Learning from the learned

A path to innovation in education in India

November 22, 2016 02:17 am | Updated 02:17 am IST

Looking at the “Innovation and Reforms in Teacher Education” tab on the Department of School Education and Literacy website under the Ministry of Human Resource Development will reveal the general attitude that has prevailed in government institutions with respect to reforming the training and education of teachers in India. The website redirects us to an external page with the message: “Error 404… Oops… It's looking like you may have taken a wrong turn. Don't worry...it happens to the best of us.” The technical glitch can be corrected easily, but the irony of the message is not lost on anyone.

India currently faces an acute shortage of quality teachers at all levels. The Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) in its latest report released in October 2016 has estimated that India needs to recruit at least three million primary school teachers and eight million secondary school teachers over the next 14 years to ensure that every child in school is learning well. The onus of this recruitment and the subsequent training and education of teachers lies primarily with the government as it employs approximately 60 per cent of the teachers in elementary schools. The existing ecosystem is not only professionally demotivating for teachers but also restricts them from innovating on any front (pedagogy, course material, classroom experience and so on).

The draft National Education Policy 2016 does not offer much in terms of improving the competence and motivation level of teachers. Of course there is not much political incentive attached to it except for the filling of vacancies of teaching posts and hence major reforms in teacher training or in the teaching profession have mostly been neglected.

The private schools are no better: there is zero emphasis on continued upgradation of knowledge for the teachers and no awareness about the latest developments in the field of education and teaching. A teacher plays an important role in shaping a child’s orientation towards social, economic and cultural outlook of life. The classroom is the place where a child first encounters pluralism, order and regulation, and the quality of teaching is important to build character, which can contribute to a healthy society. The seriousness of the crisis cannot be emphasised more.

It would be imprudent to expect the political class to respond to this crisis. There is a familiar and expected focus on quantitative outputs in the form of number of teachers recruited, which has proved to be highly ineffective. And the examination of the quality of classroom proceedings remains neglected. In such a situation an important question to ask is: can something be done by those who have been fortunate enough to get access to good teachers in their academic life? How do we tackle this problem of educational inequality in India?

The draft National Education Policy highlights the issue of lack of teachers in mathematics and science for primary and secondary schools. Compare this to the fact that India has 6,466 engineering colleges with an output of some 30 lakh engineers every year (Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 2486), who are supposed to be decently equipped to tackle mathematics and science at the primary level. Even if 10 per cent of all graduates take up teaching for a year (during or post their graduation) it can have a huge impact on the education system.

This, of course, cannot replace the existing framework of schools and teachers, but can act as a much-needed reinforcement that can motivate the teachers also to excel in their profession. This kind of platform will be great for exchange of ideas between teachers and young graduates, which can lead to much-needed innovation in the education system.

The other way of looking at it is: if medical students can have a compulsory rural posting, why can’t engineers (or, say, commerce graduates) spend some time as an elementary school teacher? This has to be adopted by college graduates at an individual level or inculcated in institutes of higher education to create an atmosphere where teaching becomes a fundamental mode of contribution to the society. It can be structured in the form of a project with due credits attached and integrated into the curriculum, or given the scope of an internship additional to the course being pursued. The students will be expected to work with local teachers in structuring the course material and spend a fixed number of hours in classroom teaching. Provide a robust evaluation parameter (for such a set-up of teaching exercise), create competition with incentives, and we can have the best minds of the country investing at least some time in helping others to reach their level.

If we can debate on mandatory military training of Indians (Private Member’s Bill introduced by BJP MP Avinash Rai Khanna in Rajya Sabha: November 29, 2014), why not on a similar teaching service? An experience of classroom teaching as discussed above can be beneficial for students as well. Apart from contributing to society, it will help in giving them a real understanding of grassroots-level government administration, education and learning levels. They will get a completely different perspective in life, which will encourage them to contribute more and more to society.

There are few platforms today that work on such lines. Teach for India encourages college graduates to take up teaching for a couple of years. Khan Academy has an online repository of teaching videos on a range of topics. The videos are also sourced publically encouraging the teacher in you to take up a topic and discuss it via their platform. Education technology start-ups are slowly coming up. A case in point is Byju’s recent round of funding of $50 million from the Chan Zuckerberg initiative and Sequoia Capital (along with a few other investors). Of course, the access of these initiatives depends to a large extent on penetration of IT in rural areas.

So there have been baby steps in this direction. But if taken up by the educated on a large scale, it can have a multiplier effect and lead to a revolution in the education sector. “Many small people, who in many small places do many small things can alter the face of the world !!” reads a slogan. This is exactly what we need for education in our country.

The author is a post graduate student at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, having graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and worked for a couple of years in a management consulting firm followed by a stint as a Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament (LAMP) with a fellowship. E-mail: rishabh.raj15@iimb.ernet.in

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