Till 2003, there were only 22 teacher training colleges for art and science colleges in Tamil Nadu and around 3,000 teachers were unemployed. Over the last decade, the numbers have grown by leaps and bounds. So has the adaptability to technology with respect to novel teaching methods like smart board classes, Twitter-based lessons and video conferencing. But the quality of teachers remains a constant subject of debate.
Who takes up teaching?
The availability of seats exceeds the number of applicants. “Nearly 20 years ago, I believe there was quality as only the creamy layer of students opted for teaching,” says S Vasanthi, principal, NK Thirumalachari National College of Education for Women, Chennai. The institution was started in 1966 to provide well-trained teachers. It offers BEd, MEd, MPhil and PhD programmes to students from arts and science streams. “Today, nearly 90 per cent of the students who take up teacher training programmes opt for them as a last resort,” says Chamundeswari, associate professor in the same college. Many students are also disinterested in the course. “While some of them lack adequate skills, others lack communication skills. Thus, we run a ‘Bridge Course’ spanning over two-three weeks before the actual course starts. This session helps them improve communication skills,” she adds.
Demand and supply
In 2003, a number of arts and science colleges started teacher training programmes — now nearly a lakh teachers graduate annually. In order to aid these colleges, the age limit was relaxed in 2004. “Earlier, only candidates up to the age of 25 could apply to teacher training programmes. However, today, a lot of people can take it up despite being out of the academia for a long time,” says Vasanthi.
Though this phenomenon presents various advantages, the disadvantages loom larger. “The greatest advantage is opening up teaching avenues to women at a later age. However, at that age, they are also bogged down by a number of family responsibilities and numerous commitments,” points out Chamundeswari.
Also, today students are selected by way of a counselling process. Before 2004-05, students needed to clear an entrance test. “Today, we are forced to admit students with minimum marks,” laments Vasanthi.
Institutions such as National Assessment and Accreditation Council and National Council for Teacher Education ensure the syllabus is updated once in two or three years. The BEd programme focuses on defining the teacher’s objective, understanding the content (what they learn at arts and science colleges during their bachelor’s), methods of teaching, technology-aided teaching (smart boards, presentations, audio and visual aids) and finally, methods of evaluating students. “The education course curriculum is very extensive. However, owing to lack of a strong foundation in the subject, students are unable to link it with teaching plans,” says Vasanthi.
While mediocre courses have pulled down the quality of teachers we produce, they also suffer from apathetic government policies and myopic managements. They are constantly caught up between over-demanding school managements that are percentage-oriented and the indifferent attitude of students and parents. “How will you have quality education when the ideal class strength should be 35 as against 70, which is the actual number in certain schools?” asks Chamundeswari. In addition, teachers are bogged down with classes throughout the day and are unable to complete work such as correction during school hours. Moreover, some teachers continue to be paid nominally. Thus, they are forced to take tuitions to supplement their income.
For professional courses, there is hardly any pedagogic training in India. “When compared to teachers from arts and science backgrounds or those in schools, engineering teachers do not have training related to specific domains,” says Mohan, director, National Institute of Technical Teacher Training and Research (NITTTR), Chennai. The institute, which is run by the Union HRD ministry, was started in 1964. NITTTR trains polytechnic and technical teachers across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry. “The programme was originally meant for polytechnic teachers in the ’80s. Earlier, engineering courses were more practical-oriented. Thus teachers did not need to undergo any teacher training programme,” says Prof Mohan. “The course includes motivation modules to motivate teachers and to help them do the same with their students,” he adds. He adds that with the advent of globalisation, teachers need to communicate with the rest of the world. Thus, teacher training programmes are a must especially for developing communication skills and to re-orient themselves.
The course spans over two weeks and encompasses modules on teaching methods, evaluation, planning lectures, psychology and also micro-teaching sessions. Under the micro-teaching session, each participant’s classes will be recorded. Later, the video will be played back in their presence and experts will present their comments. During the programme, teachers also undergo an industrial visit.
NITTTR started a web-based course — web instructional design and delivery system — last year where nearly 300 teachers came together. “We selected seven polytechnic colleges and the programme targeted teachers within 50 km of these colleges through webcast and Skype,” says Mohan. “In the 1970s and ’80s, NITTTR offered two-month programmes and a one-year diploma in engineering and technical education. But today, the course spans over one or two weeks,” he points out. The dwindling number of participants led to the shortening of the course.
Mohan says government colleges are willing to send their teachers for training. However, private colleges are reluctant to do the same. The reasons could be faculty crunch and attrition.
Teacher Eligibility Test
TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) was introduced last year to assess competence of teachers for arts and science streams. “This test has made us concentrate on the content that we have so far been neglecting,” says Vasanthi. Around 30 per cent of the test is based on the content of the teacher training course and psychology and the rest is based on the subject studied during undergraduation. “In many self-financing colleges, the seats for the education course are barely filled and a course like diploma in education has died a natural death,” adds Vasanthi. Now, a paper on TET has been included in the syllabus. The course has the advantage of choosing quality teachers as the filtering process happens in the initial stages.
Vasanthi feels the age limit for teacher training courses should be retained at 25. “This could definitely ensure a creamy layer of students enter the field of education,” she says. She also suggests the Union HRD ministry undertakes ‘manpower planning’. This would include surveys to identify the need for teachers in every sector, create the potential through teacher training programmes and screen for quality teachers and train them intensively. “Though there has been a provision for this approach since the Third Five-Year Plan, lack of statistics has spelt the failure of the approach,” says Vasanthi.
In the last five years, the usage of technology has gained popularity. Nevertheless, classes are incomplete without teachers. “Today, there is over dependence on technology, which is not a good sign. Only 10 per cent of teaching should be dedicated to technology,” says Vasanthi. Prof Chamundeswari feels that offering the right remuneration and adequate recognition to teachers could improve the quality of education. “It is very important to take care of basic needs of the teachers,” stresses Vasanthi.
More institutes needed
NITTTR offers a one-week training programme to colleges at a nominal fee. Nearly 60 students can be trained in one session. However, Mohan feels that one NITTTR is not sufficient for four states and one union territory. “I believe that each state should have an NITTTR. Also staff colleges for engineering should be established in each district,” he adds. He also suggests having web-based courses and teacher training programmes via distance mode.
Currently, the institute offers Twitter-based tutorials, lectures through blogs and uses Wikipedia to present analyses, which are rated online. “We are now developing a module for distance course. The teachers will be assessed at regular intervals and will have to attend contact classes and micro-teaching sessions,” says Mohan. The quality of teachers remains a big question today. Yet, a well-rounded approach to identifying, educating, recognising and remunerating teachers could elevate pedagogy.