Mumbai: A soft tune plays as 10 couples waltz. In each pair, one partner leads another, whose eyes are shut.
A few minutes later, the group is called to order.
“How did you feel being led while your eyes were closed?” asks the trainer.
The participants are teachers at the Greenlawns School in Mumbai and their ballroom dance was actually an exercise to help them instruct better.
This particular workshop, designed to help teachers improve their self-esteem and feel more empathy for their students, was held by the Teacher Foundation, a not-for -profit targeting teachers as it tries to “to infuse the school education system in India with new energy, enthusiasm and expertise” by working with a key stakeholder in education, says Maya Menon, director of the foundation.
Better equipped: Annette Fernandes takes lessons at Greenlawns School in Mumbai. She says a workshop she attended motivated her and helped her to get students more active and participative in class. (Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint)
Programmes such as this are picking up in schools and at offsites across the country to improve the transaction of teaching and learning.
“I began my career as a teacher. Over a period of time, I realized that the real challenge in education is not children. It is the teachers,” Menon adds. “Teachers deal with impressionable lives. If they do not enthuse students, they could kill children’s joy in learning. That’s why there is a real, urgent need for teacher development.”
As the demand for education intensifies and becomes a key part of the government’s planning and spending, most discussion about teachers dwells on the sheer shortage of them. But education advocates and activists say another key issue is the quality, or lack of, among the nation’s estimated two million teachers. Teaching the teachers, thus, is becoming the business of schools, non-profits and educational training companies.
“Education is seen as a means of empowerment,” says Prakash Iyer, manager for community initiatives at Wipro Ltd and head of Wipro’s Applying Thought in Schools initiative. “But the kind of education that is imparted in most schools is largely teacher-driven. In the guise of discipline, the thrust is to teach students to listen and follow and not question.” Such an environment does not foster curiosity or creativity, so as Wipro sought to address the challenges in India’s education system, it realized that it had to go to the teachers.
Wipro’s Teacher Empowerment Programme has already worked with over 6,500 teachers in 244 schools through its partners, which includes The Teacher Foundation and Gurgaon-based iDiscoveri Education Pvt. Ltd. The programme aims to help the teacher become a reflective practitioner who cares for the development of every child, to equip the teacher with curricular and pedagogic skills—essentially to trigger change in the entire school through the teacher. “We can see a difference in the teaching,” concludes Iyer.
The Ahmedabad-based Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd, a consultancy for education entrepreneurs and schools, has come up with a simple tool. The organization will prepare material called teacher sheets, which will be sent to 1,000 schools across the country. These sheets will be specific to a class and subject and each school will receive one or two sheets for select subjects of each class.
“The teacher sheets are designed in such a way that it will highlight one common misconception that most students have and will provide guidelines to the teacher on why that misconception was created and how it can be addressed,” says Sudhir Ghodke, director of Educational Initiatives.
According to Ghodke, this tool has numerous advantages over conducting workshops. One, he says, it addresses specific areas of concern where even the teacher’s comprehension may not be perfect due to which he or she is not able to communicate the concept well. The second advantage is that it is non-threatening to the teacher. And the third, it can be scaled up to impact a large number of schools in a short period of time.
Schools have responded enthusiastically. Vijayaraj R., principal of the Naval Public School in Goa, says the teacher sheets have been helpful. “After going through the various questions, it has given us a new dimensions to the classroom teaching and the value of understanding the question clearly has increased,” he says.
Over the next few years, teacher development activities may gain more momentum bringing in international players as well, such as the Singapore-based Global Indian Foundation, a not-for-profit focusing on education through its own schools or co-managed schools. It plans to open centres in India.
“We will offer teachers training as per international standards,” says Atul Temurnikar, chairman, Global Indian Foundation.
In recent years, information-technology companies, such as Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd, Agilent Technologies India Pvt. Ltd and Microsoft Corporation (I) Pvt. Ltd, have also started working with teachers. But their focus is on training teachers to use IT as an enabler in the teaching process.
Microsoft runs a programme called Shiksha under its Partners in Learning initiative, which provides IT training to students and teachers across government schools; the government provides the infrastructure and Microsoft develops and provides the trainers and curriculum. Intel offers a similar programme through its Intel Teach initiative.
More schools are also adding teacher in-service days. Aparajita Rana, principal at the Greenlawns School, says that since the time she took over as head of the school three years ago, training for teachers has been an important activity in the academic calendar. “Every semester, we have some activity that focuses on faculty development. These activities expose teachers to new ideas and new methodologies so that they are able to give back some thing more to their students,” she says.
When the school reopened a day after the workshop, the teachers felt that the investment was worth it. Annette Fernandes, a primary section teacher at Greenlawns School, says these programmes help teachers feel positive and energized when they go back to work. “The workshop gave us new ideas that we could use in the classroom. It motivates us and in turn it helps us get students more active and participative in class,” she adds.
Teacher Foundation focuses first on the teacher as an individual, and then on the teacher in the classroom and finally, at the teaching-learning process, using a range of methodologies. It assesses improvement in terms of changed teacher behavior: how the teacher is teaching, what methodologies does she adopt, how is she engaging with the students. In addition, the Teacher Foundation team records audio-visuals of a few teachers classes through three phases—before, during and after.
Change, caution advocates, will not come overnight. But Monisha Singh Diwan, coordinator for content development & training of the Teacher Foundation, says more schools are willing to invest—and wait. She says: “The payoffs for some of these will be in the long-term, which some schools understand.”