Who are India’s teachers?


Yesterday, UNESCO launched No Teacher, No Class, its 2021 State of the Education Report (SOER) for India, marking World Teachers’ Day. Developed by an expert team of researchers in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, under the guidance of the UNESCO Office in New Delhi, this third edition of the SOER profiles a workforce of 9.7 million teachers, as well as the challenges of their intricate teaching routines and professional development.


The 2021 SOER shows that the private, unaided sector accounts for 30% of the teaching workforce, while the government sector employs about 50%. While teacher availability has improved, pupil-teacher ratios are adverse in secondary schools. Moreover, there is no information on availability of special education, music, arts and physical education teachers. The availability and deployment of subject teachers too, is not well documented and monitored. Almost all single-teacher schools are in rural areas.

There is a pronounced need to improve both availability and deployment of qualified teachers in the north-eastern states of India.

The profession is overall gender balanced, with women accounting for about 50% of the teaching workforce, but there are significant inter-state and urban-rural variations. The majority of teachers in urban areas are women, in contrast with rural areas. The early childhood education, special education and private unaided schools sectors are also highly feminized.

The work force has a deficit of over 1 million teachers (at current student strength) and the gap is likely to grow, given the shortages of teachers in certain education levels and subjects such as early childhood education, special education, physical education, music, arts, and curricular streams of vocational education. In 15 years, about 30% of the current workforce will need to be replaced.

Status and terms of employment The teaching profession has average status in India, but it is a career of choice for women and youth from rural areas in particular. Private school teachers and early childhood education teachers are highly vulnerable groups, with many working without contracts at low salaries, with no health insurance or maternity leave benefits. Several states have introduced the teacher eligibility test as part of their recruitment processes in order to improve teacher quality. Some states have also adopted technology-aided teacher deployment.

Teaching practices

Teacher-centric practices dominate the Indian pedagogical landscape in both government and private schools, and in most subject areas. These practices are linked to teachers’ beliefs regarding their learners, the process of learning, subject matter and the aims of education. Teachers who successfully address the learning needs of children from underprivileged and marginalized groups are found to have positive attitudes towards their students. They think of pedagogy as inclusive communication, and create an environment in which children feel cared for. Perceptions of ineducability, on the other hand, lead to teachers neglecting their students. Having an academic and collegial ethos in school, and better teaching-learning environments motivate teachers and enhance teaching quality. Teachers are more likely to change their practices in sustained ways when professional development engages with their beliefs and they experience the satisfaction of seeing their students learn.

Teacher workload is high – contrary to public perception – although invisible, and a source of stress. Teachers value being given professional autonomy, and disregard of this is demotivating. Teachers’ voices in the system in matters of policy and governance can be enhanced through professional teacher networks, and unions. Most accountability systems tend to emphasize monitoring. Professional standards need to be made a part of a larger system and used in the context of professional development rather than accountability.


A large proportion of teacher education programmes in India are run in ‘self-financed’ colleges. Their geographic spread across the country is uneven. There are very few programmes to prepare special education, vocational education, arts and music education teachers. The volume of admission in Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) programmes seems to be stable, and quality of intake is found to have improved due to the adoption of entrance examinations. However, in some states, there are fewer science students opting for programmes. Admissions in Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed.) and Master of Education (M.Ed.) programmes are shrinking. Pre-service teacher education curricula still need to be improved, and supported with Indian-language teaching-learning resources. While in-service teacher education is widespread and now incorporates technology, research is needed to understand its impact and to identify which models work.


Most teachers are found to have positive attitudes and beliefs about integrating technology in education. However they feel that it is time-consuming, and that they lack professional skills. Teachers have largely used smartphones as their primary EdTech tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a large proportion of students have had limited or no access to devices and data, compelling teachers to use hybrid modalities to keep in touch. Professional development using tech platforms can offer possibilities for building communities and new professional learning pathways by enabling greater agency and interaction among teachers.

The Report is well aligned with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which recognizes and identifies teachers as the heart of the learning process and was welcomed by Dr Sridhar Srivastava, Director, National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT).  It also aims to serve as a reference for enhancing the implementation of the NEP 2020, in line with the SDG target 4c on teachers.

The 2021 SOER concludes with a set of ten action-oriented recommendations to address the challenges facing the teaching profession in India, and thus provide support to achieve the NEP 2020 vision and objective: “Ensuring quality education for all in the country”.

The ten recommendations are as follows: 

  1. Improve the terms of employment of teachers in both public and private schools
  2. Increase the number of teachers and improve working conditions in north-eastern states, rural areas and ‘aspirational districts’
  3. Recognize teachers as frontline workers
  4. Increase the number of physical education, music, art, vocational education, early childhood and special education teachers. 
  5. Value the professional autonomy of teachers
  6. Build teachers’ career pathways
  7. Restructure pre-service professional development and strengthen curricular and pedagogical reform
  8. Support communities of practice
  9. Provide teachers with meaningful ICT training
  10. Develop teaching governance through consultative processes, based on mutual accountability



Leave a Reply