For better teaching in the classroom, invest in training the educators
Student learning is the result of several processes driven by stakeholders, with the most direct form of interaction being through its classrooms. This is why teacher professional development ought to be at the centre of the priority chart
With the budget for teacher training being slashed further this year, there are concerns about the priorities in school education and inadequately addressing the urgent need to build capacities of teachers. The last two years have reiterated that teachers are at the forefront of the learning experience. Their role in determining what and how students learn cannot be stressed enough.
Student learning is the result of several processes driven by stakeholders, with the most direct form of interaction being through its classrooms. This is why teacher professional development ought to be at the centre of the priority chart. Counterintuitively, in most cases, it is at the periphery of processes and practices in the school education ecosystem.
Pre-service teacher education courses expose teachers to globally successful pedagogies and classroom theories. The test, however, is the ability to apply these in real classrooms. It is not of teachers not getting the difference between didactic and interactive teaching methods. It is of teachers choosing to practise the former because it has been used down the ages while the latter seems hard to implement. It is here that in-service teacher training plays a role in bridging the gap that separates what teachers learn and how they teach.
In Indian public education, there are five key challenges in in-service teacher training: One, there is little or no focus on the facilitation skills of trainers. The outcome of this is that the trainer may have a strong grasp of the subject matter, but is not equipped to transfer that knowledge to teacher-participants. Moreover, subject matter knowledge is not where most teachers face the highest level of challenges. General and subject-specific pedagogical practices, translating the vision of the curriculum into student learning, and designing and implementing assessments are aspects where teachers require more support.
Two, the way a teacher training session unfolds — instructive with negligible input from participants; examples that are often disconnected to the actual classroom environment with examples from a decade or two ago — is not conducive.
Three, there is a disproportionate focus on subject-specific training. Notwithstanding the importance of strengthening discipline knowledge, it is vital to acknowledge that subject-teachers cannot operate in silos. It is prudent for teacher training programmes to visualise the scope for interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge. Four, there is little to no emphasis on building the capacities of teachers in areas other than subject matter. Structuring a class, time management between on and off-tasks, integrating socio-emotional learning, engagement with parents, families, and the community are among their responsibilities that have a substantial impact on students. Additionally, the last few years have seen the role that technology played in teaching and learning. Even as we reopen schools, a blended learning approach is here to stay. Adequately equipping and supporting teachers to leverage technology is the need of the hour.
Five — and arguably most critical — is the impact of training on classroom practice once teachers are back. There is a tendency to pick up from where they left off. This may be attributed to two factors — a lack of understanding of how to implement what they learnt in the training within the realm of their classroom, or, a lack of incentive to do so.
While the first can be addressed in the way teacher training sessions are designed and conducted, the second points to the need for a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism. Following up with teachers once they go back to their classrooms is a crucial. This won’t just work as a nudge to teachers to translate what they learnt at the training, but also enrich future training sessions with insights from the classroom.
Increasing expenditure on building teachers’ capacities, though necessary, will not be enough. It is time that we revisit and reimagine how teachers learn. It will be an important determinant of how students learn.
Neena Jha is a former teacher and teacher educator. She is currently adviser, Education and Skills Practice, KPMG in India.The views expressed are personal