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Photo: Mint

India needs a new teacher education system

India has designed a teacher education system which is disconnected from what we want of education

What does it take to be a teacher and so how can someone be “prepared" to become a teacher? This question continues to be one of the most important in school education.

Over the past century views of policymakers and the public on education have evolved, across the world. Roughly speaking, they have become more inclusive, ambitious and comprehensive; including in the ambit of its aims, development of the individual and of the society. Education has come to be seen as a right of all children, no longer remaining the privilege of a few. The understanding of child development and of the complex impact of social processes on education, have also evolved. The knowledge base in most disciplines has exploded, accompanied by changes in the very nature of these disciplines. In brief, education has become richer in its aims, method and content. This rich education, from its most basic aspect to its most exalted, is to be brought to reality in the classroom by the teacher for each child.

Let’s note a few illustrations of the demands this puts on the teacher. The typical teacher will handle a group of children consisting of cohorts of multiple ages. Large numbers of these students live with great socioeconomic disadvantage, with no educational support at home. The teacher has to get the students to learn reading with comprehension, math with application and science in relationship to their environment. And this learning is about conceptual clarity, the ability to reason and to think independently. We also want education to develop democratic values in the child. The fact that human relationships are at the core of teaching demands high degree of social and emotional capacities from the teacher. Let’s stop here for the time being, because this much is enough to emphasize the size and complexity of the teachers’ role.

In India, the person who is supposed to bring this rich education to the primary school classroom undergoes two years of teacher training, after finishing grade 12, and they are then supposed to have been prepared as teachers. For secondary school teachers it is a 10 month programme after an undergraduate degree.

We will look briefly at both: this poor design, and its implementation which is even worse, but let’s get a more immediate sense of the total misalignment of this design of teacher preparation with what we think education should be.

Imagine your 18-year-old daughter or son, or any of the young kids that you encounter, shouldering this role after two years of training. It would immediately strike you that not only is two years too short a period for them learn the content of the subjects that they will teach, the related pedagogical approaches, and relevant issues of child development etc., but also that at that age these young people are unlikely to have the required social maturity.

Some of you may relate to another example. Imagine if our engineering education was such that students underwent a two-year programme after grade 12, and were then qualified as engineers. These engineers would then be expected to do fundamental engineering work e.g. on chip design, on materials, on automobile engineering. What this will do to the engineering industry in this country, is clear enough. A teacher has a far more complex job than an engineer, though for various reasons gets paid much less.

Why then has India designed a teacher education system which is so obviously disconnected from what we want of education? There are many reasons; one basic one is perhaps our common shared (unexamined) misunderstanding that “anybody can teach". The more direct reason is that the design of teacher education has not kept pace with the changes in our views of education.

Most countries with good schooling systems have four to five-year programmes of teacher preparation compared to our one or two years. Let me also point out that the duration is only one aspect of the weakness of our programmes. The overall curriculum for teacher education and its institutional structures are both archaic.

The implementation of these poorly envisioned programmes is even worse. Too many of the 16,000 odd teacher education colleges are commercial entities that “sell" degrees with no interest in education. This corruption of our teacher education system, as it happened over the past 20 odd years, can put to shame even the biggest of the scams that we have experienced.

Over the past two years, driven by the Supreme Court appointed Justice Verma Commission, a beginning has been made to relook at this crumbling, almost non-existent foundation of our schooling system. Most of its recommendations had been suggested earlier by many others, to no avail. What is needed is the political will to actually implement, battling the inertia, the vested commercial interests and to raise public expenditure in teacher education.

Till we build a new teacher education system, our schools will not improve; most other things that we do are like trying to desperately contain the symptoms, while ignoring the life threatening infection, as it rages on.

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. Comments are welcome at othersphere@livemint.com. To read Anurag Behar’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/othersphere

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