Opinion | Spotlight needed on training teachers in India

  • Current teachers training in India is unable to cover tough spots and follows a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach

As discussions on India’s persistently low-learning outcomes gain momentum once again in light of Pratham’s Annual Status Of Education Report, it is time to turn our attention to solutions. Research shows that, among school-related factors, teachers play the most critical role in student achievement. Economist Eric Hanushek finds that a child taught by a good teacher gains 1.5 grade-level equivalents, while a child taught by a bad teacher only gets half an academic year’s worth. Praham CEO Rukmini Banerji, in 2015, has similarly highlighted the central role of teachers while proposing a range of theories of change to improve learning outcomes in India: Better incentives for teachers, investments in teacher capacity through stronger training programmes and fundamentally addressing the issues at stake in the teaching-learning process.

Unfortunately, teachers in India, especially those in the government school system, are largely seen as a governance problem, with the focus on getting them into the classroom rather than developing their skills and motivation. A National Council of Educational Research and Training study finds there is no systematic incorporation of teacher feedback into designing trainings, and little variation or consideration of local issues. The outcome of such training is limited and there is no measure of whether this is translated into classroom practice. Eventually, such factors have significant multiplier effects in how they de-professionalize the larger teaching profession and drive down a teacher’s “internal responsibility"—the sense of duty to the job, shaped by the environment in which the teacher operates.

The World Development Report On Education (2018) states that “teacher skills and motivation both matter" and that individually-targeted, continued training is crucial to achieving learning improvements through teachers. In line with this, the ministry of human resource development and the National Council for Teacher Education launched the National Teacher Platform or Diksha in 2017, in collaboration with non-government stakeholders such as the Central Square Foundation and EkStep. Diksha is envisioned as a one-stop solution to address teacher competency gaps through courses that address their skill gaps and by empowering them to “learn what they want, where they want".

The International Innovation Corps has been working at the intersection of this multi-stakeholder coalition and the Rajasthan department of education to implement the Rajasthan Interface for School Educators (Rise), the state’s version of Diksha. To ensure Rise was designed in a need-based manner, we started by conducting a survey of 700 teachers across the state, teaching over 20 subjects, spanning all grade levels, age groups, and years of experience. This was complemented by focus-group discussions with local NGOs and community-based organizations.

Our findings revealed a range of skills and mindset gaps. Nearly 45% of teachers indicated that existing training was inadequate. About 70% indicated that they needed support or wanted courses in mathematics, English, and the sciences.

The survey also highlighted significant behavioural gaps. Nearly half the teachers believe that not all children could achieve excellent educational outcomes because of their socioeconomic backgrounds. Only 25% incorporate activity-based learning and 33% use storytelling or role-play in their paedagogic approach, either because these weren’t priorities or because they did not have time.

These findings are valuable in informing the design of courses on the portal. Current training is unable to cover tough spots and follows a one-size-fits-all approach. Ideally, such a platform will democratize both access to and creation of content by teachers—already, teachers have been trained and have then designed their own material for Diksha’s energized textbook project that places QR codes in textbooks, linked to a range of additional content on the portal.

However, the real benefits of Rise/Diksha lie in the ability to provide continuous professional development through a blended model, complementing existing physical trainings. A technology-enabled platform allows training to become a continuous activity rather than an annual event. It also makes available real-time metrics on use and engagement, thus creating a feedback loop that ensures that the material is effective.

Eventually then, Diksha has the potential to systemically re-engineer how we think of in-service teacher training in India. But if designed without an understanding of their needs and ignoring critical outcome metrics such as use and engagement, this will end up as just another platform with limited on-ground impact. Apart from creating good content, it is also important to consider teachers’ technology consumption patterns, the potential of gamification to drive up engagement and the role of headmasters in promoting teachers’ professional development.

As India participates in the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2021, there is much to learn from Singapore, which consistently ranks at the top of the assessment, due in large part to its focus on developing its teachers. The lesson for India is clear: teachers are important. This importance doesn’t stem from their exalted mythical status, but from their role as professionals and critical levers in defining the quality of education children receive.

Rohan Sandhu and Tushar Vohra are associate director and former senior associate at University of Chicago.

Close