Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Teacher education, not training

Words can shape and limit our notions. They can also guide action and inaction. In education this is particularly important

Many conversations where people want to know what we do go like this: “So you train government school teachers?" and I say, “We don’t train." That leaves them puzzled: “If you are trying to help improve how teachers teach, what else do you do but train?" I often sidestep the real issue by asking them about their experience with training, which in almost all cases is unsatisfactory. It then becomes easier to communicate that we do many things that help develop capacities of teachers, but these things can’t be called training.

The real issue is the word training. It implies a narrowness of purpose and a high degree of instrumentality. This makes training inadequate for capacities related to education, which are fundamental, complex and deep. Also, our common experiences have associated training with shallowness.

None of this makes training a bad word, but does make it inappropriate to use in the context of development of teachers. Since the connotations of the word training are commonly understood, its use often implies an implicit notion of teacher development, which is problematic. Given the actual complexity of the capacities and abilities expected from a teacher, education is more appropriate than training.

Such words that reflect notions or ideas about some complex matter are used commonly by all of us. When that matter is not in our area of work or expertise, we sometimes use such words without adequately examining our underlying notions, or sometimes not being conscious of the nuances of the notions.

Almost all of us are interested in education, either broadly about the system or specifically for our children, and so we talk a lot about it. We end up using many such words, which imply specific notions, but are perhaps unexamined by us. Let’s take a few examples.

The word impart is another such word. Imparting education is a commonly used phrase. It assumes that education is something that can be given because that is the connotation of impart. This is one of those traditional ideas of education, which survives despite advances in our understanding of the process of education and our substantially enhanced expectations from it.

Education involves the process of the child learning and developing on multiple dimensions, facilitated by the teacher, who is guided by a curriculum. This is not a process where the teacher is giving packets of knowledge to the child because that process is ineffective. Effective education is a process where the teacher, the children and the school is involved and participating actively. Or, at least that is how it should be.

The use of the word impart is not only reflective of the giving-away-in-packets notion of education, it is unfortunately also reflective of the current pedagogic reality; it’s chalk-and-talk and rote that is most often practised in our classes. None of us want it this way anymore, but the moment we use the word impart, we implicitly endorse the very idea of education that we don’t want.

A closely associated word to impart is deliver. There is often talk of delivery of education, which is also reflective of a notion that education can be given. Though deliver goes further than impart, it is infused with a sensibility that arises from mechanistic systems and from economics. The use of the phrase delivery of education makes economics and mechanistic systems the default frame of thinking about education. Whereas education is much more than that and infinitely more complex than that. In reality education is a humanistic social endeavour, so the word delivery misleads us away from the essence of education. A related word similarly loaded with misleading directions is accountability. I wrote about this at length on 19 March.

Reform is another interesting word; it takes us to another dimension of this discussion. Its common meaning is improvement. However, it’s not possible to use the word without invoking deeper and associated meanings.

These days reform doesn’t invoke Luther setting the Christian world afire in 1517 with the Ninety-Five Theses or the socio-religious changes in Bengal in the early 19th century. What it invokes is economic reforms. Even more specifically it invokes changes in economic policies, moving towards more market-friendliness. Since in the common lexicon today, the word reform has got loaded with this connotation, the use of the word reform in education also somehow implies more market-friendly policies. This whole lexical situation conflates the actual meaning of reform, improvement, with the acquired connotation of reform, which is market-friendliness. This implies that market-friendliness in education is good and is the route to improving education. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Words reflect our notions. They can shape and limit our notions as well. They can also guide action and inaction. In education this is particularly important because even those of us who are not directly in education tend to get involved with the discourse. Examining our words and their underlying notions is one effective route.

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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