Why India shouldn't leave teachers alone

Guest Author
28th Nov 2015
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In Murakami’s avant-garde novel, Norwegian Wood, a teacher says about herself “[…] I’m much better at bringing out the best in others than in myself. I’m the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox […].” I have always wondered if this has to be the norm with teachers. While ‘teaching’ per se is about ‘spreading the light’, teachers are often equated to the scratchy side of a match box.


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Despite a 96 per cent net enrolment of children, the work of the right to education (RTE) is far from over. I dare say it has just begun. The dubious quality of teaching-learning is reflected in the ASER data, which reports that over 75 per cent of grade five children cannot read grade two text. The Teacher Eligibility Test, a teachers test conducted by CBSE, sees an average of 14 per cent or lesser pass percentage. Lack of substance and poor depth of knowledge among the teachers paints the picture grim, and the one lever that can potentially transform the system is teacher professional development.

Across the world, policy makers, researchers, teacher educators, school leaders, etc., are trying to crack the challenge of teacher professional development. From meaningful pre-service and in-service training, to creating a defined career progression, evidence-based policy changes are being made in teaching and teacher development. Here are a few that need urgent attention in India.

Improved quality of training

Growing literature around the importance of quality teacher training is building awareness, but not fast enough. It is common knowledge that the current B.Ed curriculum is almost pre-historic, and does not cater to the 21st century. Apart from the pre-service training, ongoing in-service trainings focussing on skills are vital. The in-service trainings should be responsible for raising the teachers’ own subject knowledge and exposure to pedagogical approaches. An important aspect that needs to be brought in training is building skills such as classroom management, behaviour management techniques, awareness on using technology, data to drive instruction, parent and community engagement.

Recommended read: Why these teacher-entrepreneurs would rather remain students for life

Mentoring and support

One of the quick fixes to support and promote teacher development is good observation and feedback mechanism. With no regular system of observation of classes and coaching of teachers, valuable opportunities of growth are lost. The MET Research (Measuring Effectiveness of Teachers) lists several high-impact, low-cost, reflective techniques to coach teachers, including videoing the classroom for 10 minutes and reflecting on it with the teacher. Peer observation, mentorship, and focussed coaching are imperative and can drastically improve effectiveness of teachers.

Capturing best practices

Teaching is an isolated profession. Good teachers can easily get demotivated, and in the absence of knowledge sharing, several best practices die a natural death in disparate islands of change. One of the easiest ways to overcome this is engaging with teacher-led Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Around the world, educationalists are promoting PLCs. Singapore and Shanghai have attributed their success in the PISA tests to teacher-led PLC. Simple strategies involving teachers within a geographical proximity congregating periodically to share and learn has shown to have a positive impact in the classroom. PLCs also help teachers network, take ownership, encourage local solutions, scale best practices, and create a space for the teacher to reflect and develop.

Defined career path

Ideally with good teacher training, the learning curve to becoming an effective teacher should spike in as little as two years. One of the greatest challenges one would face post that is keeping the good teachers motivated and within the system. Singapore cracked this one by introducing a practice that mandates all teachers with more than three years of teaching to take a test, based on performance, of which, a teacher can choose a career path from curriculum, master teachers or school leadership. They are thus able to provide a defined path for the teachers and retain talent. It is necessary to provide defined career options for teachers to ensure the best are attracted and retained in the profession.

Measuring output

They say, ‘what gets measured, gets valued’. In order to ensure that the teacher transacts the training and curriculum in the classroom in the most effective way possible, the indicators of success must be defined with precision. Teachers must be held accountable to these indicators and periodic review of performance will promote reflective practices.

While it sounds daunting and complex, small steps can sometimes have a snowball effect leading to systemic transformation. The key to ensuring operational success is investment of all stakeholders, setting up of processes and following them till it becomes effortlessly perfunctory.

One can always refute, blaming teachers to be lazy and incompetent, but having seen and heard many stories of transformation, I believe otherwise. I am tempted to share the story of Razia Banu, who has been teaching for 15 years. A few months ago, I was in a village near Kunigal, a Taluk in Karnataka, interacting with government school teachers. Residing about 30 km from her school, Razia takes a bus to the closest town each day, hops onto a six-seater auto to the base of the hill, rides her bike up a hill to go to her temple school, to teach her nine students. For 15 years she has been doing this, in a school that has never seen more than 14 students. As I prod on to find her source of inspiration, she shares with me stories of how she has been everything for this school – from the school leader to the admin head to the teacher. She has not undergone any training for over 10 years and gives the children all that she knows.

Teachers like Razia are all around us. We need to make sure each of these teachers are supported and equipped enough to teach. To bring out the best in every student in the classrooms, steps need to be taken to bring out the best in all the Razias.

Don’t leave the teachers alone.

About the author

An engineer by qualification, Shruthi Ranganath Iyer is a teacher at heart. After a short stint with Infosys Technologies, she pursued the Teach for India Fellowship. Presently, she is engaged with the teacher training vertical at Hippocampus Learning Centres, a social enterprise that works in the area of early childhood education in rural India.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SocialStory)

Recommended reads: ‘Chota Masterji’ – an 11-year-old boy who teaches 100 village and slum kids daily in his ‘Bal Choupal’

‘Empowering one million teachers who will impact the lives of 40 cr children by 2022’ – STIR Education’s mission

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