Restoring teacher development to teachers

Restoring teacher development to teachers

Submitted by alvin on Mon, 2016-11-07 10:17 It seemed like a 5th standard classroom of any typical higher primary school in Northeast Karnataka. The teacher was engaged in teaching Kannada, the first language. About 40 students were attentively listening to the teacher, who was teaching the first two stanzas of the poem ‘Bhagyada Balegara’, from popular folk literature. (It’s a beautiful poem, written at a time when there were no phones or e-mails and one had to rely solely on people travelling from one place to another to transmit news to their near and dear ones. The song depicts a conversation between a newly married woman and a bangle seller: the lady asks the bangle seller to visit her parents’ house to convey that she is fine, while providing specific directions and clarifications to him to get to her home town).One could see her teaching the poem with a lot of involvement and verve, backed by prior preparation. While she wrote down many difficult words on the black board and explained their meaning, she was in her element when she herself sang the poem melodiously to a near perfect tune, imbued with appropriate feeling, and got her students to join her in chorus, thus generating a vibrant learning environment. She drew out linguistic aspects such as word classification, synonyms, etc., from the children themselves and described the essence of the poem in colloquial terms. At the end of the class, she posed a few revision questions to ascertain that her students had learnt it right. She also assigned the children homework – of penning down their own imaginative folk poem and identifying 3-4 new folk songs – by the next class.The uniqueness of the above class was that the learners were not the actual students but government school teachers from different districts of Karnataka, who had voluntarily come over to Hyderabad’s Don Bosco training centre for a five-day residential workshop during last summer vacation to attend a language and poetry teaching session. The female teacher who was passionately taking the class was from a higher primary school at Vaddarahosuru, Ilkal west cluster of Hunagund block, Bagalkot district.  That all of the 210 elementary school teachers teaching various subjects in nine districts took part voluntarily in the May workshop held in three different locations was a noteworthy feature. Ninety Kannada language teachers and 79 social science teachers had their residential workshops in Hyderabad’s Don Bosco and Jeevan Jyoti Ashraydham respectively, while 41 science and maths teachers had theirs at Kalaburgi’s Myrada training centre.  Of the five days, the first four days were devoted to education perspective areas and specific subject related topics. On the last day, a visit was organised to the famous Salar Jung museum, science museum and zoo, providing a delightful experience to the teachers.Currently, 12 days’ training is being provided annually for government in-service teachers by DSERT / SSA. Of these 12 days, 5 days are meant for workshop (in which different modules such as ‘Sambhrama’ for Nali-Kali teachers of grades 1-3; ‘Samagama’ for teachers of grades 4-5; ‘Vikasana’ for science teachers of 6-7 grades and ‘Sinchana’ for Maths teachers also of 6-7 grades are transacted) . The remaining 7 days are used for the monthly consultative meetings held at the cluster resource centres (CRCs).Going by the experience of the past few years, the first two hours in the monthly CRC meetings are spent discussing administrative issues in the department and the remaining two hours is dedicated for addressing teachers’ professional development needs. Since teachers from different subject backgrounds attend these meetings, varying needs of teachers are seldom addressed. A key aspect observed with regard to the annual five-day training for teachers is that there are no specific modules for social science and language teachers.  This means that the need for these teachers to gain subject enrichment is not adequately recognised, nor has it been considered a priority.This apart, deputing teachers for training during school hours has many adverse effects.  Firstly, keeping teachers away from students during class hours disrupts their learning process. This impact is much more severe for children who have already fallen behind in learning. Secondly, from a teacher’s perspective, it is difficult to engage in continuous professional development in the midst of countless academic and non-academic chores during school hours. They would need to spend meaningful time in a stress-free environment for their own self-development to broaden their horizon and equip themselves better in their area of interest. Thirdly, non-availability of teachers reinforces the deep rooted beliefs of parents and stakeholders that private schools are more disciplined and have a far better time sense.Considering these challenges, our insights from the above workshop could provide an effective alternative to the long-term professional development needs of in-service teachers from the following dimensions:Preparatory phase – selection of the right contentOn the first two days of the workshop, spaces were created for teachers to examine their own perspectives in the light of their classroom practices. Three chapters from the book “What did you ask at school today?” by Kamala Mukunda, (herself a teacher with a background in educational psychology) were dealt with. The structure and function of the brain and its evolution, stages of child development and how they play a part in developing cognition, role of emotion in learning and how one needs to be sensitive to children’s feelings, were the focus. The transaction was primarily through guided reading, understanding and reflection. We found that even such complex issues could be taken up with adult learners by drawing upon their own experiences. That those sessions had a deep impact on teachers could be seen from the fact that a senior teacher with 22 years of experience shared openly that he had resorted to corporal punishment at least five to six times in his long stint, and that he had resolved not to do so anymore.    