Need to raise the bar

Pritam Benjamin

In the last decade, there has been a spurt in the growth of international schools or internationally –minded schools. Today there are schools that offer you the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the International Baccalaureate (IB), The Ontario Curriculum, and the EDexcel. The number of genuine international schools that seek affiliation to these boards of education is increasing, mostly in metropolitan as well as in some tier 2 cities, such as Mysore, Lucknow, and Jaipur. The demand for international schools has been fuelled by the needs of NRI (non-resident Indian) families for their children and the children of expatriates who work longer stints in India. Progressive teaching methods and the ‘Whole Education’ approach to teaching in these schools, together with a multicultural environment, are attracting more Indian families too.

The variety, quality, and appeal of international schools in India are growing at a surprising rate. The quality of teaching and administrative staff is a strong determinant of the “success” of these schools. It is a great challenge for an emerging international school to hire teachers who can do justice to the “new curricula”, which requires radically different approaches to the teaching-learning process.

The professional education and practice of the majority of Indian teachers ties them down to systems that are regulated by syllabi and textbooks endorsed or prescribed by the National Council for Educational and Research and Training. An innovative and creative approach to teaching has rarely been called for, much less modelled, for the average Indian teacher. His/her competence is judged by the number of children who can be promoted to the next class or pass the board examinations with credit. An international school teacher, is seen by progressive thinkers in the education fraternity, as a leader for change in society, in addition to being an effective deliverer of knowledge and skills. In a mainstream public or government school not much is expected from a teacher beyond routine delivery of the syllabus in a time worn format apart from keeping records and reporting marks after term or annual assessments take place. Preparation for classes, innovative and improved methods of teaching, reference and research work to deliver activity-based or hands-on learning and professional development are optional rather than standard expectations from teachers.

Teachers, in their redefined roles can now look forward to their own intellectual, cultural, and personal growth. What do employers look for? Excellent oral and written skills head the list. Motivational drive and energy are seen as assets in a teacher. Strong organizational and academic skills and the ability or willingness to work collaboratively are a must. A multi-lingual ability and cultural sensitivity that has grown from interactions and travels outside one’s own country and state always help. Add to this some basic counseling skills and you have a teacher who is ready to give the learning-teaching process the fillip it so urgently requires.

With this expansion in the scope of educators’ roles there has been a diversification in the careers available in the field of education. With the trend towards shared governance and administrative functions, teachers can hope to step out of a pedagogue’s role, from time to time and take responsibility for tasks and innovations related to the functioning of the school, help with planning and training of teachers, review curricula and delivery, etc. At international schools, these new areas of responsibility come attractively packaged in relatively high salaries with support for professional development or in-service training.

Teacher training on offer is diverse and relevant to the needs of both students and teachers. With flexibility in teaching approaches and advances in pedagogical theory and practice, teacher training content has undergone a sea change. The balance between theory and practice has tilted in favour of practice, arming teachers with a greater preparedness for the classrooms of today, which are inclusive, multi-cultural, and attempt to deliver differentiated instruction. Approaches to conventional strategies of “discipline” and classroom management have changed. These changes, in turn, will impact learning, teaching, and curricula in higher education as well.

International education, by its nature, is fundamental to fostering peace, security, and well-being in society. Schools now are recognizing the need to provide opportunities and financial support for professional development and professional networking and are advocating international approaches to teaching and learning. With the change in student profile and needs, it stands to reason this new teacher profile must become a reality, in order to help children deal with future changes, choices, and challenges.

Teacher training needs radical change in perspective, relevance, and quality. Teaching degrees, to become relevant, must do far more than pay token attention to teaching planning, practice, and assessment. Theory in pedagogy should be taught, not as discrete areas of content, but applied to practice at every step. Current B.Ed programmes need to be revamped and refresher courses put on offer for experienced teachers familiar only with traditional methods. Approaches to assessment must get an overhaul and students must be engaged and involved in their own progress. The role of new technologies should be embraced with enthusiasm. New curricular formats must not be dismissed as fluff, but as “meaningful stuff of life”, preparing students for the new realities of tomorrow.

So as aspirant educators join international or other progressive schools, education companies, e-learning companies, training and research institutions, serious, path-breaking reforms in training are needed. It is expected that education will account for 25% of the growth rate in India by 2020. Teacher competencies in the 21st century will be expected to grow far beyond content knowledge of the subject. It is truly now a vocation sans frontiers! No matter where teachers get their training, the needs of their students will require continuous learning, reflection, and commitment.

The author is an education consultant in Bengaluru. She is now Director at the Indus Training and Research Institute, Bengaluru, has been founding principal at 3 international schools in Bengaluru and has been an educator for nearly four decades. She can be reached at pritambenjamin@hotmail.com.

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