Let us teachers continue to learn

Anjali Noronha

Teachers are the cornerstones of society, especially schoolteachers. They shape many generations of children. They are expected to give their best for the future generation. We complain about teachers not reading, not keeping up with what is required of them. But do we, as a society, as parents, give them the space, the encouragement, and the nurturing that is necessary to be loving and competent teachers? This Teacher’s Day let us try and understand how the teacher keeps herself responsive to the superhuman demands on her, reflect on the environment that she gets and learn how much it supports her.

In this article I will share some insights based on conversations with teachers from different systems and how they work on their own development. Then I will look at how policies on professional development have shaped expectations from and inputs to develop teachers. I will also share my own experiences of making spaces for professional development as a person working on curriculum and teacher development and what lessons these hold for creating a learning environment for teachers.

I will conclude the article with some suggestions on how schools and education systems can provide these spaces and how teachers can be given the strength and support to demand, curate, and manage their development so that children get a better future.

Teachers’ professional development
Today, there are a variety of schools in the system: state government schools, central government schools – Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas, and a wide variety of private schools charging anywhere from Rs. 500 to Rs. 50,000 fees per month. The facilities available to teachers in each of these schools vary a lot too.

The Kendriya Vidyalaya teachers have a monthly meeting for planning and review. In these meetings though only marks, corrections, and the chapter plan for the next month are submitted. The students have an off day on this day. They have no system of peer review or discussion on readings in a regular way. If they have to present something at a conference, they prepare for it using whatever resources are available at hand. The teachers do a refresher course once in three years. Even though the Kendriya Vidyalayas have well-equipped libraries for children and a library period every week for each class, there is no system for teachers to consult the library on a regular basis. It is left to individual teachers, but the system doesn’t expect this as a role from the teacher. The result is that the teachers are generally unaware as to whether the library has a teachers’ section or whether they get any teachers’ journals.

Teachers of the state government schools in Madhya Pradesh have a fairly regular system of workshops and meetings for professional development, as probably other states also do. There are usually a couple of training workshops every year on different topics. Elementary school teachers are also supposed to attend cluster (a group of schools) level meetings every month. There are Cluster and Block level resource centres for teachers too. The meetings, workshops, and resource centres give access to different resources, which the teacher is supposed to go through. Often, these are write-ups on activities to be done in class. They are also part of WhatsApp groups in which different teachers and NGOs involved in trainings and workshops circulate resources. Some teachers may go through these. Many a time, these resources are not woven into any sequence, so it is difficult to assess their cumulative outcome. Some of the schoolteachers are also resource teachers and therefore access the resources available to them primarily to prepare for their workshop sessions, but otherwise don’t browse through them on a regular basis.

Illustrations: Tasneem Amiruddin

As for private schools, schools which are constantly advertised and aspired to, the managements of only a very few create a regular space and time for teachers to upgrade their competence. There are a handful of schools that keep teaching time to only 60-70% of the school time. The rest of the time is structured so that teachers can read, discuss, and enhance their abilities. They have weekly meetings in which they present on a topic based on their reading and connect it to their experiences. A few other schools organize workshops for their teachers once in a while or ask them to attend online sessions or courses. These schools are rare though. There are always a few interested teachers in private schools. They are inspired by their students to search for solutions to issues that come up in the classroom. They look up resources on the web and discuss with friends and family. These teachers are overworked and hassled. The other teachers distance themselves by both positive and negative comments. The groups who support professional development say that the school managements are not willing to give any time for continuous professional development of the teachers from school time.

Let us now have a look at how the school teacher and their development has evolved in post independence India.

Teachers and teacher education since Indian independence
In the first few decades after independence, it was assumed that once you have a requisite qualification and get recruited as a teacher, you only have to teach the classes and subjects that you’re given till your retirement. In the early decades, there were not even enough qualified teachers; teacher education institutions were in short supply, so teachers would be recruited without qualifications and get rostered for their Basic Training Course – BTC (a precursor to the D.Ed). Continuous Professional development was nowhere on the horizon; becoming a teacher was considered a vocation, not a career, and perhaps for this reason there were very good teachers then.

