Teachers can excel only when provided with a strong support system | analysis

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Teachers are the very linchpins of an education system. They are the primary channels through which learning is imparted to students in addition to shaping their outlook and behaviour. Given the enormous responsibility that they are entrusted with, it is tempting to apportion blame on them when learning outcomes do not match up to our expectations. However, we must desist from falling for that temptation; poor delivery of education by teachers in classrooms is merely symptomatic of the larger malaise and inadequate governance that characterises our education system. It will not be wrong for us to say that, we expect our front line workers, i.e. teachers, to deliver high quality services without equipping them with necessary training, tools, motivation or comfort. Accountability without enablement is not only ineffective; it turns out to be counterproductive and causes further demotivation.

What are the problems faced by teachers in the public education system in India? Over the past few decades, school teachers have been burdened with an array of administrative responsibilities. For instance, they are expected to respond to frequent data requests from state officials at short notices, undertake time consuming distribution of various State benefits and materials and deal with cumbersome procedures for personnel related issues like leaves and transfers. These non-teaching activities consume a large part of their time, leaving less time for core academic work. Of the time spent in teaching, teachers find a huge variance in student learning levels thanks to a decade of no-detention policy. A mixed class where children of different competencies are made to sit together would leave even the most skilled teacher befuddled, as she would not know the level at which the content needs to be pitched. Yet we expect our teachers to deliver; sometimes in complete absence or mostly inadequate support system and appropriate governance paradigm. Despite all these challenges and teaching being a fixed tenure job with limited opportunities for promotions, many conscientious teachers ungrudgingly put in tremendous efforts in fulfilling the multifarious tasks assigned to them. However, there has rarely been any systematic effort to appreciate their work and performance.

The good news is that things have gradually begun to change. Realising the need to rejuvenate their teacher cadres, many states have introduced measures to empower their teachers and motivate them towards achieving the goal of improved learning outcomes. These measures have been taken as a part of systemic reforms in education over the three-four year time horizon.

To improve core academics, Haryana has developed a framework Saksham Taalika, aimed at mapping specific competencies to the syllabus and instituted frequent statewide assessments of students based on these competencies. The data from these assessments, conducted six times a year, is made available to teachers and equips them with information on each student’s performance on the identified competencies. Similarly, Himachal Pradesh has instituted the Samprapti Soochi, which is a chart that displays desired learning outcomes on classroom walls. Andhra Pradesh has also put in place a dashboard linked with each student’s report card, which allows teachers to better monitor students. The dashboard has almost 90,000 users, indicating widespread acceptance.

In addition to empowerment through data, states have invested heavily in mentoring and training of teachers. This has been done both through traditional methods as well by leveraging technology. For example, for remedial learning programme, Haryana has empowered its teachers by sharing byte-sized training videos on Whatsapp tailored to the needs of the teachers implementing the programme. In Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha, special books have been published by the respective State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs) for facilitating remedial teaching in classrooms. Mentoring has also been instituted by mandating frequent visits by block level officers and “star teachers” (selected on the basis of their past performance) to schools to provide support to teachers to implement these programmes in an effort to bring their students to the learning level expected of their grade. In a similar vein, Himachal Pradesh also has launched a TeacherApp through which training content is shared every month with specific videos assigned to each teacher. As many as 90% of the teachers have expressed satisfaction with this mode of training, given its continuous, personal and less time consuming nature.

Further to save teachers’ time in administrative processes, states like Rajasthan have launched the Shaala Darpan dashboard which houses all data pertaining to schools, teachers, students and resources in one place. The introduction of these dashboards has allowed for high quality data to be collected within weeks, compared to the 10 to 13 months taken previously. This has massively reduced inefficiencies and freed up time for academics by eliminating the need for teachers having to collect the same information over and over again.

To complement these efforts, states are also undertaking reforms to automate transfers through an online system to fasten the process and bring in more transparency. In Haryana, the new online system allows teachers to give their preferences two to three times a year and allots transfer areas to teachers according to their preferences and other related data, based on an algorithm. The introduction of a neutral framework has reduced scope for rent-seeking in the system by eliminating discretion. This has led to a major increase in teacher satisfaction as everyone feels equally empowered.

To further boost motivation of staff, Himachal Pradesh has gone a step ahead and launched a reward and recognition programme for teachers called the Khaas Shiksha initiative. This allows teachers to nominate themselves or their fellows for awards that recognise innovative teaching practices. The administration rewards these teachers by publicising their names and replicating practices adopted by them in their classrooms. This has incentivised teachers to become champions of systemic transformation in their classrooms and schools.

The results so far from these initiatives have been more than encouraging and one hopes that based on these experiences, more states will critically examine ways in which they can support their teachers. Teachers are the front line workers of our education system. It is our responsibility to empower and enable them to attain the best possible learning outcomes in their classrooms.

Alok Kumar is adviser (HRD Vertical), NITI Aayog.

The views expressed are personal

First Published:
Jun 25, 2019 19:56 IST

via HT

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