I was at a meeting yesterday morning. A meeting attended by some of the brightest minds around. There was a Director from the Prime Minister’s Office, A Director at the US Embassy in New Delhi and the Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of HRD and a mix of other individuals with
loads of experience in development and education.
The conversation was around Teacher Quality in India and the first generation learner.
Some statistics first:
“The alarming findings relate to reading and arithmetic. ASER did not test children or age or grade specific competency. It tested the ability of children to read (a simple paragraph or story pitched at grade 2 level). Close to 35% of children in the 7-14 age group could not read a simple paragraph (grade 1 level difficulty) and almost 60% of children could not read a simple story (grade 2 level difficulty). The huge surprise is
that the situation in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat (where the schools function and where all provision related indicators are good) are far worse than Bihar, and Chhattisgarh (where indicators like teacher-pupil ratio, drop out rates and schooling facilities are abysmal). The percentage point difference between government and private schools is approximately 10. Which means that almost 30% of children in private schools cannot read grade one level paragraphs.”
This extract is from the preface to the ASER study conducted by Pratham across India to measure achievement levels in Education. It looked at various other elements and found, alarmingly, that 9% of schools had NO teachers on the day they visited.
Coming back to our debate yesterday morning: ideas were being bandied around about the the first generation learner and what the government could (and should) do ensure learning outcomes are met.
I think there was consensus on accessibility being a key issue. Taking the school closer to the child, providing schooling in multiple shifts, education of parents and provision of vocational study were all accepted as necessary.
The one element on which there was a departure of views, was on the role of the teacher in the classroom.
If children in government (and private) schools around the country are being inadequately prepared (as evidenced by the yawning gaps in achievement levels) by the teachers this could before multiple reasons. Lack of resources and infrastructure, poor quality of teaching or some would say, poor quality of children (whatever that means!)
My money is on the poor quality of teaching.
I think the role of the teacher in the classroom has been sanctified as the scholar on the pulpit in whose every word is wisdom. In several schools, and this is possibly true of both urban and non-urban contexts, there are teachers who lack both the will, the imagination and crucially the time to lead the child to the threshold of his mind.
This is where a large part of the the role of the teacher should be taken away and the government should step in.
I am in favour of prescription where every little detail of ‘classroom preparation’ that requires imagination and an insightful understanding of the teaching-learning process is pre-planned and delivered to the teacher. So, the government prepares, in addition to the textbook, a teaching guide with detailed lesson plans, worksheets, assessments and activities that take off the pressure off the teacher. The teacher uses these materials to facilitate discussion in the classroom and an inspector of the teaching-learning process (mandated by the government) conducts occasional visits and examinations to measure the achievement levels and guide the teacher.
This point of view disturbs many progressive teachers, and I admit it pre-supposes a rather bleak opinion on teacher quality.
Sure there are brilliant teachers in smaller poorly-funded schools. I have come across some wonderfully imaginative in small towns like Mithapur (Gujarat) and Hardoi (UP), but anyone who has visited a number of such schools will agree that on average, the quality of teaching leaves much to be desired. In fact, these imaginative teachers will, under the proposed scheme, get a fillip. They can share their lesson plans and worksheets with their peers, creating a government-run knowledge community.
I wonder if there has been research or pilot programmes around this ‘method.’ I surely am not the first one to look the system and wonder if this is an obvious solution. Please do post in your thoughts and comments – I would love to hear from you!