Emphasis on education as a single and narrow discipline is inimical to the development of a coherent field of study with a well-defined domain
A furious debate rages on between educationists connected with half-a-dozen National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) committees constituted to implement the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission (JVC) report. The JVC itself was an outcome of a legal battle over granting permission to some 291 institutions in Maharashtra to run Diploma in Education (D.Ed) courses. The report and what the NCTE is doing to implement its recommendations should be a matter of public concern as it pertains to the regulatory mechanisms governing teacher education in the country. The battle now between two sides of educationists is essentially about how closely teacher education in the country should be controlled or how best to throttle it.
The JVC was constituted by an order of the Supreme Court while the NCTE constituted several committees to work out norms for regulation, the qualification of the teacher educator and so on. One of these committees, under Prof. Poonam Batra, is to review the existing regulatory functions of the NCTE regarding grant of recognition and related functions, including the educational and professional qualifications for teacher educators for D.Ed, Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed), Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Master of Education (M.Ed). These norms, if accepted, will be applicable to all teacher education programmes.
Meanwhile, the NCTE has said, the enabling recommendations of the JVC are being operationalised by a committee with extremely limited grounding in education and constituted another more balanced committee under the chairmanship of Prof. N.K. Jangira to work out qualifications for the B.El.Ed and D.El.Ed programme. The raging battle, though is primarily between the protagonists of these two committees.
Qualifications and eligibility
What all this shows is that the issue of qualifications and eligibility for teacher educators and teacher education itself, needs to be reconceptualised. Many commissions and committees have flagged the two very serious problems with our teacher education — one, its isolation from university education; and two, its reliance on ritualistic practices rather than developing capabilities required for a ‘thinking practitioner.’ In spite of correctly spotting these problems, not many educators understand that these two problems are much aggravated by the NCTE itself, though they existed even prior to its creation.
Most teacher education colleges lack liberal arts and science education programmes; ghettos tightly controlled by NCTE norms. There is no research, nor interaction with the larger academic community.
A knowledge base
All our committees and commissions since the Radhakrishnan Commission on Higher Education (1948), as well as educationists have always lamented that teaching has not developed into a profession in our country, and that the development of teaching as a profession is essential to improving the quality of school education. But what does it mean for a vocation or practice to develop into a profession? Of course, there are structural and socio-political aspects of a profession; but what lies at its heart is academic and epistemic. However, in brief, a practice that (i) is based on a wide ranging knowledge base, (ii) capable of being justified and understood in theoretical framework(s), (iii) has intellectual coherence and independence and (iv) has a close interaction between development of theory and practice with substantial engagement from the practitioners themselves, can be reasonably called a profession from an academic point of view. That is, if (v) there is a substantial body of practitioners and (vi) sufficient institutional structures to support it. Teaching and teacher education meet the last two conditions in India; the problem is conditions (i) to (v), which are concerned with knowledge base, methodology and epistemology.
For such a knowledge base to develop, an academic community has to work for long and in a sustained manner. Education, by nature, is an interdisciplinary field; to bring insights from all these disciplines of knowledge to bear upon the purposes, content and processes of education, an academic community has to be rooted in educational issues and have in-depth knowledge of some or other of these disciplines. All this is impossible without freedom in curriculum, assessment and pedagogic processes, and also the freedom to learn through mistakes.
We need to realise that teaching can hardly develop into a profession without the simultaneous development of education as an intellectually coherent field of study. They are complementary. The emphasis on education as a single and narrow discipline is inimical to the development of a coherent field of study with a well-defined domain and with the capability to draw upon the depth of knowledge, especially in the disciplines mentioned earlier.
Over-regulation in the curriculum, assessment and pedagogy, therefore, will retard the development of teaching as a profession as it will forbid the experimentation with varied and legitimate permutations and combinations of content from various areas of knowledge.
Separately, we need to make a distinction between the processes of (i) creation of knowledge, (ii) teaching of knowledge or constructing knowledge in the students’ mind, and (iii) impact of knowledge on the behaviour of the knower or using knowledge in judgment and practice. Teacher education has to bestow a certain mastery to student-teachers in all three processes. The creation of knowledge is a rigorous process and has to meet some epistemic criteria. The impact and importance of these criteria can be understood only through a serious study of connected frameworks in which such knowledge is formed. Meddling with these frameworks in an arbitrary manner will create confusion and will privilege testimony of the teacher or the book over the independent judgment of the learner, as the learner will have no grounding on the criteria.
Finally, through stringent regulations in terms of teacher educator qualifications, curriculum, attendance, etc. we are closing opportunities available to teacher education institutions. This will throttle teacher education. If we want teacher education to develop into a respectable profession, greater flexibility is needed.
Today, where a majority of teacher education institutions, be they public or private, have shown very little capability, seriousness and commitment, granting them freedom looks like a contradiction. But we have to think anew. The irresponsibility of the institutions is due to political patronage and corruption in NCTE implementation. We have a history of trying to solve socio-political problems in education through academic and pedagogical means; it does not work. We should not compromise on academic principles of flexibility and openness due to an institutional inability to create mechanisms of implementation.
(Rohit Dhankar is professor and director, academic development at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, and honorary secretary, Digantar, Jaipur.)