Saturday, March 15, 2014

Need for plan to restore dignity to teaching

NEW DELHI:How many people do you know who aspire to be school teachers when making a career choice? Hardly any, right? Isn't this ironic, given the fact that apart from the home environment, the teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in shaping the minds of our young students? On Teachers' Day, we need to ask ourselves why the brightest of our young people view teaching as a last-resort career option.

By some estimates, India currently faces a shortage of over 12 lakh teachers. Many states have been working their way around this by hiring under-qualified contract teaching staff. Given the dire need for quality in Indian education, it is imperative that we attract a talented workforce now in order to meet our developmental goals for the
future.

Those who study to be teachers get inadequate preparation for it in the BEd and DEd courses. We begin by setting a low bar for entrance to these institutions. To appear for the BEd entrance exam, candidates need to have only 50% marks in their university degree. In contrast, Finland, South Korea and Singapore recruit teachers from the top third of the graduating class in high school. These countries use a combined strategy encompassing compensation, prestige and labour-market responsiveness at the national level to attract high-quality talent.

Contrary to popular perception, teaching in India is now a relatively well-paying profession. The ratio of average teacher salaries to the national per capita income was at 3:1 before the 6th Pay Commission in 2006 revised salaries upwards. Now the ratio of a teacher's salary to the national per capita income is 5:1. In contrast, this ratio stands between 1 and 2 in OECD countries, and closer home, it is 1 in Bangladesh and 2 in Pakistan.

What, then, can we do to restore dignity to the profession and make it a career choice worth aspiring for? Here are some options worth considering.

Campaign to give teaching its due place: India should run a national campaign to recruit quality talent for teaching on the lines of the campaign run by the UK government in 2000. The UK campaign targeted segments of high-potential candidates and highlighted key messages based on extensive market research into the motivations and inhibitions in choosing teaching as a career. While the country had been facing one of the worst teacher shortages before the campaign, by 2005 there were eight applicants for every job opening.

'Teach for India' has demonstrated that it is possible to engage high-calibre college graduates in two-year teaching stints in low-income schools. Last year, the programme received 11,000 applications for 480 positions.

Creating a professional environment: In Shanghai, 'Teacher Study Groups' are intrinsic to the city's success in school education. In these groups, subject teachers form groups which are led by a senior mentor teacher and share thoughts and lesson plans, thereby creating a platform to exchange knowledge and ideas. In countries like UK, USA and China, classroom teaching is supplemented with an in-service training programme for trainee teachers for a specified duration.

Practice-oriented teacher preparation programmes: Like other practising professions, such as medicine and law, newly-qualified teachers need a form of apprenticeship. Without this, new teachers enter the system with theoretical knowledge of pedagogy and subject matter but little knowledge of the practicalities of teaching.

Delhi University's Bachelors in Elementary Education is an example of an effective curriculum that integrates theoretical knowledge with practical experience, as its students have to spend a significant portion of their four years in the programme teaching in a classroom, in order to be eligible for their degree.

Rewards, recognition and career progression: In India, teachers have few opportunities for career progression. Like in Singapore, teachers' aspirations should be taken seriously and a career path charted with three separate tracks for leadership, content specialisation and teaching. This should be done so as to ensure that no one track is more aspirational than the other.

Further, we need a well-thought out system of recognition to incentivise teachers. Karthik Muralidharan's research in Andhra Pradesh demonstrated that a nominal 3% performance incentive resulted in significant positive outcomes, indicating that recognition played a larger role as compared to monetary incentive. Such recognition will strengthen their morale and galvanise innovation in their teaching methods.

On Teachers' Day, it's worth recalling the words of Lee Iacocca, the legendary CEO of Chrysler, who had said, "In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honour and the highest responsibility anyone could have."

How far are we then in our quest towards such a "rational society"?
- Ashish Dhawan
(The author is founder & CEO, Central Square Foundation)

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