It’s not child’s play
One of the key targets for the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) is to improve the learning outcomes of primary students. This focus on quality is critical because various reports on India’s primary education sector have consistently indicated that children are not learning even though there has been a spurt in enrollment figures. One reason for such poor learning outcomes of primary schoolchildren — despite increased government spending over the years — is the poor quality (and in many cases non-availability) of teachers.
Apart from upgrading the teaching skills of existing teachers, it is estimated that an additional 5.1 lakh teachers would be needed to fill vacancies so that schools become Right to Education (RTE) law-compliant. In such a challenging scenario, the result of the 2012 Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) is indeed frightening and should be taken as a wake-up call. According to a news report, less than 1% of the 7.95 lakh aspirants, all BEd degree holders, failed to clear the test. The CTET was put in place in 2011 to improve the quality of teaching in schools after the enactment of the RTE law.
While there could be many reasons for this dismal show ranging from the CTET questionnaire to the fact that there were too many Hindi-medium students who had taken the exam, it is also true that the quality of teacher training courses in the country is poor. The draft report of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on RTE also acknowledges this fact. Saying that while there are many candidates who are ‘eligible’ to become teachers, very few possess the required competencies, the NAC has recommended the development of national professional standards for teachers, teacher educators and teacher education institutions.
There is, however, a basic problem that needs to be addressed first: the BEd course structure as it exists now is oriented towards training teachers for secondary-level students and is not the best course for training teachers meant for primary-level teaching since that requires a different set of skills. So India needs to revamp and build a separate cadre of teachers who will be trained to teach at the primary level.