Pune: On March 16, a nationwide lockdown was declared, aimed at halting the spread of the novel coronavirus. The entire education system was brought to a halt. The management of several schools and colleges, their revenue stream having dried up, set about using novel forms of authoritarianism including digital surveillance, bullying and threatening teachers, to circumvent the Central government’s instruction not to pressure parents to pay fees till normalcy is restored.
This pressure has been so intense that many teachers are either succumbing to the managerial diktats, or facing unemployment. Those who try to explore an alternative career find that there are few options available in India’s pandemic-hit economy.
Teachers revealed the striking vulnerabilities teachers face. An almost Orwellian narrative emerged of the ‘dark side’ of the institutions which employ them. Digital surveillance of call-centre workers or other such ‘cyber coolies’ is a well-known management strategy to control workers, labour processes and material practices. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has given fertile ground to create this ‘panopticon’ in the education sector, as well. Managements are using the digital video call technologies to ‘observe’ without being ‘observed’.
In the face of loss of cash flow, administrators of schools and colleges used video call technologies such as Zoom and Google Meet to get teachers to conduct online classes, but without having provided them adequate training on delivery, pedagogy and practicalities of handling these technological platforms. They also use the platforms for digital surveillance.
While a primary school teacher, revealed that how her supervisor would join the virtual class at the behest of the management to oversee her teaching performance. “The supervisor’s intention was not merely to evaluate the online teaching, but to monitor and control the process. Later, the supervisor’s spying became a daily affair. This then went to the extent of demanding recording of the teaching sessions, and sending reports to the administrators post each session.
There are many teachers who had to accept the cuts because they couldn’t conduct the required number of classes. Over these past four months, such bullying and aggression has intensified beyond reparation. Another teacher and a mother of two, spoke of the work-life balance disruption due to management’s pressure on her to work endlessly. Her husband lost his job due to the lockdown and hasn’t been able to find work for the past four months, so she has to accept whatever work is assigned to her by superior’s. “Teachers are highly underpaid, so I cannot afford to refuse work, otherwise my family will starve. Despite earning, I still need financial support from my parents to meet day-to-day expenses,” says Sujata.
Threats and terror of not meeting targets
Other incidents recounted by the teachers hinted toward a toxic culture of intimidation and target-oriented pressures. The management pressurizes teachers to ask parents for fee payments, despite the government’s strict instructions not to force parents and students to pay fees. Teachers are pressured to perform unrelated work to keep his job in the current, ruthless academic environment. Though neither is part of my area of work, the director has given targets to each faculty and staff member to lure new students for admission.
One wonders whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic or such threats and bullying that will do more harm to teachers’ well-being, academic integrity and democratic ethos. Administrators, central and state education ministries and policy-makers must mull over and address the bleak situation of teachers, brought on by the COVID-19 shut down.