A soft tune plays as 10 couples waltz. In each pair, one partner leads another, whose eyes are shut. A few minutes later, the group is called to order. “How did you feel being led while your eyes were closed?” asks the trainer. The participants are all teachers at the Greenlawns School in Mumbai and their ballroom dance was actually an exercise to help them instruct better.
The workshop, designed to help teachers improve their self-esteem, was held by Teacher Foundation, a non-profit organisation working in the field of education. “We work to infuse more energy, enthusiasm and expertise in the school education system in India,” says Maya Menon, director of the foundation. Programmes such as these are picking up in schools across the country to make classes more interesting for students.
“I began my career as a teacher. Over a period of time, I realised that the real challenge in education is not children. It is the teachers,” says Menon. “Teachers deal with impressionable lives. If they do not enthuse students, they could kill a child’s joy in learning. That’s why there is a real, urgent need for teacher development,” she adds.
While shortage of teachers is an issue often discussed, education advocates and activists say another issue is the quality, or lack of it, among the nation’s estimated two million teachers. Teaching the teachers, thus, is becoming business for schools, non-profits and education training companies.
“The kind of education that is imparted in most schools in India is largely teacher-driven. In the guise of discipline, the thrust is to teach students to listen and follow and not question,” says Prakash Iyer, manager for community initiatives at Wipro Ltd and head of Wipro’s Applying Thought in Schools initiative. Such an environment does not foster curiosity or creativity, he adds, which is why when Wipro sought to address the challenges in the education system, it realised that it had to go to the teachers.
Wipro’s Teacher Empowerment Programme has already worked with over 6,500 teachers in 244 schools through its partners, which includes The Teacher Foundation and Gurgaon-based iDiscoveri Education Pvt Ltd. The programme aims to help the teacher become a reflective practitioner who cares for the development of every child, to equip the teacher with curricular and pedagogic skills — essentially to trigger change in the entire school through the teacher.
Ahmedabad-based Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd, a consultancy for education entrepreneurs and schools, has designed a simple tool for helping teachers. The organisation will prepare material called teacher sheets, which will be sent to 1,000 schools across the country. These sheets will be specific to a class and subject and each school will receive one or two such sheets.
“The teacher sheets are designed in such a way that it will highlight common misconceptions that most students have and will provide guidelines to the teacher on why the misconception was created and how it can be addressed,” says Sudhir Ghodke, director of Educational Initiatives.
According to Ghodke, the tool has numerous advantages over conducting workshops. One, he says, it addresses specific areas of concern where even the teacher’s comprehension may not be perfect due to which he or she is not able to communicate the concept well. Another is that it can be scaled up to impact a large number of schools in a short time. Ghodke says that so far schools have responded enthusiastically.
Vijayaraj R, principal of the Naval Public School in Goa, that has used the teacher sheets agrees that they have been helpful. “After going through the various questions, it has given us new dimensions to classroom teaching and the value of understanding the question clearly has increased,” he says.
Over the next few years, teacher development activities may gain more momentum bringing in international players as well, such as the Singapore-based Global Indian Foundation, a non profit organisation focusing on education that now plans to open centres in India. “We will offer teachers training as per international standards,” says Atul Temurnikar, chairman, of the foundation.
In recent years, information-technology companies, such as Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd, Agilent Technologies India Pvt. Ltd and Microsoft Corporation (I) Pvt Ltd, have also started working with teachers. But their focus is on training teachers to use IT as an enabler in the teaching process.
Microsoft runs a programme called Shiksha under its Partners in Learning initiative, which provides IT training to students and teachers across government schools. The government provides the infrastructure and Microsoft develops and provides the trainers and curriculum. Intel offers a similar programme through its Intel Teach initiative. More schools are also adding teacher in-service days.
Aparajita Rana, principal at the Greenlawns School, says that since the time she took over as head of the school three years ago, training for teachers has been an important activity in the academic calendar. “Every semester, we have some activity that focuses on faculty development. These expose teachers to new ideas and new methodologies so that they are able to give back some thing more to their students,” she says.
Teachers also agree that the investment is worth it. Says Annette Fernandes, a primary section teacher at Greenlawns School, “The workshop gave us new ideas that we could use in the classroom. It motivated us and in turn helped us make students more active and participative in class.”