Another education policy? Where does the teacher fit in?

As yet another “New” Education Policy rolls out, debates and discussions are rife around what the policy might mean to institutions and processes and the people who run/enable them, about how this policy might interface with other legislation such as the Right to Education Act, and whether and how this policy will really take us to the global competitive edge we seem to be continually striving for. Broad proclamations have been made on the major changes that the policy will bring about to the structure and role of NCERT, the involvement of new stakeholders such as IITs in school education, and the consolidation of schools in the government sector. In all the thousands – maybe millions-of words that have been spoken and written about this, there is very little about how the policy will affect the working lives of teachers. Yes, there is some mention of decreasing the dependence on teachers by optimal utilization of technology, and a passing reference to bringing in new resources for teaching and learning. And while a parallel discussion on teacher education has been intermittently on, there seems to be very little effort to marry the two concerns, or even to recognize the centrality of this agent – the teacher – in the enterprise of education. But this should really come as no surprise.

Rarely are teachers involved directly in any policy initiatives, nor do they have a clearly visible collective presence that makes itself heard during such discussions. At best, a few influential school principals and administrators might find a seat at the table when such changes are being talked about. Why is this the case? Why is it that the key influencer, or facilitator in the core process of learning – the teacher – is rarely consulted in any meaningful or substantive way when the structure of school education is being examined?

Unfortunately, teachers are seen mostly as passive implementers of curriculum and content; at best, their use of method (often very stringently prescribed) is acknowledged. But those who do the job know otherwise. They understand, even when they do not actually say it, that they are often the makers-or-breakers of the curriculum and the content. Except for the small percentage of autodidacts (self-learners) in a class, most children depend on the teacher for direction, inspiration, and explanation. This is particularly true children who are first-generation school-goers and those who may not receive support at home. So why is it that policy makers, policy influencers, do not recognize this? Perhaps this is why we have had policy after policy that is expansive in its scope and ambition, but ends up doing very little to really change the life of the classroom and those who live inside it – teachers and students.

I’m not sure how we can change this. But a first step may be to begin to see ourselves as occupying a central, creative role in school education, rather than as mere implementers or pawns in a game someone else is directing.