Teaching the teacher
The Indian Express, Mon Jul 04 2011, 00:19 hrs
The key challenge in school education is improving and sustaining quality. Poor student
performance is directly linked to poor quality of teaching. The bulk of elementary schoolteachers
in India are under-qualified and untrained. If 80 per cent of new schoolteachers are educated in
unregulated private teaching shops, the rest are poorly prepared through inadequate pre-service
training in public institutions that have outdated curricula.
Teacher-training capacity in educationally challenged states such as Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh,
Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal is grossly inadequate. In order to meet the
demands that the Right to Education Act places on teachers, pre-service education is made an
essential requirement for newly recruited teachers by a gazette notification.
This means that additional resources are required to upgrade the professional capacities of close
to one million existing under-qualified and untrained teachers and for the pre-service education
of one million additional teachers to be recruited. If not attended to, the current situation will
continue to drain public resources by attempting to motivate poorly qualified teachers through
piecemeal in-service training without addressing the real needs of the classroom.
Elementary schoolteachers are currently prepared via a two-year diploma (DEd) in District
Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) or their equivalent, while secondary/ high school
teachers are trained in BEd in colleges of teacher education (CTE) and some universities. DIETs
have no systemic linkage with institutes of higher education and CTEs operate in an insular
manner. Most schoolteachers remain intellectually isolated with no access to new knowledge
created in universities and research institutes.
The RTE aims to ensure that elementary education of acceptable quality reaches all children.
Yet, it fails to make a commitment and define workable institutional arrangements and regulation
for the provision of quality pre-service education and on-site support. The discussions on the
Twelfth Plan recognise that most schoolteachers may not be able to meet the aspirations of RTE
until the national teacher education system is revitalised.
Pressures to recruit a large teaching workforce to meet RTE obligations have led many states to
seek exemption from fulfilling their legally binding teacher qualification norms. This dilution
will have serious consequences, as it is likely to weaken the teacher cadre, further ensuring poor
learning outcomes. In fact, indiscriminate hiring of para-teachers that began in the mid-1990s to
meet the targets of Universalisation of Elementary Education is perhaps the most important
reason for abysmal learning outcomes in schools.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the subsequent NCERT textbooks are heralded as
path-breaking innovations in Indian school curriculum. The National Curriculum Framework for
Teacher Education (NCFTE) 2009 has now included the model syllabi to build the linkage
between the education of teachers and learners. This is the missing link that the quality debate
has failed to connect. Enabling this connection via regulation, reform and upgrade of teacher-
training institutions could be the differentiating factor between performing and non-performing
states in this decade.
There is a common belief, even among teacher educators, that a primary school maths teacher
only needs to know mathematics up to primary grades. This concept may have found
acceptability in Victorian England, but is out of place now.
The separation between what is taught and how it is taught has been contested by scholars across
the world. Despite this, current models of teacher education focus on the mechanical planning of
lessons in standardised formats, rituals of fulfilling the required number of lessons and other
Working within deterministic frameworks, student-teachers even in leading BEd institutions
rarely have opportunities to examine subject content or pedagogic approaches. This
unquestioning practice of structuring teacher preparation around methods of teaching is at odds
with the need for an engagement with schooling often beset with the dynamics of caste, gender,
identity, linguistic and social exclusion.
Engagement with NCF-led pedagogy requires focus on the learner and her context apart from
content and methodology. In this frame, the learner is viewed not as a textbook child but one
who is to be understood in varying socio-cultural, economic and political contexts.
The solution does not lie in abandoning pre-service teacher education. Access to schooling, an
adequate teaching-learning environment, an appropriate school curriculum and an empowered
and inclusive teaching community are four crucial prerequisites of a school system that seeks to
enable social transformation. While educational reform since the 1980s has focused on the first
two elements, the NCF has brought school curriculum into national focus. The critical link that
binds these four elements together is the teacher.
The need is to institutionalise the ideas articulated in the NCFTE in order to revitalise teacher
education. This can be best achieved by bringing convergence between schools, the system of
teacher education and higher education.
The writer teaches at central Institute of Education University of Delhi