Teacher! Don’t leave us kids alone
In the words of William Arthur Ward, ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.’ One of the most critical issues that the Indian Education System [IES] faces today is its inability to produce sufficient ‘good, superior, or great’ teachers. Over the past decade, the IES has been a topic of wide debate and discussion with regard to its highly regulated policy framework; its under governed assessment of interventions; its insufficient allocation of funds; and its poor financial management of allocated funds.
The reason for such attention stems from the fact that an educated and skilled workforce is highly instrumental in the growth and development of a country. However, the Center of Budget and Governance Accountability [CBGA] report on the ‘Priorities of the 12th Five Year Plan’ indicates that observed change in the quality and access of education at a regional level has been minimal. While the Right to Free and Compulsory Education was passed with vehement enthusiasm in 2009, no such parallel efforts were made towards ensuring a proportionate increase in quality teaching staff. This is one of salient reasons why India will remain stuck in a vicious cycle of poor quality education.
While teaching in India used to be one of the most respected professions, it has almost entirely lost its appeal to the present generation. There are numerous reasons for this change in perspective. For starters, teaching is no longer popularised as a career option. The most sought after specialisations remain law, medicine or engineering. However, with India playing host to burgeoning corporate firms, the other avenue that has become very prominent is that of pursuing an MBA. All of these fields are considered to be more lucrative than opting to follow a career in teaching. Teachers’ salaries are not nearly as high as those of lawyers, bankers, or consultants. While there has been a drastic change in the teaching pay scale after the 6th Pay Review by the University Grants Commission [UGC], it is still not as competitive as the compensation received by corporate professionals, or lawyers and doctors with a private practice. For instance, a senior professor with numerous years of teaching experience makes a salary of about INR 40,000 – 67,000 per month while an MBA right out of graduate school demands more than that. In fact, private training and coaching institutes that do not fall under the purview of formal education are far more appealing to those who have the affinity to teach as they provide flexible timings and higher pay.
Secondly, the stipulated boundaries within which academic curriculums in the K-12 space and most higher education institutes are set, teachers seldom have the option to teach in an innovative manner. There is little opportunity for teachers to go beyond the syllabus as there is way too much set material to cover in order for students to be able to appear for examinations. Assignments do not require research and study of material beyond what is already prescribed for the course. This hinders the development of heightened interest for any student in a particular area of study which is absolutely necessary for any budding professor. Furthermore, teachers rarely devise educational tools that drift from rote learning. Application oriented learning, which is how education is imparted in most of the developed world, is influential in facilitating understanding of concepts which goes on to inculcate deeper interest in the subject matter. Since the profession of teaching requires stimulation of pedantic qualities in young adults, the stringent Indian education structure acts as a barrier in allowing that. With inhibited teaching methods and low stimulation of interest in academia, fewer students are drawn to teaching as a career option.
Thirdly, educational institutes do not have adequate administrative staff which is why teachers are often required to complete non-teaching administrative responsibilities. This takes away from time they could spend on preparing for their lessons, conducting academic research, and providing outside classroom time to students. Such tasks act as a deterrent for teachers who get into the field to enhance their academic skills rather than put their time towards endless filing activities. Additionally, the teaching profession in India does not offer continuous and steady professional development opportunities like those in other fields. There is a dire need of an organised system for setting of goals, providing feedback, and performance appraisals for teachers to remain motivated. These issues also act as disincentives towards pursuing teaching, especially in government run educational institutes.
Since there is low incentive for students in India to become teachers, attracting quality teaching talent is an issue for Indian educational institutes. Without ‘explanation, demonstration, and inspiration’, the youth of India will not strive to delve into academia and research, which are indeed key to the progress of any nation. Therefore, in order to break the vicious cycle of low quality education, the government should focus on ameliorating teacher quality by enhancing teaching conditions by providing them more freedom to design course curriculums; making their compensations and perks more competitive; and establishing a professional development system.
Another effective measure which is not yet being discussed at length in India is the creation of educational hubs, ‘university towns’, as they are called in the West. A few paradigm university towns in the US are Davis, Boulder, Berkeley, and so on, where the entire town is geared towards fulfilling student and teacher needs. In such towns, the university acts as the primary economic anchor and local businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, and so on, develop around the university to make it a place where students would like to study and professors would like to live and teach. While India has a few such examples such as Pune and Kerela, there is tremendous potential for India to develop several remote areas as such educational hubs. This would encourage people to pursue a teaching career who are dissuaded from doing so because they do not have the inclination to move to remote areas which are low not just on educational provisions but also provide an inadequate lifestyle with low development of quality housing, transportation, water sanitation systems, and cultural life. Such developments will create education clusters stimulating greater research. This could, in time, revive the predilection for academia and teaching in the current and future generations, which will help break this vicious cycle of low quality education.