Teaching Teachers, the Great Challenge for India's Education System

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), September 5, 2016 | Go to article overview

Teaching Teachers, the Great Challenge for India's Education System


India, Sept. 5 -- September 5th is celebrated as Teachers day in India, marking the birthday of the second President of the country, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, both a teacher and a distinguished scholar of comparative religion and philosophy. Once venerated as "gurus" and the sole repositories of knowledge, teachers today seem to have lost this status, despite the fact that they are arguably the most important factor in delivering quality education, especially in the elementary years of schooling.

No education system in the world has excelled without making a significant investment in building a cadre of quality teachers. Yet, teacher education is one of the weakest links in the education system. As the government of India (GoI) frames the New Education Policy (NEP), it will be critical to focus on teachers and teacher education to ensure quality education.

Key challenges that need to be addressed relate both to a shortage of teachers and their training. For instance, as on March 2016, 5 lakh sanctioned teaching posts are vacant country-wide. As a result, several schools have pupil-to-teacher ratio of 80:1 and single-teacher schools account for 8 per cent of elementary schools in the country.

The other pressing issue relates to teacher education, both pre-service and in-service. A recent report reveals that 6.6 lakh teachers currently in the system lack the requisite qualifications, and only 1% of teachers nationally passed the Teacher's Eligibility Test (TET) conducted in 2012.

There is a great need for professional standards and regulation of pre-service teacher training institutes, 90% of which are in the private sector and are largely sub-standard and unregulated. Even the state-run institutes suffer from multiple deficiencies and most of them are far from being effective. Thus, developing institutional mechanisms for periodic monitoring of teacher training institutes and strict adherence to quality parameters is vital. Additionally, clear selection criteria for testing aptitude needs to be in place before accepting students into teacher training colleges.

The framing of the NEP provides us with an opportunity to review and redesign the current teacher education programmes. Teachers need to be viewed as professionals who require multiple skills to do their job, and accordingly professional standards need to be built into all teacher education programmes. These programmes must focus both on building an essential knowledge base, as well as skill sets required for making a difference in the classroom. Importantly, they must locate the professional development of teachers within the larger socio-cultural, economic and political context of contemporary India.

Teachers, especially those who serve in the poorest of urban and rural areas need to be well trained and prepared to deal with extremely diverse classrooms of mostly first generation learners. 50 years ago, school going children were mostly from the elite and middle income groups. Today, with the success of SSA and the RTE, classrooms are often diverse and many students are first generation learners who may not have any academic support system at home. …

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