The topics selected in specific subjects for the next two days were also found to be stimulating for teachers. In science, the topic chosen was ‘water’ – analysing it from various dimensions - its role in daily life, exploring its source in the earth, the concept of it being an inorganic compound, its biological significance for plants and animals and its surface pressure and cohesive forces. Thus, around the same topic, there was an attempt to integrate biology, chemistry and physics. Similarly in maths, in the ‘importance of measurement’, area and perimeter and relationship between the two was focused upon. In social science, ‘hunters and gatherers of the pre-historic times’ was the focal point of discussion.       In this phase, an in depth preparation of the resource persons, including providing suitable reading material, some of which involved transliteration from English, weaving together different sessions among facilitators, and introducing relevant activities were given importance. All these made the workshop a worthwhile experience for teachers. During the workshopSeveral factors need to be considered at this stage. Subject knowledge and proficiency of the facilitators, making the sessions relevant to classroom teaching by giving contextual examples, creating opportunities for teachers to examine their own beliefs and practices, encouraging them to bring in their own viewpoints, emphasising key learning areas, and obtaining constructive feedback are all critical, apart from being professional and adhering to discipline. Attention needs to be given to introducing relevant co-curricular activities during free time, enabling bonding amongst participants and facilitators alike. All of this is possible only if the venue has all the basic facilities conducive for residential training for both men and women without it being outright lavish. Post-workshopApart from organising such quality workshops at least twice a year, emphasis should be given to forming voluntary learning groups among teachers to maintain continuity of learning. They should be supported in trying out in their classrooms key aspects of perspectives, knowledge and skills learnt in the workshops. On-site support in schools and sharing of learnings through tele-conferences are the other possibilities that need to be explored.Fully resourced Teacher Learning Centres are to be established near teacher residences and sessions involving discussions, watching relevant films and videos, etc to be organised after school hours in the evenings and weekends. At least two to three such resource centers need to be established in every taluk.Considering our experience of working closely with teachers on the ground, the following changes could be incorporated to make the in-service teacher development effort more meaningful:1. The onus of taking responsibility for their own professional development in the long run should be restored to teachers. This means that teachers must be offered several courses which they could pick and choose from, allowing them to engage in their own development at their own pace depending on what stage they are in.2. This requires developing a comprehensive curriculum that identifies relevant concepts from class one to class ten. Relevant contextual reading material should also be developed, preferably at the district and taluk levels.   3. Identifying and involving competent and committed resource persons from among teachers, teacher educators and functionaries from across the state, in curriculum and module development and facilitation, is the other key aspect that needs greater attention. Needless to mention, adequate space, time and effort should be given for the development of this group itself, every year.4. The government has already recognised the importance of having a suitable residential facility and creating conducive spaces for encouraging academic dialogue and discussion among teachers. As a first step, all the DIETs, CTEs and Block Resource Centres in the state should be fully equipped and made conducive for in-service training.  5. The current allocation of per day cost (Rs. 200/- per day) for teacher development is abysmally low. The state government should find ways and means to significantly beef up additional funds towards this crucial end. Funds should be released well in time so that the training doesn’t wait till the end of the year (as it is happening currently).6. Kerala has made spaces for teacher development on non-school days. Perhaps, in Karnataka the government could look at conducting in-service training during summer and October holidays. To make sure that it does not come in the way of teachers spending time with their families, a planned training calendar could be made and notified well in advance so that they can plan their time properly. Taking the teacher unions along and making them a party in these decisions is also a required measure.    7. Karnataka is at the forefront in terms of having a transparent teacher selection process like CET and steadfastly holding onto the no detention policy. The current dispensation has also shown keenness in making fundamental changes in the in-service teacher development space.Hopefully, the DSERT and SSA will be able to carry out many of these changes from the next academic year itself that will make the government schools vibrant learning spaces for the disadvantaged children.Author:S V Manjunath currently heads Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than seven years back, after spending more than two decades in the corporate sector. He had been a human resource professional, having worked in reputed public and private sector organizations like Bharat Electronics, Bosch and Himatsingka Seide, where he last held the position of Associate Vice President – Human Resources. Managing the Industrial Relations, playing a balancing role between the management and unions; aligning the goals of the workforce with the vision of the organization was his forte.