Home / Opinion / Views /  We must invest in our teachers for India to take its next big leap

Through the 20th century, the sobriquet for India shifted from a newly independent country to a developing nation standing on the shoulders of a strong agrarian economy. With a tech talent demand-supply gap of just 21.1%—the lowest among major economies—and a significant leap in the Global Innovation Index over the last decade, the India of 2022 is staking its claim as an emerging innovation hub and a nation of ‘digital talent’ for the world. As architects of the future, the country’s teachers have contributed significantly to laying a foundation for this progress.

Historically, teachers in India have built a powerful legacy of learning through the nation’s crest and troughs—from Aryabhatta and Savitra Bai Phule to Rabindranath Tagore and S. Radhakrishnan. Today, India is home to approximately 9.7 million teachers across 1.5 million schools (bit.ly/3KHNDV9). They continue to be a major marker of socio-economic development and are a critical piece in our quest to be a global powerhouse of learning. The pandemic offered a true reflection of this, as teachers around the country adapted to virtual mediums to ensure that learning did not stop. They emerged as critical catalysts of change by converting their homes into online classrooms, going beyond the call of duty to arrest learning loss, and focusing their energies on helping students navigate the new normal and become self-learners.

As newer formats such as hybrid learning gain ground in the post-pandemic phase, not only teachers but students too have been further empowered and are finding themselves in the driver’s seat of learning. And when students learn with autonomy and are engaged and motivated, information flows freely. They achieve higher levels of cognition and experience ‘aha’ moments. As a teacher, these ‘aha’ moments are the most gratifying and something I can personally vouch for. This is when teachers can grow beyond their traditional roles of imparting knowledge to play a larger role in transforming how children learn and mitigating the challenges that education faces.

Big challenges, deep interventions: For India, however, the challenges of education go much deeper. Limitations such as lack of accessibility, poor quality of learning material, demographic differences and shortage of teachers in schools demand more profound interventions and critical action plans. A recent Unesco report states that India has nearly 120,000 schools with just one teacher each and that 89% of these single-teacher schools are in rural areas. The report also estimates that India needs nearly 1.2 million additional teachers to meet the current shortfall. This calls for urgent measures and increased investment in the teaching community to bring more qualified and empowered educators into the Indian workforce. Accelerated government efforts such as the National Education Policy 2020 have been at the forefront of this need, having enshrined crucial tenets of ownership and autonomy to teachers, while also recognizing, documenting and sharing innovative pedagogies devised by them. With the policy outlining the need to build vibrant teacher communities for better networking, India is taking large strides in the education space. Moreover, capacity-building schemes like NISHTHA, launched to help teachers create learner-centred pedagogies at the elementary level, have already reached over 2.1 million teachers.

The technology solution: In addition to these sustained policy efforts, the proliferation of technology and growing access to smartphones have been significant enablers, empowering teachers to play a critical role in nation-building. The World Economic Forum (bit.ly/3efhicf) has stated that education—as a critical component of a country’s human capital—increases the efficiency of each worker and helps economies move up the value chain beyond manual tasks or simple production processes.

In our endeavour to make education accessible and equitable at scale, the role of technology cannot be overstated. Today, democratized digital platforms are enabling teachers to reach and deliver quality learning to students around the world. The burgeoning edtech ecosystem in the country is also making inroads to bridge gaps in access, while also shining a light on Made-in-India learning programmes. Effective partnerships among all stakeholders for low-cost, last-mile delivery of quality learning hold the key to setting the course for our collective future, as investing in our teaching workforce is a critical component not just from a social development perspective, but economic as well. A 2020 World Bank report (bit.ly/3TAxntk) on the pandemic’s impact on South Asia’s informal sector estimated that India could face future earnings losses of over $400 billion. It also projected that due to school closures and subsequent learning losses, an average child in South Asia could lose $4,400 in future earnings upon entering the labour market. This poses a significant risk and a generational loss. It is only by making strategic investments in the wide talent pool of teachers and digital infrastructure can we hope to mitigate this large-scale impact.

Armed with the trifecta of skilled teachers, technological expertise and centuries-old culture of celebrating teachers, the next 25 years will be determined by how well we educate our people. When teachers are digitally empowered, they have the potential to greatly expand educational opportunities. By bringing together India’s’s massive tech talent and historic aptitude in teaching, the country can emerge as the “vishwaguru" of the world, and it would not be premature to predict that India’s global tech prowess can make way for its teaching prowess in the coming decades.

Divya Gokulnath is co-founder, Byju’s

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