Teachers are not what they used to be!

Over the last few weeks I have had the privilege of speaking with a few heads of school. I have known some of them from the time they were teachers and who have progressed from being teachers to becoming heads of the school on the basis of their dedication, hard-work and competence. While discussing education with them, especially on the quality of teaching in schools and the need for teacher training, one important point was thrust forward repeatedly; “Teachers are not what they used to be!”

Based on these conversations it seems that:

* Our expectation of professionalism from educators has deteriorated, reflective of an overall deterioration of standards of professionalism in the society. Most of us are happy with mediocrity in the garb of excellence, we have grown in quantity largely at the expense of quality; be it doctors, defence officers, engineers, domestic help,. Genuine quality control and monitoring mechanisms are few,if not non-existent. For example, if you have recently travelled to cities around Delhi (in Haryana or UP), the landscape is dotted with hoardings of Management, Engineering and Educational Institutes. Generally speaking, the density of these institutes far outnumbers the density of population in the area. Most of these institutes are ignorant about or don’t seem to be interested in maintaining any standards of quality.Short-sighted regulatory bodies are turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the curricula and its delivery in these institutes.

* Salary is another oft-quoted reason for deterioration in quality of teachers. The school management invests an absurd amount of money into the physical appearance of the school. However, when it comes to their most important resource, i.e. teachers, they hardball salary downwards like a petty trader. In market driven economies of today, and like in any other occupation, money is a key motivator. If compensation is not adequate then the teaching staff will look for alternative means (like tuitions) to supplement their income which takes their focus away from school work or will look at alternative opportunities with other schools. Loyalty, commitment and professionalism, key pillars of development and progress, are the biggest casualties.

As Lord James Goldsmith very aptly said, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to work!”

* Teaching is an art as well as a science. Our pre-service teacher training programmes are redundant to a large extent. I have had the privilege of doing my pre-service training in India as well as Canada. Both have course content dealing with educational philosophies and psychology butthe Indian BEd stops short of putting educational theory to practice and the trial and error one has to indulge in to operationalise theory is at the cost of students’ learning. The BEd programme in Canada, empowered me to design curriculum, teaching and assessment and other pedagogical practices with philosophical and psychological underpinnings.

In-service training, something that at in the not too distant past, used excite schools is now perceived sceptically largely because the trainers have failed to make training relevant and long lasting for teachers. Teachers and administrators find that most in-service teaching programmes do not help bridge the gap between theory and practice and the half-baked concepts covered are therefore difficult to adapt to the classroom setting.

* A majority of our schools have either very inefficient or no work systems and processes in place. In this day and age of working smart and not just hard, most of our schools continue to function as they did decades ago. Schools seem to be caught in an outdated time capsule reluctant to keep pace with the 21st century.There has been a mountain of educational research in these two decades but it seems to have bypassed a vast number of our schools. Given these inefficient tools/systems to work with, no wonder teachers are doing an inefficient job.

* Lastly, and most importantly, teachers are reluctant to improve and empower themselves. Generally speaking, they are not interested in polishing their tools and learn new ones in order to keep themselves abreast with modern teaching-learning processes. They seem to have become cynical and rigid to the detriment to the system within which they work. They are largely intolerant and ignorant of technology and instead of using it as an ally, they perceive it as a threat .They seem to have brought to life Oscar Wilde’s words, Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching”.

There can be a million reasons for not adopting pedagogically sound practices, but there is only one reason to adopt them and that is to maximise the learning of your students. Teachers, isn’t that your mandate and raison d’être?