for this prominent role. There is the obvious trend of proletarianisation of the profession ‘teacher’. The casualisation of ‘semi-skilled’ teaching staff (assistant teachers), the standardisation of work (teaching modules), the austerity measures in the public sector, have eroded the status and conditions of teachers. In many cases teachers become low paid social security guards who are supposed not only to take care of pre-unemployed youth, but also provide them with an illusion of a future. In this sense the demand for teachers increased. The fact that teachers are often at the forefront of current public protests has two main reasons, both reflecting the arbitrary position of teaching work. Firstly, the cohesion amongst teachers is less constituted through the work process, therefore the greater need for a ‘formal’ organisation, which tends to be more visible. Secondly, in many cases teachers still appeal to their social status as ‘providers of education’, which gives them the credibility to protest, not only in their own interest, but a wider interest. As we can see, both reasons have an arbitrary element regarding to the possible generalisation of teachers’ struggles as ‘struggles of workers’. These arbitrary tendencies will surface first of all in conflicts within the ‘education sector’, once the divisions between various grades of ‘teaching staff’ (assistant, casuals, trainees etc.) impose themselves as essential problems for a ‘common’ struggle. We document the recent struggle of BTC trainees (Basic Training Certificate: basic teaching in primary schools) in Dehradun. The BTC teachers are low paid teachers to teach mainly in poorer areas. They struggled against having to work unpaid for months on so-called ‘practical training’.

Struggles of BTC Trainees in Dehradun

On 22nd of November 2011, demanding direct recruitment in the state government service during their third semester of the Basic Training Certificate (BTC), hundreds of teachers undergoing training in different districts of the state, protested in front of the civil secretariat in Dehradun. The protesters burnt their clothes to register their protest against the alleged step-motherly attitude of the administration. When they tried to get to the administration building, they were attacked by the police. Twelve trainees, including one female trainee, were injured and 200 were arrested. After two days they were released without charges. The ‘crime’ they had committed was to resist being sent to work (under the name of ‘practical training’) to remote areas of the state without permanent contract and without wage.

These trainees had not passed yet the exam of the third semester – so for the government they were officially unskilled. The government cajoled them by saying that if they would accept to work in formerly closed schools in remote areas they might get a permanent contract even if their training had not been completed. They were reassured that they would be called back for exams after three months. BTC trainees said that the last batch of trainees had not been called back from ‘practical training’ for one and a half years! In addition, the government did not want to pay them a single Paisa for these one and a half years of work. The BTC trainees started their movement in order to get an answer to their question about their future – after having paid from their own pockets to go to remote areas and still not knowing how things will turn out. The government wants to profit from these trainees by re-opening schools in remote areas during the time of elections – but they don’t want to give them a permanent status.

After the attack on 22nd of November the order to start ‘practical training’ was revoked and postponed to the 15th of December. On 28th of November a meeting was supposed to take place. The trainees who were released from jail confirmed their resolution to demand an answer and called for a protest sit-in at the education directorate in Nanurkheda. The issue is that in the 13 districts of the state around 1267 trainees of education and training institutes are kept in a cloud of uncertainty. According to a government order they can be sent to ‘practical training’ in other districts even before completing their training. Their fellow trainees of other institutes are paid 6,000 Rs honorarium for the last six months of similar ‘practical training’, those BTC trainees on correspondence courses got 7,500 Rs – the BTC trainees find themselves in the dilemma that the competition for permanent jobs increases – should they demand from the government to tell them for which position they will be hired and for which wage?

The true stance of the state government revealed itself when an office bearer of the BTC trainee union came to Dehradun to meet the Minister for Education – and the Minister refused to meet the representative. Instead the education secretary told the trainee union officer that they have to follow the government orders. In the first week of November the BTC trainees returned to Dehradun in form of a movement – to wake the government who had refused any talks. Trainees from 13 different BTC institutes assembled on the Parade Maidan in Dehradun. A workers’ representative said that on 21st of November the ministry called and promised that if the trainees would stop their protest assembly they could meet the central minister. So they went back to Nanurkheda and encircled the education secretariat instead. The central minister phoned the next day and said that the exams for the third semester will take place soon, but he did not agree to the main demand. The education secretary repeated this – the dissatisfied trainees intensified the protest in front of the secretariat. On the same day in the evening the patience of the trainees found an end, they started to tear down the police barricades around the secretariat. The police answered with a baton charge and arrested 199 trainees, 80 of them women. After verbal support of all opposition parties the trainees were released after two days. The released trainees reassembled on Parade Maidan and said that they keep up the protest till 28th of November, the date of the promised meeting with government representatives. They say that if the meeting won’t take place they will encircle the residence of the central minister. The education ministry sent out a letter to all district education officers saying that BTC trainees are not supposed to be sent to remote districts, but to schools were there are either too many pupils or to few teachers.

The state minister for education informed that there are 2,720 vacant posts in primary schools – at the same time the minister tells the trainees that they will hire the 3367 BTC trainees once they have finished their exams plus 2,200 trainees on special BTC courses, a total of 5,000 posts – these are empty promises. Out of 882 trainees on special BTC courses around 60 per cent work as teaching staff in RSS (Hindu Nationalists) run Shishu Mandirs – the government is under pressure to give jobs to these trainees once they have finished their courses. The opposition parties officially support the agitation, trying to convert the teachers to foot-soldiers of their respective parties.

On 18th of December 2011 members of Uttarakhand BTC Trainee Shiksha Mitra Federation staged another protest at Parade Ground and later took out a rally to the residence of the Education Minster in Dehradun. The demands include appointment of BTC Trainees to the posts of assistant teacher after their completion of BTC training and allowance of `10,000 Rs to Shiksha Mitra during training.