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India needs quality institutes for teacher training

India needs quality institutes for teacher training
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Two recent news items caught my attention as I was thinking of the forthcoming academic year for which everyone into education needs to look back,...

Two recent news items caught my attention as I was thinking of the forthcoming academic year for which everyone into education needs to look back, review or assess one's performance and improve for the new round ahead.A One was the proceedings of our 61st National level meeting of the Central Board of Education (CABE ) on 2nd April and the other was the April 12th, 2013, New York Times article "Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?" by Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education .

The latter is the writer's observation on what ails the American system of education and the former is what we have decided as reforms for our future in education, and many may wonder if there is any connection between the two to be discussed in one breath. I found some similarities between the problems faced by the American system and ours and, therefore, I felt that the reforms we propose may be strengthened by adapting at the right time, some of their well-researched ideas. Accepting that we are progressively adopting the Common Core standards that ask much more of students, what have we done to raise the standards for teachers which are a critical parallel step?

We demand the next generation of schools to teach critical thinking, foster collaboration, and incorporate technology, become more student-centered and engaging. We must acknowledge that the more skilled our teachers, the greater our chances of achieving these goals. Unfortunately, by international standards, our teachers are underperforming, regardless of how they were trained and in spite of all the additional certifications. Added to this, many of our private schools have untrained, unqualified teachers and teachers with false certifications too. Our expectations from teachers have stepped up radically but we still overlook how schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms.

I went through the much awaited CABE report, and among other issues like considering the exigency and need for a national framework for higher education; proposal to constitute a CABE Committee to make recommendations for evolving the National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF); finalizing our National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (ICT)� I focused on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education. Some of them are:

Conducting TET-like tests before entry into the teacher education institutions; Setting up teacher education institutions in a multi and inter disciplinary academic environment; Making teacher education a part of higher education and redesigning education programmes and aligning them with the NCFTE � National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education; Emphasis on face-to-face training for teachers as against distance mode training; Setting up a National Level Academic body for research and analysis of teacher education programmes on an on-going basis; Making the in-service training programmes useful by identifying and offering what the teachers need;

On-going review of the norms and standards of teacher education curriculum. It is heartening to note that the Government of India has already approved Rs.6300 crores for the teacher education project and had requested the UGC to start schools of education in all the Central universities.

Many might feel, as I myself did, that we are doing our best and surely the results will be promising too. After reading the passionate plea for true reforms which count in Prof. Mehta's article, I thought we needed to strengthen our efforts much more. Unlike nations like Singapore, Finland and Korea that have undergone revolutionary changes for the better with one generation of struggle and commitment to educational reforms which literally shook the old methods to the roots, the American system of education, like ours, has been trying several changes to improve the educational standards ever since the 1980s but with little consistent and satisfactory progress worth the time and money.

What is true of the U.S drawback is true of us too: "�on the whole, we still have the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support."

I felt happy that my ideas on enhancing quality education by improving teachers' standards coincided with the professor's. A Teaching is a complex activity that is hard to direct and improve from afar. A The 'factory model' of hierarchical supervision is ill-suited to disciplines like teaching that require considerable skill and discretion.

It requires a professional model with a widely agreed-upon knowledge base, a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, a tough, rewarding, prestigious 'eligibility test', continuous professional guidance and continual periodic in-service training to avoid the current scenario of wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms with predictably uneven results. A So, it is not surprising that a clear mission, talented teachers, time for teachers to work together, longer school days or after-school programs, feedback cycles that lead to continuing improvements are the backbone for all successful schools and government.

Let us learn from the successful models being implemented in the nations that lead the international rankings in educational outcomes� Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada. A Here teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in our country where teaching is the last option of the intelligent and ambitious.

Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government, with much higher standards. They focus on extensive clinical practice rather than on classroom theory; are selective in choosing their applicants rather than treating students as revenue stream; and use data about how their students fare as teachers to assess and revise their practice.

Unless the approach becomes thoroughly professional, involving money and political will, teaching cannot be brought on par with fields like law, engineering or medicine, and unless it is achieved, mere 'tinkering at the margins' will be of no avail and we may find ourselves no better off than what we are today even after a few more decades .

Yet another aspect we need to reconsider is regarding the teachers' workload. Our administrators think that teaching means only that which is done in the classroom and hardly give enough leverage to teachers for other important things which make it effective. We will be surprised to note that teachers in leading nations' schools teach for less than 600 hours per academic year and the balance of teachers' time is spent collaboratively on developing and refining lesson plans while in the U.S the teaching hours are roughly 1040 hours and it is around 1440 hours in our country.Undoubtedly, strong Welfare States provide more support for students' social, psychological and physical needs, and make it easier for teachers to focus on their academic needs.

Naturally this leads to strong academic performance, greater autonomy and more public financing, which, in turn, makes education an attractive profession for talented people. What we need is not increase in mere numbers, more institutions for teacher training per State, but quality institutions at the national level that can promote activity and action-centered research right from the pre-primary level in education. We need to make teaching the first choice of the worthy and efficient; we need to invest in research in education and make teacher training an inherent component in higher learning and raise the bar of our teachers' efficiency and social status to match our expectations in their performance.

Let us be wise enough to learn from our past mistakes as well as those of other nations and train our teachers adequately and appropriately, provide them with the necessary incentives and encourage them to deliver.

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