A group of 50-odd principals is listening intently as principal and teacher-trainer Rekha Vijayakar gestures towards a slide in front of them.
It’s as good a snapshot as any of the zeitgeist: one column on the slide says “teacher”, the other says “facilitator”.
“A teacher only speaks, but a facilitator communicates,” said Vijayakar, to the group. “A teacher expects answers as per the subject, but a facilitator guides students to find answers depending on their environment and the material.”
A peephole into one teacher-training workshop offers glimpses into a universe of changing teaching practices. “Facilitators” — the new buzzword on the lips of educators — encompasses the shifts that are increasingly informing the broadened role of teachers.
“Teachers have to be facilitators; they no longer know everything,” said Savio D’Mello, vice-principal of St Xavier’s Boys’ Academy in Dhobi Talao. “There was a time when a students would say ‘my teacher said’ as if it were the last word, but that is no longer the case.”
Technology, for one, has thrown equations out of gear. Interactive ‘smartboards’ have invaded classrooms, the power point presentation has become a way of life and the Internet has democratised information inequalities that might have previously existed. The oracular authority of the teacher stands rivalled.
“Teachers have to compete with search engines now,” said Father Jude Fernandes, the principal of St Stanislaus School. “Students know as much or more than teachers so they have to constantly keep themselves up-to-date.”
Anupma Didi, a teacher who describes herself as one of the early converts to Facebook, constantly references technological teaching aids in and out of class. “Technology has been a blessing. I’m constantly trawling the Internet to access resources,” said the English teacher at Pinnacle High International School in Malad.
Diddi could well be the archetype for the new-age teacher. “I’m friends with my students on Facebook, but I draw the line at being overfriendly with them,” she said. “Being online is a good way to send out reminders to students or to check their rough drafts of assignments.”
Marshalling technology to their aid has further fuelled the “facilitation” process for teachers, ensuring learning is interactive, rather than a didactic one-way transmission of information.
The burgeoning spotlight on children’s emotional needs has further expanded their role outside the fences of pure pedagogy. Schools have various programmes in place to sensitise teachers about “softer skills” and the need to reach out to students.
While St Xavier’s has a student-teacher mentor programme, Jamnabai Narsee has a specialised student resource centre for those with special needs. “We have to focus on things like emotional and spiritual comfort of the students, not just the academic part,” said Marie De Silva, a headmistress at Jamnabai.
This January a rash of student suicides threw up several questions about the education system and the stress that children face. As schools grappled to find answers, teachers more than ever became the foot soldiers in the mental health campaigns across schools. Harish Shetty, a city-based psychiatrist, along with his team, has so far conducted workshops with teachers from 74 schools across the state, reaching out to 7,000-odd teachers. “There was a sense of fear as well as urgency about it,” he said. “Earlier principals resisted attempts at talking about mental health, after the suicides, there was a shift in their attitude.”
Such shifts have manifestly modified the role of the teacher. “The shifts in the role of the teacher have been threefold: a greater awareness, a greater responsibility towards mental health and an increased bonding with children,” said Shetty.
All these changes have been largely driven by what principals, teachers and educationists describe as the shift towards “child-centric education”.
“Education is now child-focused more than ever,” said Arundhati Chavan, principal of a teacher training college. “Now the teacher is a facilitator, a co-ordinator and a guide.”
Teacher training too, is evolving. “It is now more focused on communication skills, team teaching and understanding the emotional needs of students,” said Chavan.