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What do we teach teachers?

Asha Sridhar
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“Less than one per cent pass the teacher eligibility test in the State,’ shouted one headline. “Less than one per cent clear the test in the country,” cautioned another, a while later. The reactions to these results were quite revealing. Many teachers, especially those above the age of 35, who appeared for the Tamil Nadu Teacher Eligibility Test, felt the ‘youngsters’ attempting the exam had an unfair advantage as they were fresh out of college. However, the results of the supplementary TNTET conducted in October were quite to the contrary. According to Teachers Recruitment Board data, only 3.5 per cent of candidates in the age group of 20-25 cleared Paper I, and 1.6 in the same age group cleared paper II.

While Paper I was intended for those teaching classes I to V, Paper II was for those intending to teach classes VI to VIII. This test, which was conducted a second time because of the poor results in the maiden TET, was widely acknowledged as being easier.

The results raise certain uncomfortable questions about the state of teacher training.

A principal of a government-aided teacher training institute was worried about how they could train B. Ed students about classroom techniques when these post-graduates were not even well-versed with the basics in their subjects. The TET was envisioned as a sort of leveller to evaluate teachers through 150 standard multiple-choice questions but it seems to have only exposed the disparity in the quality of teacher training in the State.

“There are over 600 teacher training institutes in the State now as against 20 government and government-aided ones, a decade ago, and most of these are self-financing.

Students enquiring if we have weekend classes is definitely not a healthy trend,” she said.

A larger concern has to do with the goal of education itself. Is it merely a means to an end? Aren’t the teachers, whose merit we are now evaluating through yet another examination, (for which, they earnestly prepared using guide books, textbooks, and important questions), victims of the same ‘marks-only’ education system, which policy makers are now on an overdrive to ‘transform’.

How ‘inclusive’ and ‘out-of-the-box’ were their classrooms when they were students, and more importantly, what did they as students, seek through education?

Their performance too, in a way, reflects the mindset of our education system. Learning about the complex workings of the universe, but with blinkers on. Nothing outside the time-table, and after school hours, please.  

Which of these questions is most likely to come in the examination? How can they ask a question that is ‘out of portion?’ The role of a teacher too has changed drastically. Today, a teacher, at least in the urban space, has to battle unrealistic expectations, technology-savvy kids and hyper-parenting. A class XII teacher who wanted to teach concepts in economics through newspaper clippings, was aghast that her peers and the school offered little scope for experimenting with class XII students.

In this context, is a teacher who does not score prolifically in a teacher eligibility test less equipped in a classroom than a student who does not score a 95 per cent in the board examination is to face the challenges of the ‘real world’.  

Should teachers dutifully shepherd students to the other side each year when the signal turns green, or should they venture into the alluring alleyways, full of wonder? Simple, is never easy.

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