India Needs a Long Pipeline of Committed Teachers

The education system in India is a complex one. India has made great strides in the universalisation of primary education, widening the access to education, improving gross enrolment ratio and in revamping the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a flagship programme of the Government to promote education for all. However, the enrolment in the higher education remains low at 23%. Ensuring quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning opportunities remain a distant dream.

The implementation of the Right to Education Act in letter and spirit remains yet another grey area drawing our attention. The problem is further accentuated by the fact that over 17 million children and adolescents are out of school, according to the UNESCO eAtlas of the Out of School Children. Over 10 million young people in India are in need of jobs at any given point in time.

In India's 1.5 million schools, 9 million educators are estimated to be employed. Of these, 20% of them are untrained. In the next five years, the current student enrolment, at 253 million, will swell by a 100 million more. This increased enrollment would necessitate five hundred thousand additional schools to accommodate these children, to ensure access to schooling for every child. India is a teacher-deficient country right from the early-childhood to the University level, a bit odd considering that we have a large pool of employable youth. The goals of imparting quality education can be driven only by a dedicated and committed team of teachers. India deserves a long pipeline of teachers voluntarily entering the profession as their first career option. Mr Arun Jaitley, the finance minister of India, in his budget speech of February 2018 reiterated that improvement in the quality of teachers could improve the quality of education in the country. The question is how a bunch of individuals entering the teaching profession reluctantly and only to make a livelihood, with no motivation or conviction, can be the agents of change? The answer may not fall within the purview of the union budget, but the country has to reflect on it.

Education underpins the prosperity and is a vehicle for the fulfilment of economic and social aspirations. The highway to a dignified life, decent work, lifelong learning, and creation of sizeable human capital cannot be lighted without quality education. An educational institution cannot rise above the quality of its teachers. The realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will depend on an adequate funding, people's participation, technology infusion and a political commitment. Availability of committed teachers and their preparedness is crucial to address

  1. Failure to retain every child in the school and to keep them on track (17% of the children who enrol today in class I, drop out before they complete class VIII).

  2. Lack of access to quality education and skilling opportunities for the children who have dropped out and are left by the wayside, and

  3. Failure to gain insights into the challenges that exist inside the classrooms emanating from cognitive, socio-economic and linguistic diversities.

Recruitment of teachers of the quality, competence and calibre that one requires is rather a tricky one. It is a well-known fact that the best college graduates do not take up teaching as a preferable career option. Our teacher training colleges do not do justice in preparing teachers either. Having said that I must add, those who are passionate about teaching and wish to commit to teaching look forward to an institution known for right environment, growth opportunity and pleasant working conditions, which is sadly missing. The government and the school management should be encouraged to provide the best opportunities to prospective candidates, even though, they are left with choosing the best out of the available lot. Once a teacher is in, their growth, learning, in-service education is the responsibility of the organisation. Every teacher has her first day. Only school leaders and mentors can help them be the first-rate teachers throughout their career.

The consequences of teacher shortage are many. The purpose of schooling and educational governance suffers, class-size increases and teachers outside their domain expertise are deployed. This, affects the quality of teaching-learning adversely. Policy makers, educationists and the top leadership of educational institutions must endeavour to create a cohort of teachers and professionals. Teachers need inspiration and a role-models. The principal of a school is in the best position to fit in this role. Principals must bring the essential resources, experts, research findings for the benefit of the teachers. Such efforts create group cohesiveness, increase interdependence and strengthen professionalism. Incentivising the teachers by offering them the platform to share their expertise and experience both - within and outside the school environment will add to the existing efforts of professional development.

Teacher training institutions need to revamp their curriculum and connect theory and practice in a way that motivates the prospective teachers. Teacher training should be research-based and must respond to the needs of the new learning requirements. Countries who have earned reputation and trust for their education system and superior performance of their students at the international level have invested heavily in teacher training. China has over a hundred universities dedicated to the teacher education. Finland has one of the most robust teacher training programmes, and the best university graduates choose to teach as their primary career goal. India can emulate these practices.

Teaching career as an opportunity, to make a difference in the life of a child and to contribute in shaping active and reflective global citizens and leaders of tomorrow, is yet to find traction. The teaching profession offers a lifelong learning opportunity that enables human growth. and embeds the joy of accomplishment, and sharing love and compassion. No wonder then, the full quota of respect and gratitude is reserved only for the dedicated teachers.

This article was first published in the Brainfeed Magazine

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