In the mid 80s, the New Education Policy 1986 took cognizance of the need for improvement in the school teacher cadre. District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET) were set up and given charge of in-service professional development along with pre-service teacher education. This was the first time that a systemic initiative for teacher professional development was taken. Whenever textbooks would change in the state, teachers would be given refresher training on how to teach the new books. Some non government organizations like Eklavya worked with the government in a few schools and set up systems of continuous professional development like weekly reviews and monthly meetings in a cluster of schools. This was driven by the system and not left to the individual teacher. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) was set up in 1993 as a body to regulate teacher education only after the NEP 1986.

In the mid 1990s, there was a thrust given to curricular and structural reform in primary education across the country through the District Primary Education Program (DPEP). In this program, apart from the DIETs, a system of Cluster and Block resource centres were opened for primary schools, which were supposed to have regular meetings and refresher workshops. The DIETs also got further activated as hubs for in-service workshops and resource centres.

A system of Block and Cluster resource teachers visiting schools to give teachers peer support was also set up. This continues to date.

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 put the teacher on centre stage. Reading materials for teachers are being developed since then. Focus group papers and the National Curriculum Framework 2005 have been great resources in enhancing teachers’ understanding of educational issues, as have been a list of books on education provided at district and sub-district levels through the DPEP, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA – program to extend quality reform to middle schools) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA – for secondary schools). For the first time in 2009, a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) was developed with separate chapters on continuous professional development of teachers, preparing teacher educators, and implementation strategies.

However, ways and means to enhance teacher capacities have been limited to the government system. The privatization of school education has been growing by leaps and bounds. There were hardly any private schools in the 1970s and 80s – around 10%. Today, private schools account for 25-30% of the number of schools and about 50% of the enrollment! This is significant as the professional development expected and implemented by private schools is almost absent.

Another sector that has been intensively participating in teacher professional development over more than four decades is the non government and private professional groups. I have been participating in the professional development programs through this sector for more than 40 years now. I reflect on some of my experiences through this sector and end with a few suggestions drawing from the rest of the article.

Self development – purpose drives professional development
In the early 80s, when we established Eklavya in collaboration with the government, our mandate was to take forward the science teaching program developed by Kishore Bharati and develop curricular programs for other subjects for government primary and middle schools. A curriculum program for us meant curriculum objectives, learning materials, teacher training every year and monthly meetings with teachers. This was the structural model that had been developed by the science program and adapted for other curricular programs.

I was involved in the development and implementation of the primary education program and the social science program for middle schools. I worked on the citizenship section, which was then called civics. Later, I was involved in collaborating with state governments to universalize quality in policy and teacher development programs. The culture that we established in the early days was that one must read what has happened in India and other countries in these spheres, debate, and discuss and only then propose what we could do and make drafts that would be critiqued by peers and experts. We needed to also look at research in these areas – both in curriculum development and in teacher education. We began these programs when Eklavya had just been set up. We didn’t have a library of our own, nor was there internet in those times. We accessed books from the section on education in the British Library in Bhopal and accessed the NCERT, Delhi University, and JNU libraries for our research through our university based resource persons.

But most importantly, we made space for this reading and writing and reflection as part of our work in Eklavya. The time needed to consult books and university resource people was built into the program. This helped us a lot and brought both academic rigour and a rigour of practice. Individual work had to be critically peer reviewed.

This was an integral part of our own self-development and we tried to build this into that of the teachers’ as well. This habit of regular critical reading with a purpose has become a lifelong one in most of us who have worked with Eklavya. The government education departments which supported us at the time allowed us this time.

