Teaching, it seems, is deviating from being what it is believed to be, a noble profession. Call it commercialisation of education or put the blame squarely on the substandard teacher training programmes, there is surely a pressing need to bridge the skill gap in this profession. "Teaching is an art but there isn't a magic wand to change the situation," says William Bickerdike, regional manager, South Asia, Cambridge International Examination.
India's population is expected to touch the 464 million mark by 2021. Various studies predict that 64 per cent of this will be in the age group of 15 to 59 years. To cash in on this demographic dividend, the country will need to impart adequate skills to this humongous percentage of young population. The moot question however is, how will the country achieve this goal if the foundation itself it not strong?
Sabhia More, assistant professor, Smt. Surajba College of Education, says, "Every year about 8,600 teachers graduate from 86 colleges in Mumbai. But I don't think we are providing schools with quality teachers." More, who has been teaching the Bachelor in Education (BEd) curriculum for over a decade, voices the need for constant upgradation and reassessment of the teaching course.
Swati Popat Vats, director, Podar Jumbo Kids says, "Our BEd curriculum and even the various privately run Early Childhood Teacher Training (ECTT) programmes need an overhaul." Experts opine that both BEd and ECTT programes fall short in training prospective teachers about child development and/ or child psychology. "A teacher with no knowledge of these two subjects will treat a nine-year-old as 14-year-old and vice versa," quipsVats.
In its 12th Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission of India discusses the "quality of teachers" and, more importantly, "their motivation and accountability." Academicians and experts put the onus of the upheaval on the government and the apex body National Council for Teacher Education. Most teachers albeit on condition of anonymity, voice their frustration at being demotivated in their profession. The days when the crème de la crème wanted to take up teaching are long gone. Increasingly, the adage 'those who can't do anything else teach' is becoming a reality. Vats explains, "Eligibility for BEd is a graduate degree. ECTT requires only class XII certification, with such meager requirements and no strict guidelines in place, anyone and everyone are signing up to become a teacher."
Quality training requires adequate funds. While the government has proposed an investment of 3.5 per cent of the national GDP in the development of education sector, in reality only 2 per cent is being spent across the various levels of education. "With such low spending, where is the scope for development?" questions More.
Another major factor that pushes away the 'real quality' in the teaching profession is the abysmal pay packages. As compared to other professions, which have a starting salary of at least Rs 25,000 to 30,000, a teacher earns only Rs18,000. The numbers are shockingly lower for those teaching lower standards. "Candidates who have the right skills and can be good teachers are driven away thanks to the unattractive job roles and perks that come with the profession," says More.
However, all is not lost yet. With quality training programmes, one may still be able to provide colleges/ schools with quality teachers. Rohit Pandey, CEO, Classteacher, an online teaching community says, "There is no dearth of jobs in this field, in fact it is the only profession which is indispensable."
Some feel that the government needs to put in place a machinery that tests not just a teacher's knowledge but also his/ her skills. "A teacher needs to be patient, should have a command over language, have the correct body language, and be compassionate towards students and passionate about his/ her profession. Our teacher training programmes need to such that a candidate imbibes these attributes," says More. Others spell out the necessity for on job training and internships. "Like lawyers and doctors, a course in teaching should end with at least a three months of internship so both stakeholders—the teachers and the school—know what is required of them," says Vats.
A constant upgrade in skills and knowledge can help those who are currently in this profession. Bickerdike is of the opinion senior teachers should encourage their junior colleagues. "seniors should train young teachers to be reflective and innovative in class so that there is continuous improvement," he says. Teachers may observe each other and exchange notes feedback about their teaching methodology. This should become a normal and non threatening practice, he says.
A teacher is like a building block of the nation. One cannot turn a blind eye to the various roles teachers play, and to their needs and requirements. Years ago, the Kothari Commission report had stated that India's destiny would be shaped in the classrooms. That will happen only if the nation gives this profession the respect that it rightly deserves.