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Teachers protest against digital attendance: How the issue is being manipulated for politics in UP where BJP once lost an election for trying to stop mass cheating in exams

In a similar situation back in December last year, primary school teachers in Uttar Pradesh had opposed the government’s AI-based attendance involving facial recognition. At that time also, teachers had claimed that lack of connectivity and poor internet in rural areas would make it difficult for them to give timely attendance always and a failure of doing so would lead to salary deduction.

In Uttar Pradesh, a new regulation has been issued governing the attendance of all council school instructors and personnel. According to the orders issued by State Project Director Kanchan Verma, teachers and employees have been directed to note their attendance in the school’s digital register. This came into effect from 8th July onwards.

Teachers are instructed to provide their real-time attendance with location. Schools operate from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but the state government requires teachers to record their attendance between 7.45 and 8 a.m.

Notably, the department has provided the option of marking attendance 30 minutes after the scheduled time. Teachers and staff who arrive late to school must provide an explanation for arriving late.  

“We are aware of your problems, you can mark your attendance after 30 minutes. Orders have been given for digital signatures of council schools. But now there is an opportunity to mark attendance 30 minutes after the scheduled time. Instructions have been given to Basic Education Officers and Block Education Officers. It is definitely necessary to mention the reason for reaching school late,” the state education department said.

On the 18th of June information about the module developed under the term ‘Digital Registers’ was made available on the Prerna portal, as well as rules for the use of 12 digital registers at the school level.

While the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision is intended to enhance the quality of education and ensure that teachers fulfil their duties diligently, the move has not been without controversy.

Teachers protest against online attendance system in Uttar Pradesh

The CM Yogi Adityanath-led government’s decision to implement an online attendance system intends to curb the menace of teacher absenteeism in the state’s schools, which has adversely impacted the educational environment. Several teachers, however, have strongly protested against the move. On 8th July, a massive online trend calling for a boycott of the new digital attendance system was launched. Under the “#BoycottOnlineAttendance” tag, educators raised their concerns and shared videos of peaceful protests by teachers across Uttar Pradesh.

Teachers are opposing it on social media, claiming it will be against their interests in many ways. They are required to arrive at their schools by 7:30 am and mark attendance between 7:45 am and 8 am before the start of classes. However, in remote villages, internet connectivity is limited, making it difficult to mark attendance online.

Additionally, a lot of schools are situated in remote areas and are surrounded by water during the rainy season. In such a case, if a teacher arrived late, he or she would be deemed absent, and their leave would be deducted. The protesting teachers have sought certain relaxations in the online attendance system, such as half-day casual leave.

On the 8th of July, only 2% of teachers out of over 6 lakh teachers and para teachers (Shiksha Mitra) marked attendance online. This means that on the very first day of the digital attendance’s implementation, only 16,015 out of 6.09,282 lakh teachers marked their attendance.

Almost no teachers marked their attendance online in 14 of the state’s 75 districts, as per a report in HT. Notably, while in Shahjhanpur there are 10,194 teachers, in Pilibhit where there are 5,899, and in Sant Kabir Nagar there are 4819 teachers, none of them marked their attendance.

Only one of the 11,934 teachers in Bareilly followed the government’s orders. Only two teachers out of 6,810 marked online attendance in Rampur, while only 9 teachers out of 7,293 in Maharajganj attended.

In Bahraich, only 20 teachers out of 11,282 digitally marked their attendance using the government tab; in Gonda, only 23 teachers out of 10,832 marked their attendance; in Gorakhpur, only 52 teachers out of 12,519 marked their attendance; and in Unnao, only 56 teachers followed the government directive. In 24 districts 1% of teachers marked their online attendance, in 13 just 2%, in 11 districts 3%, while Bhadohi saw a maximum of 13% online attendance by teachers.

In the Shahjahanpur district teachers gathered in large numbers to protest the move. Meanwhile, in Sambhal, a memorandum was handed over to the DM office. Major demonstrations took place in Kanpur Dehat, Chandauli, Bareilly, Sidharth Nagar and several other districts as well.

Meanwhile, thousands of teachers also wore black bands around their arms while on duty as a mark of protest against the digital attendance system. On Tuesday, teachers of a government school in Chaprua Khera, Zone-1 in Lucknow wore black arm bands in protest against the digital attendance system. Similar scenes were seen in Jiamau Primary School.

Demands raised by UP teachers

The protesting teachers have demanded that they be given half-day leave, as other state employees are, and that they be given 30 earned days of leave, as state employees or PL, as college teachers. Moreover, compensatory leave should be provided in the same manner as other departments. Basic shikshak adhikari should be granted the power to waive online attendance in the event of inclement weather and participate in departmental events.

Notably, BJP MLC Babulal Tiwari met Chief Minster Yogi Adityanath on the 9th of July and informed him about the issues raised by the affected teachers. He highlighted the teacher’s and Shiksha Mitra’s issues including the demand for 15 casual leave, 15 half casual leave, 25 earned leave, the status of state employees to teachers, cashless medical facility, No promotion for 15 years, and exemption from non-teaching duties.

Meanwhile, Sandeep Kumar, President of Lucknow Metropolitan Primary Education Association said, “The teachers are troubled because the online digital attendance system is not working well and due to this the teachers are not able to register attendance within the given time limit. It leads to a deduction of salary…Currently, the teachers are marking their attendance using this system.”

