The “Whats” and “Whys” of Teacher Motivation

In India, teachers have often been blamed for poor performance of government elementary schools. However, for a government school teacher in the 1990s, or even early 2000s, teaching the class and completing the curriculum were not the only challenges. Often, teachers struggled to get physical classrooms or even a single classroom for a particular class. While blackboards and chalks were almost always present, absence of toilets, safe drinking water and boundary wall for security created a difficult working environment. To top it all, elementary school teachers were asked to conduct every possible survey in their block – be it school or non-school related. Working with such challenges was indeed a herculean task.

Working environment and duties/responsibilities of the teacher changed with the implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Scheme (2001) and Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE 2009). These ensured that the school infrastructure improved. The new scheme/law made provisions for building, classrooms, boundary walls, separate toilets for teachers and drinking water facilities among others. Depending on the implementation of these provisions, there has been significant increase in the percentage of schools with boundary walls, ramps, electricity, computer facilities, toilets, classrooms and provision of mid-day meals. Teachers are no longer sent off for any non-school related surveys (except election duty). School leadership in the form of Block and Cluster Resource Persons has also enhanced.

My conversations with many elementary government school teachers in Karnataka, over the last three years, have also indicated that teachers agree that the provision of such facilities have improved their working conditions tremendously. The relief from various non-school related activities (e.g. cattle survey), better infrastructure, provision of teaching-learning materials and academic support systems have improved their working conditions. However, the provision of these infrastructural facilities does not seem to have any significant impact on their motivational levels. This made me wonder what are the factors that could be hampering their motivation levels. The teachers that I am in conversation with are largely better equipped and better trained and yet, they feel that their motivation levels were not very high. They also have other forms of security. For example, they have a stable government job, guaranteed annual hike in the salaries, and assurance of promotion when their turn comes. So, what is it that they really require in order to feel motivated? This also made me wonder: why is teacher motivation necessary? I tried to find some answers through a perusal of few studies on teacher motivation.

UNICEF’s manual on Child Friendly Schools released in 2009 identifies teacher motivation and commitment being as important as teacher competence and subject knowledge for children’s learning. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study done in middle-income countries suggests that a combination of increased financial investment, curricular reform, teacher training initiatives and institutional reforms improves teacher motivation and accountability (OECD, 2010).

Another study that covered more than 200 teachers in Indonesia established that there was a clear correlation between work motivation and teacher’s work performance (Mustafa & Othman, 2010). The results indicate that work motivation contributes 61 per cent to teacher’s work performance. Based on a review of the evidence available for quality of education in Asia, Chapman and Adams (2002) have expressed serious concern about low teacher motivation is acting as a deterrent to achieve higher quality in education in the region.

In India, very few studies have been conducted with respect to teacher motivation. One of the notable exceptions was the study conducted by Vimala Ramachandran et al (2008) which explored teacher motivation in India and highlighted key issues pertaining to motivation of primary school teachers in India. Two of the most prominent issues were related to mandatory training sessions and a wide range of school-related but non-teaching duties. Since 2000-01, all government school teachers are mandated to attend a minimum number of training sessions in a year. In the first few years, it was around 20 days while in the recent times, it has decreased to about 10 days. This meant that they had to miss classes and cover their curriculum in a speedy fashion.

During my interactions, teachers also mentioned that after the initial inertia, the training sessions were not motivating, especially given the format of the lectures meant that one person would talk and others would listen. Some of the teachers also commented that the subject matter was either incomprehensible or not applicable, in their own school contexts. However, they did mention that cluster level meetings could potentially solve the issue of applicability, given that these discussions were more school-centric than centralised training sessions. A more important reason that they stated for their non-motivation was the change in values regarding teaching. They felt that their profession was no longer respected, and this could potentially be demotivating.

School-related non-teaching duties were another aspect which burdened the teachers. During my interactions, teachers talked extensively about how they had to undertake clerical work to support the Head Teacher/Master in elementary schools where the post of clerk was not sanctioned. They had to open bank accounts for SC/ST students so that they can avail scholarships, and also had to assist in preparation of mid-day meals through grocery shopping. All of these errands, including preparing and serving the mid-day meal reduces their teaching hours. Other issues mentioned in the study were related to growth rate of teachers not matching growth rate of student enrolment, social distance between teachers and students, lack of skills to manage diversity in classroom, systemic issues related to corruption and pending court cases.

Corroborating these insights is a study conducted by us on Teacher Motivation in Bihar (CBPS 2011) which revealed that school environment and leadership (support from Head Master and community), structured recruitment, salary, payment processes, nature of employment and transfer policies, rewards and appraisals and systematic redressal mechanisms can contribute to a conducive environment for motivating teachers.

In conclusion we can say that teacher motivation, in a much broader framework, goes beyond availability of the school infrastructure, and involves an efficient teacher management process, conducive working environment, relief (or at least less burdening) from additional non-teaching (within and outside school) duties, along with financial incentives and regular training/ upgradation of skills. Teacher motivation is necessary for better classroom delivery and has an impact on school effectiveness, quality of education and learning outcomes, to some extent. Today, government elementary school teachers in India are assured the financial incentives, regular training and sufficient infrastructure. However, this narrow framework for motivating teachers does not seem to be very effective as teachers still need relief from various non-teaching duties, an efficient, transparent and inclusive teacher management process and above all, respect for their noble profession. Apart from the government ensuring various provisions to enhance teacher motivation, as a society, we also need to start respecting the profession of a government school teacher and the herculean challenges that come with it.

Puja Minni
Senior Research Associate, CBPS

[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]

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