Inspiring teachers to become the best minds

Inspiring teachers to become the best minds

A self-motivated lower primary school teacher from Kolar with 13 years of experience showed her action research project on English teaching, which she had undertaken with a deep concern for making English teaching effective in lower primary schools, that too for 1st standard children. She had spent her personal time and effort to do this project in 12 schools, overcoming severe personal challenges.
A young teacher from a small interior village in Ramanagara, just one year into the teaching profession, showed a burning desire to learn and develop himself and courage and conviction to handle sessions for teachers, many of whom would have rendered years of service equivalent to or more than his age.
Another reflective teacher from Nelamangala in rural Bengaluru, who has already had some experience of being a resource person in a few departmental trainings earlier, has chosen teacher engagement as a way to enhance his capability mainly to address the superstitious beliefs prevailing in society.
These three people were among the 135 people I met face to face across six districts in and around Bengaluru last week, each of them individually for at least 15 to 20 minutes – from among teachers, head teachers, other education functionaries - as part of a unique state-wide effort to select suitable resource persons for the ongoing revamped teacher professional development process in Karnataka. They had all cleared a written test conducted by the Department of State Education Research and Training (DSERT) earlier, and hence pre-selected themselves for this interaction process, for being assessed and picked as Master Resource Persons for facilitating training sessions for teachers at the district level.
I was on an interview panel consisting of state resource persons (SRPs) - both from government and Azim Premji Foundation and one faculty from the District Institute of Education and Training - which had been formed to interact with teachers and education functionaries across six districts in and around Bengaluru for one full week to find the competent and willing people among them.
We spent a day in each of the six districts, where simultaneously seven panels of interviewers from various subject areas – Kannada, Hindi, Science, Maths, Social Science, Nali-Kali and Education Perspectives – met people one on one. There were five such interviewers' groups that functioned simultaneously, across five different locations, covering five to six districts each that week, thus covering the entire state. Our broader mandate was to select 56 competent and willing persons per district, 1904 positively inclined Master Resource Persons all across the state, to deliver training to 50,000 teachers in a most effective manner this year.
I had written in these columns a few months back about the path-breaking changes initiated by the State Education department in Karnataka in the in-service teacher development process. The whole approach, though exhausting mentally and physically, has been refreshingly innovative for those of us who are involved in it right through. This effort could potentially even set a benchmark for other states to emulate, given the scale and intensity of changes.
Just to compare the teacher development efforts till last year - the state used to have a top-down approach towards designing the training modules, which simply meant that someone having the mandate at the state-level would decide what kind of training the teachers would undergo for certain number of days and in which month (usually it would be at the fag end of the academic term, when the teachers would be hard pressed for time to complete the syllabus), depending on the available budget being released by Ministry of HRD. More importantly, the depth of the training content, the resourcefulness of the faculty who were delivering the training, the quality of discussions and the infrastructure facilities at the training venues were not addressed adequately. So much so, as many studies on training effectiveness have shown, that most in-service teachers had reached a stage where they saw hardly any real purpose in attending any such training that was offered.
From this year, a few fundamental changes have been made by the state in the way the in-service training is conceived and executed. The onus of professional development has now been shifted onto teachers themselves by providing them the choice to opt for specific modules they would like to attend, based on their interest, from a menu of options. Two other key changes made are in terms of conceptualizing and designing the modules and strengthening the quality of resource persons who would deliver the training to the teachers. This apart from the efforts to improve the training facilities in the districts as much as possible and running a massive campaign within the education department to generate a positive environment around this effort.
On module development, a group of nearly 80 state resource persons had worked intensively for the last 8 months to conceive and design 28 modules in seven subjects, in a rich manner that would address both immediate classroom needs of teachers and their long-term development. It is also intended to re-ignite the interest of teachers to learn more.
The quality of the resource persons who would handle the modules is the next critical aspect. It is an accepted fact that however good the curriculum and the content may be, if the facilitator is inadequate or has inherent limitations, the objectives of a given session would remain unfulfilled. Given this reality, it was agreed to make the Master Resource Persons' selection process rigorous, involving a written test and a face to face interaction, across all districts. This was to ensure that those selected had the right aptitude and the requisite set of characteristics such as conceptual understanding, openness to learn and engage deeply, facilitation skills, ability to deal with diverse set of participants and address challenges, self-confidence and influencing the teachers.
The task of designing the written test, administering it in various districts, evaluating the test papers and selecting the Master Resource Persons through interviews - were all entrusted to the state resource persons – SRPs' team (of which I am a part). The same SRPs are also responsible for developing the Master Resource Persons.
My insights from interactions across six districts has been quite enriching. There have been multiple other experiences in other districts, and some of them could be divergent ones, but some of what I am sharing could be similar across the state.
There was tremendous positive response from those who participated in the interaction process. They felt valued and, most importantly, got the space to share the work they had done and raise concerns. The entire selection process was professional and transparent. Even those who felt not yet ready to take the responsibility or were found to be not yet adequate, left with a feeling of having got the opportunity. Those who were not keen or had some personal difficulty to invest time, were not pushed, and those who showed exemplary courage to overcome personal and professional hurdles were appreciated. The informal setting helped create an open and welcoming atmosphere. Some of them expressed concerns too regarding the subsequent processes and how this would translate into better learning to themselves and through them onto children.
A significant insight emerging from this entire selection process is that a gigantic organizational machinery like the government education department, with enormous systemic challenges has been open to adopting such a far reaching change initiative and investing its resources to identify the best available talent from within. They have committed themselves to the journey of significantly strengthening teacher professional development over a long period.
Another key trend observed during my travel across districts is that significant percentage of people in urban districts are not showing keenness to invest their time on their development. In Bengaluru Urban (comprising South and North educational districts) district, nearly 40% teachers expressed that they were not keen, despite doing quite well in the written test. In rural districts, comparatively the commitment levels are high but they need significant resource support. While this trend by itself is not surprising, some drastic steps are needed to address the apathetic outlook of teachers and functionaries in urban areas, where the government schools are facing imminent threat of extinction.
"The dull, monotonous and uninspiring school teaching is due among other things, to poor competency of teacher", and "A sound programme of professional education of teachers is essential for the qualitative improvement of education" as had been observed by the Kothari Education Commission as early as in 1968.
S V Manjunath is currently an Associate Director (Kannada Initiatives) at the Azim Premji University. He has a Master's Degree in Social Work and a PG diploma in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations.
Manjunath made a mid–career shift more than seven years back, after spending more than two decades in the corporate sector as a human resource professional.
He has interests in literature, music and cricket and writes regularly on issues in education in various newspapers and portals. He has authored two books in Kannada - a collection of essays on his experiences as a HR Professional titled 'Janasampada' and 'Sakha-Sakhi', a photo feature documenting his parents' 50-year life journey.
The process of development of competent Master Resource Persons has started earnestly across the state. The actual launch of the re-envisioned teachers' training named aptly as 'Guru Chetana' is planned to be launched on 5th September. As Dr. Radhakrishnan had wished, this development process should hopefully inspire thousands of teachers to become the "best minds in the country".