Focus on the teachers

Developing educators’ skills is more important now than ever before as modes of teaching continue to undergo a massive transformation in the wake of the pandemic

Published - March 20, 2021 02:44 pm IST

Technology cannot replace a teacher but a teacher who uses technology will replace one who does not.

Technology cannot replace a teacher but a teacher who uses technology will replace one who does not.

The effectiveness of learning and teaching has long been measured by focusing primarily on the results of standardised tests. In this light, new methodologies, curriculum and delivery mechanisms are all tailored to improve learner outcomes. This has been further exacerbated by the pandemic as online learning has become the preferred mode of teaching. Focusing on learner outcomes is important but can education systems be truly successful unless those delivering the education are fully equipped themselves? Developing teachers’ skills is arguably of more importance now than ever before as modes of teaching continue to undergo a massive transformation in the post-COVID 19 era.

Developing technological skills

A well-known adage in the education world is that technology cannot replace a teacher but a teacher who uses technology will replace one who does not. Nevertheless, the pandemic has shown us that teachers, with or without technology, cannot be replaced. In an online research study titled “Survey of teacher and teacher educator needs during the COVID-19 pandemic”, where more than 9,600 teachers and teacher educators from over 150 countries responded, 59% said they were teaching remotely, using online tools to teach in real time. However, the assumption that digital skills and the use of technology are common among teachers is wrong. Technology is by no means standardised and integration of gadgets and technology into the delivery mechanism varies enormously. Social media is rife with images of teachers using household equipment like clothes hangers to hold up phones and record videos while others share the latest and most slick online tools to keep their students motivated and engaged. This shows that teachers need significant support, development and standardisation in order to deliver remote teaching and learning effectively.

Building collaborative classrooms

In the survey, 83% of teachers agreed they needed some or a lot of help with aspects such as how to use the available tools to be more inclusive, deliver live training sessions and give feedback sensitively. However, technological skills are not the only skills that teachers want to develop. Building a collaborative classroom dynamic with creativity, motivation and engagement is equally important. For this to happen, teachers require training in empathy, emotional intelligence, and leadership. These skills contribute to overall well-being and help develop a strong teacher-student relationship that enhances learner outcomes. Continuing professional development is necessary to innovate and engage creatively with their students. Power structures impacting teachers need to be disassembled and a participatory approach established where teachers are given more agency. This will allow them to be creative and have the freedom to interpret the syllabus and take more ownership of their professional development, according to their specific needs.

A global perspective

Currently, schools carry various tags — local, regional, national, international, government, private etc. — each with its own learning remit. While local contextualisation is important, issues discussed in the classroom must also have a global perspective. Teachers must adapt teaching materials to enable issues to be investigated from a wide variety of perspectives: locally, nationally and internationally. Their expertise must be developed to present a bigger picture to their students, preparing them to be part of a global workforce in an ever-shrinking digital world.

Presently, the Indian school education tends to narrow down to subjects relevant to central and state board education where results determine college admissions. There is little or no alignment between school curriculum and higher education beyond that of securing a place in a prestigious college. Students need skills beyond succeeding at an entrance examination. They need to be able to apply and transfer learning. Further, the school curriculum fails to align closely with policy on higher education in relation to internationalisation. Teachers play a crucial role in this alignment through curriculum building.

India’s National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 highlights institution-led internationalisation. Teachers in India’s higher education institutes are already deliberating the scope in this regard, but are not fully equipped to realise the full potential of internationalisation of Indian education. In the coming years, the overhaul of Indian education largely depends on the support provided to teachers and the initiatives they take. Optimum technological and non-technological teacher training on subject expertise, student assessment and curriculum development will ensure that the vision laid down under the NEP 2020 is met. However, at the start of this lies the monumental task of training teachers as leaders and thinkers who can transform this sector from within.

To borrow a simple fact from engineering: the better the conductor, the greater the flow. Therefore, a focus on the development of teachers will eventually benefit the ecosystem: institutions, learners and the nation at large.

Deepali Dharmaraj is the Assistant Director Academic – English, British Council India, and Amy Lightfoot is the Regional Education and English Academic Lead – South Asia, British Council

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