Global Poverty Research Group

Teacher Unions, Politics and Education in India

The issues

Despite encouraging progress in some measures of education over the 1990s, there is serious concern about the parlous state of education in India: one in five of primary age children are not in school, teachers are frequently absent and levels of learning are very low. Yet the role of a key actor in education - namely the teachers and their unions - has received scant attention in explaining this state. Are teacher unions opposers of reform, and what are the implications of teachers' political and union-based activities for the functioning of the education sector?

Research at the CSAE, jointly with Mohd. Muzammil, Lucknow University, India, has examined the ways in which teachers’ participation in politics and teacher union activities have affected education quality in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and shaped the legislation that governs schools.

Little is written about the effects of the special constitutional privilege granted to teachers in India, namely their guaranteed representation in the Upper House of the state legislatures where they exist. The authors argue that the existence of separate teacher constituencies for electing members to the Upper House encourages teachers’ participation in politics. Teacher unions are used by teacher leaders to launch and buttress their political careers, in particular to become teacher Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) and of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Several Chief Ministers and cabinet ministers have been teachers. In turn, teacher legislators are sympathetic to teacher demands and they support teacher union activities to keep their teacher vote banks happy.

Lack of teacher accountability in India has its roots in teachers’ own vehement demands for a centralised education system which shelters them from disciplinary action by local managers and communities. School principals lament that they have no powers over teachers nor do other officials as the erring teachers are often supported by powerful teacher associations.

The research finds that:

Relevant recent papers

The Political economy of education in India: Teacher politics in Uttar Pradesh, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003.

“A political economy of education in India: The case of U.P.”, Economic and Political Weekly , 36, No. 32, August 11-18, 2001.

Reseachers to contact for this project

Geeta Kingdon