UP teachers earlier opposed facial recognition-based attendance rule

In a similar situation back in December last year, primary school teachers in Uttar Pradesh had opposed the government’s AI-based attendance involving facial recognition. At that time also, teachers had claimed that lack of connectivity and poor internet in rural areas would make it difficult for them to give timely attendance always and a failure of doing so would lead to salary deduction.

Opposition politicising the Yogi government’s attempt to improve the education system

Amidst the protests undertaken by government school teachers in Uttar Pradesh, opposition parties have started exploiting the issue to score political points against the ruling BJP government. In this vein, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav extended support to the protesting teachers and opposed the implementation of digital attendance saying teachers can get stuck in the way due to late running public transport, closed railway crossing, long distance etc. In such a situation, he claimed, teachers would suffer stress and their emotions would be hurt

“No teacher wants to reach school late but sometimes the reason for this is public transport running late, sometimes closed railway gates and sometimes the distance of fifty kilometres between home and school because teachers neither have government accommodation to live near school nor houses are available on rent in remote areas. This gives rise to unnecessary stress and a mentally confused teacher can sometimes get into an accident due to hurry, of which there are many examples. If due to some unforeseen reasons, teachers have to leave the school in the middle of the day due to personal health or home, family or social reasons, then a report of absence for the whole day will be sent. There can be many reasons for reaching school late or returning from school early. Even due to interruption in power supply or technical problems, there are problems in smooth functioning of services like internet. That is why the option of ‘digital attendance’ is not possible without a solid solution to practical problems. First of all, it should be implemented in the administrative headquarters of all other departments so that the senior officials can experience its practical aspects and problems, then only after the problem-solving, its implementation should be thought about later…” Yadav posted on X.

Teacher absenteeism in Uttar Pradesh’s government schools has been a persistent issue, significantly impacting the quality of education in Uttar Pradesh. While Akhilesh Yadav claimed that “no teacher wants to reach school late”, there have been numerous incidents of teachers were found absent from duty. In 2022, it was reported that over 3,900 primary school teachers were found absent from duty across the state for three consecutive days. In many cases, it has been found during surprise checks that some teachers ‘missed’ the school for days. In such cases, students are left without guidance, and time that should have been spent educating them is wasted.

The Yogi government is implementing such digital measures to curb absenteeism and negligence of duty. By ensuring that teachers are present and accountable, these systems can help improve the overall educational environment and learning outcomes for students. However, for the sake of political gains ahead of the bypolls in the state, opposition parties are opposing the implementation of digital attendance.

When BJP lost elections in 1993 over bringing anti-copying legislation

The UP government’s efforts to improve the education system, including the implementation of the online attendance system for teachers, have faced significant opposition. This resistance mirrors the backlash against Chief Minister Kalyan Singh’s Anti-Copying Act of 1992, which aimed to curb cheating in exams.

In 1992, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh introduced the Anti-Copying Act, aimed at curbing rampant cheating in board examinations. This law imposed strict measures, including heavy fines and imprisonment for those caught cheating. While the intention behind the Act was to enhance the credibility of the state’s educational system, it faced massive backlash from students and their families. Imagine the condition of public examinations and the prevalence of lawlessness in Uttar Pradesh that even an educational reform intended to stop malpractice and cheating in school and university exams was fervently opposed.

The opposition, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, capitalised on the discontent. Yadav criticized the Act, arguing that it unfairly targeted students without addressing the root causes of the educational deficiencies. His party used this sentiment to galvanize public opinion against Singh’s government.

Anti-Copying Act 1992

The Act authorised the police to enter examination centres to perform checks and arrest defaulters, as well as made “use of unfair means in examinations” a cognisable offence for which there was no bail.

As a result of the strict enforcement of the law, 17% of the students who had registered for the tenth and twelfth left the ongoing exams. Due to this ordinance, just 14.70% of intermediate and 30.30% of high school applicants passed the Uttar Pradesh Board exams in 1992.

Mulayam Singh Yadav had politicised this much-needed law. He even gave the argument that female students caught cheating as per this law would be rejected by suitors. Notably, Kalyan Singh brought the anti-copying law at a time when UP’s public examinations were caught in the clutches of “cheating mafias” involving teachers, students, officials and gangsters. This syndicate provided guides, model papers, answer slips, and illegal proxy examinees and even helped the cheaters in later stages of the exams. Instead of supporting the government for a serious reform aimed at improving the quality of education, Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party went berserk and demanded its withdrawal.

As newspapers published pictures of handcuffed students who cheated in the 1992 board exams, the opposition used it to push its narrative that somehow the anti-copying law is “too harsh”. The widespread protests and dissatisfaction contributed significantly to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s poor performance in the 1993 state elections. Kalyan Singh’s government was ultimately defeated, and Mulayam Singh Yadav became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1994. One of the first decisions taken by Mulayam Singh Yadav was to revoke this Act. With this, the “mockery” of the education system—mass cheating in examinations became widespread again. It was alleged that the SP government downplayed the incidents of copying/cheating in official records.

Despite its necessity, the Anti-Copying Act contributed to the BJP’s defeat in the 1993 elections, illustrating the political risks of educational reforms. Today, Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam’s son, echoes similar opposition by criticizing the online attendance system for teachers, which aims to improve accountability and reduce absenteeism. This pattern of resistance to necessary reforms reflects a reluctance to address deep-seated issues within the education system, prioritising political gains over long-term improvements.

Leveling up his attack on the state government, Akhilesh Yadav has claimed that the BJP government has “postponed” the online attendance rule for teachers. However, an official confirmation from the state government is yet to come out.

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