Sunday, September 15, 2013

Can we make teaching cool?

I have been putting off writing for a long time now. It's impact is clearly visible in the drastic decline in the number of visitors. It took the Teach for India Alumni gathering last night to push me off my butt to write about something that I have been thinking for a long time.

It's a fact that quality of teaching in India is extremely poor. I discovered yesterday that India has around 13000 teacher training institutes. That's a huge number. In comparison, China has around 60. As Azad of Central Square Foundation put it last evening, it's a massive scam. The instruction in these institutes is pathetic. And all of this has been around for many many years. As a result, there have been generations that have absolutely no idea what good education looks like. That's why policy and discussions about poor education quality are based on a very superficial understanding of what excellent education looks like.

Recently, there was an exhibition on education and skills in Mumbai. There were a lot of colourful, shiny stalls with gadgets. Almost half the stalls were of smart classes which is usually a camera and some software facilitating interaction. Some were on classroom furniture. Almost nothing on human resource development. There was nothing on improving the quality of teachers or principals. It's assumed that having a camera and some buttons will automatically make teachers interactive and increase student participation. As if colourful furniture will empower teachers with the skills to increase student engagement and learning.

There was one stall which provided CDs developed in-house after years of research. CDs which spoke about contextualized quality teaching, student engagement using things available readily in villages, role of art in teaching, great Indian writers and noteworthy women of India. The stall was simple and no-nonsense. Predictably, it was of NCERT. Unfortunately, it had a deserted look.

We are trying to improve the system with gadgets without focusing enough on empowering manpower. We cannot have a functioning system unless we have capable and motivated people at all levels in the system who are trained in content, educational philosophy, pedagogy, assessment, technology and learning processes.

Coming back to teaching. According to estimates, India is short of around 12 lakh teachers. We need more people becoming teachers. More people respecting the teaching profession. More people making classrooms better.

I taught around 120 students in my 2 years. All of us in the school (and most from Teach for India) are novice teachers. It's a struggle. But at the risk of sounding arrogant, I will claim that our students got much better teachers than they probably would have otherwise. Our quality is certainly questionable but we were better than the alternative. At the very least, we made the classrooms different. Classes different than what their peers and siblings go to. Classes that were safer, more colourful and open for students.
Something is surely changing. Our children are more confident. After 4 years of Bhaiyyas and Didis, they refuse to be taught by other teachers. They do not accept corporal punishments. They demand a certain standard of teaching. They ask for access to books and other resources. They look up to their Bhaiyyas and Didis. People in the community respect us. We make teaching cool - for them and even for my peers.

My little students are growing up. They will learn even more. A lot of them tell me that they want to become teachers. Some even want to join Teach for India. Maybe some will. They will have families. They will demand more from their children's teachers. They will push the teachers to be better. They will teach their children personally. It will take time. It will be slow. But it's a drop in the ocean. And it matters.

Teaching is awesome. It's incredibly hard. It drains you physically, mentally and emotionally. But it's completely worth it. Teaching is cool. People need to know this. 

A good teacher according to children.
From: Coursera

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Accomplishment from the children you taught is strongly reflective of what you've expressed here. I am proud. Keep track of the developments with them since you are making it a point to follow up with your children as a keen observer being at Mumbai. This will allow you to regularly update your desire to teach. It is indeed a great feeling when the children fall back to feel proud that you ever taught them.
It is gives immense satisfaction.

Keep it up!