In 2002, when the government curricular programs closed down, our work took a new turn. On the one hand, we worked on supplemental education at the village and basti level, on another we worked as a resource group for certain government education bodies and civil society groups. We also developed teacher education courses – both pre-service and in-service. From 2008 to 2019, I was involved with different teams at all the three levels and also in building policy like the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE). I was a member of NCTE too. I worked on developing the EVS books for Ladakh, a whole school development program with a group of schools, couple of papers and teaching part of one in the MA Elementary Education blended mode course at TISS, and strengthening four DIETs. I also initiated a program of short-term blended mode courses, for which I developed one on reading and libraries and mentored participants of the Tata Trust LEC course. All of this gave me the experience to reflect on the requirements for building, teaching, and mentoring in professional development programs.

I found that while the latter two forced us to continue reading with a purpose – for inputs into building courses and curriculum – supplemental learning, somehow was the most difficult, particularly for those of us who actually worked on the ground. The nature of work itself was somehow not conducive to reading and reflection, priority being the teaching and activities in the class. This is when I realized that it is easy to say teachers don’t read. Under the circumstances of their work – handling classes of 25 plus students for 4-5 hours a day and the many administrative jobs, it is difficult to concentrate on reading, especially those materials that required higher order comprehension. If we did not allow ourselves regular space and time to read and reflect on the week’s activities, it wouldn’t happen. This is when we began to build a regular weekly reading and reflection. For this, we had to design our working days and week in such a manner that we had at least a couple of hours to read at least a couple of days a week and a day off from field work in order to prepare presentations, discuss and make decisions.

Today, with the online option of workshops and meetings, resources across the country and the globe can be accessed by teachers. There are a number of good short but systematic courses available. At the same time there are also a lot of single or series of videos and articles of bad or mediocre material. Unless there is peer group discussion along with more experienced mentors to guide, this reading and watching may not improve quality much.

The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) 2009 outlines the purposes of teacher professional development thus:
• Explore, reflect on, and develop one’s own practice.
• Deepen one’s knowledge of and update oneself about one’s academic discipline or other areas of school curriculum.
• Research and reflect on learners and their education.
• Understand and update oneself on educational and social issues.
• Prepare for other roles professionally linked to education/teaching, such as teacher education, curriculum development, or counselling.
• Break out of intellectual isolation and share experiences and insights with others in the field, both teachers and academics working in the area of specific disciplines as well as intellectuals in the immediate and wider society.

If the above purposes are to be fulfilled, the teacher must have access to both material and human resources. As can be seen from the above description of different kinds of schools, opportunities are almost absent in the private sector, with a few exceptions and need to be streamlined in the public sector.

In conclusion
We can draw the following suggestions from the above descriptions and reflections:
• Good quality education requires that the teacher gets a priority space for her reading, reflection, peer discussion in order develop her competence and work.
• Each school, whether government or private, needs to be equipped with a good physical and e-library on education for the teachers, which incorporates, curricular research, education theory, and practice in subjects. This should have access to research and pedagogy journals.
• Unless teaching load per teacher is reduced, so that she has at least an hour every day to read at the library and one day a week for presentation, discussion, and understanding, teachers will not be able to make good use of the resources available. They also need support in reading and comprehension at an advanced level from more experienced mentors. Space needs to be made for these.
• There are now short online courses available and teachers must be encouraged with incentives to take these courses after they are whetted by the school management.
• Peer forums through WhatsApp groups can enhance sharing of resources and discussions across a wide variety of teachers.
• And lastly, where budgets are available as in the government systems – committees of teachers to select good books and resources could be set up and functionalized. In private schools, dynamic teachers could and should find ways to get the management to set up such systems in their schools. They could look at some exemplar school libraries and courses and take them up in their schools.

Happy Teacher’s Day to all and happy learning and teaching.

The author is an MA in Economics from Delhi School of Economics and has nearly 40 years of experience in elementary education in curriculum, program, teacher development and research. She has been on a number of review committees of government education programs. She has been instrumental in designing and giving direction to a number of curricular programs in Eklavya, Madhya Pradesh. She has experience of the school level, as well as university and policy contributions at MHRD, NCERT, NCTE, TISS, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Assam, Ladakh. She can be reached at noronha.anjali@gmail.com.

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