The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked the vice-chancellors and principals of all institutions affiliated to it to ask their staff and students to tweet their “gratitude towards their favourite teachers” using the hashtag #ourteachersourheroes to mark Teachers’ Day on Saturday.
While the hashtag is one of the top trends on Twitter, with tweets from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top ministers, some teachers protested at the dissonance between the online campaign and the objective reality for them across the country.
“There are more than 10 lakh school teacher posts lying vacant across the country. There have been no appointments for thousands of college teacher posts as well. Teachers are being hired on contract basis. When the education system itself is being destroyed, what will we do with a hashtag?” asked Abha Dev Habib, treasurer of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA).
Thousands of private school and college teachers have also lost their jobs or foregone salaries as institutions shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
The UGC letter, signed by secretary Rajnish Jain, juxtaposes the occasion with the government’s recent decision to implement the National Education Policy (NEP), which has provisions to overhaul the current curriculum and administration of all educational institutions in the country.
One of the most controversial provisions in the NEP is that a Board of Governors (BoG) will be set up to govern higher educational institutions, which can “make all appointments including that of head of the institution, and take all decisions regarding governance”.
While the policy document says this BoG will be a” group of highly qualified, competent, and dedicated individuals having proven capabilities and a strong sense of commitment to the institution”, it doesn’t clearly explain how they will be chosen or who will monitor their functioning.
“If this BoG will make all appointments, everything will be done according to their whims and fancies. This is just a cover to push through privatisation and break unions,” alleged Habib.
The letter from Jain, dated September 1, asks all vice-chancellors and principals to organise programmes to honour deserving retired teachers.
“Using the hashtag #ourteachersourheroes, the students, faculty and non-teaching staff may express their gratitude towards their favorite teachers through various social media handles,” adds the letter.
The letter also asks the VCs and principals to upload details of the programmes organised to the UGC’s University Activity Monitoring Portal.
A teacher from a government-aided college in Kerala which is affiliated to the UGC told HuffPost India that both Jain’s letter and a note from UGC education officer Latha K.C. were shared in their official teachers’ WhatsApp group by the principal.
“All the Vice Chancellors and Principals of their affiliated colleges are kindly requested to advise their students, teachers and non teaching staff to tweet on Teacher’s Day about their teachers and tag their tweets on the following hashtag: #ourteachersourheros,” according to the note from Latha.
The teacher cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said that their university had appointed hundreds of guest teachers who were forced to shoulder an inhuman workload on irregular salaries.
“They are not even able to take the casual leaves that permanent teachers are entitled to. A hashtag campaign seems like a farce when we are facing such fundamental problems,” this person said.
Rajib Ray, president of DUTA, said that the association is against the hashtag campaign and has organised a protest on Saturday as around 2,000 employees in 12 colleges in DU have not been paid their salaries over four months.