Reform teacher education

A foundational flaw in the design of Indian teacher education is the belief that private investment will provide solutions


Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

In 1947, India had 230 teacher education institutions (TEI). It grew to about 1,800 by 1966, and hovered around that number till 1995. Between 1995 and 2012, the number exploded to about 15,000. This dramatic growth was powered by the mushrooming of private teacher education colleges. The number is about the same today, and over 90% are privately owned and managed.

One of the more powerful people in this country told me ruefully about his experience of setting up a teacher education college a few years ago. Even he was not spared demands for bribes for approvals, which didn’t surprise him. What shocked him was that more than half of the students given admission offered to pay twice the fee so long as the degree was delivered to them without attending college. This is the generally accepted practice since a large number of the private TEIs operate in that fashion.

A majority of private TEIs are corrupt in this and other ways. They were started with commercial motive, and no educational intent. They have practically no facilities and no teaching staff; Just the licence to operate, bought in the 16-year period when the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) ran a blatantly venal regulatory regime. This failure in governance will do more harm to India than any coal or telecom scam.

NCTE was set up in 1973 to advise and guide the development of teacher education in India. Staffed with many good people, it played a pioneering role. By the late 80s, there was a proliferation by various universities of abysmal quality correspondence courses in teacher education. NCTE had no teeth to govern them. To address this, in 1995 it was made the sole statutory regulator of teacher education in the country.

It’s about then that India was beginning on a rapid expansion of its schooling system, needing more teachers. Public investment was under pressure and given the winds blowing then it was quickly assumed that private investment would provide the solution. Central to this assumption was the belief that not much was required for developing a teacher because the teacher had a very simple (and easy) role.

This widely held misconception, including amongst policymakers, has been a foundational flaw in the design of Indian teacher education. It is most visible in our teacher education programmes being 8-20 months long versus, for example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 4.5 years. There are multiple other problematic curricular and institutional implications of this foundational flaw.

NCTE, the sole regulator, had licence-raj embedded in its DNA. It developed a laundry list of mostly meaningless conditions for approvals, which was a dream for profiteers. Its reign of appalling misgovernance lasted till the Supreme Court intervened in 2011. A large system of corrupt colleges is only one insidious dimension of the dark legacy of this period. We’ll write about two more.

Wanting absolute power over teacher education, NCTE practically disconnected TEIs from universities. This has deep educational implications. Teacher education demands a multidisciplinary academic environment, which such separate TEIs cannot provide. So, our institutional architecture by design can’t do good teacher education. Even more corrosive are the socio-cultural beliefs and expectations about teachers and teaching, which this corrupt system has fostered.

The default belief in the general population is that a teacher education degree can be bought. One can imagine the motivation and commitment such buyers of degrees will bring to the profession.

In these 16 years, good people inside and outside NCTE, including sometimes at the very top, tried to change things. It was to no avail because the political economy constructed around the profiteering regime stretched from the corridors of power in Delhi to the bylanes of small towns in India.

In June 2011, the apex court set up the high-powered Verma Commission to recommend measures for comprehensive reform in the teacher education system. In December last year, NCTE issued a series of notifications that enable the implementation of the commission’s recommendations. It is a mixed bag. It incorporates most of the suggestions for new programmes, though it doesn’t adequately capture their liberal spirit. On the matter of how to reform the existing 15,000 TEIs, it is silent aside from stating a general intent. Given the supply demand situation of teachers, we are not going to see a few more thousand TEIs coming up. So the reform of the huge numbers of existing TEIs remains the central issue, which will require a war with the entrenched political economy. This is beyond NCTE in its present form. It will require broad and unflinching political sponsorship across the country, including willingness to increase public investment in teacher education.

The judicial intervention has been an important step and not the conclusion of the desperately needed comprehensive reform of teacher education in India. We have years of toil ahead. Till these fundamental improvements in teacher education take root, our school education will not improve.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.

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