The struggle to keep the flock engaged and motivated keeps thousands of us in turn engaged in business organizations. This struggle to nurture engagement with the organization is not just with salesmen or others in “tough and distant” jobs, but with millions who work in far easier circumstances, and seemingly lack nothing.
A walk through a BPO business can demonstrate what ridiculous lengths we can go to, to work on this “engagement and motivation” of our 20-somethings. Not just the “best places to work for” in corporate tinsel town, but all, including the public sector units, take this seriously. Organizations across the world consider employee engagement and motivation a top priority.
A billion light years from this world where employee motivation is taken seriously is the world of the teacher in the village government school. The organization, the system that she is a part of, has not the foggiest notion of “engagement and motivation”. In that system, the teacher is at the very bottom of the bureaucratic hierarchy and treated accordingly: unsupported, mostly treated like dirt and crushed sometimes.
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Every time I visit a village school, it is a lesson for me in this regard. A few weeks ago, we were rushed and were considering skipping a scheduled visit to a village school. One of my colleagues insisted that we go to the school, even if for a few minutes. We stopped there for 5 minutes. When we were saying the parting namaste, one of the three teachers said (in Hindi): “It feels good that you came, you are bothered about us.” She was visibly moved.
Her feelings took me back a few summers ago. I met this eloquent teacher in Tonk in Rajasthan. She was describing her joys and sorrow. She said: “…our children learn, we feel good. Some parents are happy that their children are in school, some do not care. What haunts us is the question whether anyone is bothered about what we do.”
In the 1930s, the famous Hawthorne Effect was discovered. In simple terms the “effect” was the productivity gain among factory workers, driven by higher levels of motivation, arising simply from the interest being shown in them, since they were a part of an experiment. This was one among many things that laid the foundation for “motivation and engagement” to become a legitimate (and necessary) project in the world of business organizations.
Having worked with thousands of government schoolteachers across many states, I have observed a similar phenomenon. Just the very act of working with them seems to charge them up. This happens even in programmes which do not have a designed motivational or encouragement angle (e.g., training on pedagogy, examination reform, textbook writing).
While a significant percentage of teachers participating in such programmes are unaffected by this phenomenon, the proportion affected, i.e. “charged up”, is so large that it is clearly visible. Its similarity to the Hawthorne Effect is forcefully argued by my colleague Dileep Ranjekar. This is why I jokingly call it the Ranjekar Effect. The phenomenon is similar, but not identical. It’s deeper and not as transient. My layman analysis suggests that there are three factors underlying the Ranjekar Effect.
The first is that any break in the drudgery is a relief for a teacher. If you imagine teaching a group of students (say 40 at a time) the same lessons, day-on-day for a few years (say 20 years), you can get a glimpse of why it may seem like drudgery to many. Teaching is not by nature like this, but it does become that unless sustained through spirit and creativity.
The second factor is that the invitation to participate in a programme is an acknowledgement of the existence of the teacher. Traverse through the government school system and you will see how the system is obsessed with itself and its own “administration”. The teacher at the bottom of the bureaucratic hierarchy is virtually invisible.
The third factor is the heart of the issue. It’s the question of the teacher in Rajasthan: “Is someone bothered about me?” We know that the key to “engagement and motivation” in all organizations is being bothered about people and what they do. Some people (in business organizations) need ridiculous demonstration of this “being bothered”. But our teachers don’t have high expectations: Simple words of praise are enough.
Each of these factors in itself can help motivation of teachers in the school system, though these are clearly a subset of the complex issues of teacher motivation; which range from wilful truancy, exercise of political power and even their “side business” interests.
We need multiple responses to address teacher motivation. The recognition of its importance, in policy and practice, could be a start. This will need translation to structural reforms, effective engagement of local communities in schools and leaders in our education system becoming more sensitive. As with many other things, this is not a matter which requires higher budgets, but requires administrative and political will, which is in even shorter supply than money.
Anurag Behar is chief executive officer of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org