Teaching must not be a ‘noble’ profession as much as schooling cannot be ‘charity’!

The current war around school fee payment seems to be taking an ugly turn in India and the teacher fraternity could end up wrongly at the harsh receiving end of it!


What teachers make? — is the title of a very popular Taylor Mali poem.

Mali sang to draw our attention to the fact that, the world over, we sabotage the social value of teaching as a profession, snidely smirking at teacher paychecks while not really paying teachers as much as they must be paid. I feel the school fee war (debate, if you want to tone down how you are looking at it!) is finally getting to the point where it is going to bring that infamous smirk back on our faces when it comes to teachers!


A war is being waged on online social platforms at the moment, as I am writing this, around the theme of ‘school fees.’ As in the case of every unreasonable war ever fought on the schooling landscape in our country, I think the losing side in this one too is going to be the teachers!

The position is very clear for most parents, in this tussle between affordable private schools and middle-class India. Parents are, plain and simple, not willing to pay the same school fees as they used to before the lock-down.

Why are they not willing to pay as much as they used to as school fees before the lock-down?

Their counter-question is pretty straightforward and reasonable: why must we pay the same amount of money we used to pay as school fees for offline schooling, now that you are teaching online and our children are not using any of your physical facilities and your teachers are not ‘babysitting’ our children?

From where I see, this position is perhaps the result of how our privately managed schools branded and promoted themselves for a long time. Our private school education system never promoted teachers as their unique selling points.

Let us face it, ‘school managements’ across India always promoted infrastructure and facilities as their unique selling points. We have always considered and portrayed our school teachers as glorified babysitters and not as ‘agents of change.’ Now parents are looking at schooling from the same vantage point that ‘school managements’ wanted them to look at from in the first place. For a middle-class Indian parent today, with them having to babysit the children for the most of an online school day, no ‘physical’ school and no teacher babysitting obviously would mean no fee. We were paying you for using the infrastructure and the babysitting facility and not teaching! Now we are not willing to pay you that much because we know you are not paying your teachers as much as we pay you.

We will not pay you now for online schooling as much as we paid you for ‘physical schooling.’

As usual, things take an ugly turn from here!


An info-graphic on teacher salary started floating around the social web at one point during the ‘school fee war’, perhaps in an attempt to help parents understand that they are not paying for infrastructure and physical facilities alone anymore. According to this unverified info-graphic, teachers in India come in the middle-class income bracket. The data is from 2004 and 2009. I am not very sure where this info-graphic originated. The info-graphic, as you can see, is designed to prove that Indian school teachers make more money in salary than their counterparts in some of the best countries in the world. The message from the ‘private school managements’ to the parents now is very clear — we pay teachers very well, better than their counterparts in the world. Is this true?

As I watched the hubris unfold on Twitter the other day, someone sensible from the crowd was trying to tell people engaged in verbal duals around the infographic that this data could be based on government school pay packet and not based on what private schools in India are paying its teachers. I hope you will agree with me when I say this, based on my experience of working as a school teacher, a college teacher, an instructional coach, and a schooling researcher for over 17 years now in India: all is not well at the teacher paycheck front in Indian private schools!

Tying the school fee debate in India around teachers’ necks and their paychecks, without owning up the reality and acting on it, is going to be counterproductive to the social status of a profession that is already suffering from the ‘babysitter’ image!


Historically, teaching in India is a profession made unattractive by attaching a false sense of nobility around it. Krishna Kumar, a noted Indian school education historian, breathtakingly captures this damage done to the image of teachers in our country in his Politics of Education in Colonial India. He uses the metaphor of a ‘meek dictator’ to paint the picture of an Indian school teacher. He details out how the public school system in India loudly assigned nobility to every school teacher, in the name of the ancient Gurukul System, conveniently forgetting how toothless and penniless we teachers today are in comparison to our role models from the back and beyond of our schooling history.

There is nothing ‘noble’ about being a private school teacher in India, looking at the history of it all!

Or there is only as much nobility in teaching as there is in being a doctor or an engineer, the current elitist professions in the country. Private school teachers in India are powerless and paid less than their government-paid counterparts. Dragging paycheck into the school fee debate is not going to help anyone, as long as ‘school managements’ are not willing to rationalize school fees based on what they actually pay their teachers or pay their teachers according to what they are planning to currently charge the parents as fees.

Let us face it, as much as private schooling is not charity, private school teacher paychecks are still not good enough to make teaching noble enough for the kind of fees many of our schools are planning to charge.