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'We'll Protest': Why Bihar's Contractual Teachers Are Opposing Competency Exam

Contractual teachers who fail to clear the mandatory test in 3 out of 4 permissible attempts will face termination.

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In a recent notification, the Bihar government made it mandatory for contractual teachers in the state to clear a competency examination to get a 'government employee' status.

As per the notification, contractual government teachers who fail to clear the eligibility test – which will be conducted online by the government – in three out of four permissible attempts will face termination from their service.

The decision comes just about a month after the Bihar Cabinet (of the Mahagathbandhan government) passed a proposal to give 'government employee' status to around 3.5 lakh contractual teachers, which has been one of their long-standing demands.

During the Cabinet meeting on 26 December 2023, it was also mentioned that the contractual teachers must clear a competency examination to become state government employees, though the status of those who fail was not ascertained.

The recent notification by the government, however, has triggered a major backlash. Several associations of thousands of contractual schoolteachers are opposing the order, strongly objecting to the rule of termination if they fail the three attempts. 

Manoj Kumar, a leader of the Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, told The Quint that the government's move has created anger among contractual schoolteachers. "We will be left with no option but to launch a protest if the government does not amend its orders," he added.

The education department has, meanwhile, warned the contractual teachers against staging any protest. Education department's Additional Chief Secretary KK Pathak even went on to say they would face legal action and could also lose their jobs if they do so, News18 reported.

So, why exactly are the contractual teachers opposing this move? The Quint explains.

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Who Are Contractual Teachers?

An editorial in Business Standard noted that in 2006 – weeks after taking over as the Chief Minister of Bihar – Nitish Kumar called a meeting of senior officials of the human resources development department (now the education department) to ascertain the state of primary and secondary education in the state.

The article said he found that the state's education system was 'in a mess' with over 5 lakh posts of teachers lying vacant, more than 2.5 million children out of school, and schools grappling with poor infrastructure.

As a course correction measure, the government prepared a plan to fill the vacancies, which stated that teachers would be hired on a contract basis and the panchayats and other local bodies would be given the authority to recruit them.

Vacancies were advertised, and within a few years, the contract teachers were recruited in two phases – in 2006 and 2008.

Around 3.5 lakh contractual teachers in the state are currently working with government-run schools managed by bodies such as the Zilla Parishad, Panchayat Samiti, Gram Panchayat, Nagar Parishad, and Nagar Panchayats. 

Why Did They Demand 'Govt Employee' Status?

But these contractual teachers – or niyojit shikshaks as they are known locally – protested for a long time, demanding better pay, a retirement age of 65, implementation of old-age pensions, and being made government employees rather than contractual workers.

A major flare-up was witnessed in March 2020, when around 4.5 lakh contractual teachers in the state went on strike for not having received their salaries for January and February of that year. They called off the strike in May 2020.

Contractual teachers who fail to clear the mandatory test in 3 out of 4 permissible attempts will face termination.

Police personnel use water cannons to disperse Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) and Bihar Teacher Eligibility Test (BTET) qualified candidates during their protest demanding permanent jobs, in Patna, on 22 August 2022.

(Photo: IANS)

Three years later, in December 2023, the Bihar education department mooted a proposal to grant 'government employee' status to these teachers, which was approved by the Cabinet. It was mentioned that they would have to clear 'competency examinations' to maintain this status.

While a decision on when and how the exam would be conducted was not taken then, it was stated that the teachers would get three chances to clear the test, and the fate of those who fail would be decided by the Bihar government at a 'later stage,' official sources had told newsy agency PTI.

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Why Are They Opposing the Current Move?

Speaking to The Quint, Raju Singh, the president of TET Prambhrik Shikshak Sangh, said: "The teachers' union has objected to the move. We will approach the high court over this. The government is harassing employed teachers by issuing such orders."

The Bihar Rajya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh (BRPS), meanwhile, has threatened to go on strike if the contractual teachers lose their jobs for not clearing their competency examinations.  

"The Bihar government's threat to fire contractual teachers in case they fail to clear the competency examination and its decision to conduct an online examination are in violation of the Bihar School Specialist Teachers Rules, 2023. We will oppose both," BRPS president Brajnandan Sharma told The Quint.

"The state government assured us that they would conduct a simple competency examination. But it has now made it mandatory to clear it and has decided to conduct it only online. This is exactly opposite to what Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced last year. He is fooling us."
Brajnandan Sharma

He also pointed out that online exams would put several teachers at a disadvantage. "Most of the contractual schoolteachers do not know how to operate computers. How can they take an online competency examination? The government should first train them to operate computers," he added.

Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti leader Manoj Kumar noted that the education department has also given the option of only three districts for these teachers' postings. 

"In such a situation, thousands of contractual schoolteachers will prefer to continue on contract in place of getting government employees status," Raju Singh reasoned. 

Meanwhile, Ejaz Ahmed, the state spokesperson of Rashtriya Janata Dal, said that according to the decisions taken by the previous Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar, "teachers should be given the status of state employees by taking a simple examination and they should not be harassed." 

"Such an atmosphere has been created ever since the National Democratic Alliance government was formed. Everyone knows that the Bharatiya Janata Party never wants teachers to get the status of state workers. Remember Sushil Modi's statement, when he said that even if God comes, teachers cannot get the status of state workers in Bihar? Nitish is playing with the future of thousands of people," he said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Nitish Kumar   Bihar   Members Only 

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