Train teachers better

Last Updated 14 September 2011, 10:46 IST

Practically everyone in the conference wanted to know from the delegates from Finland the reason for their success in the quality of education.

During their presentation, the Finnish delegates said: “We just invest, invest and invest in our teacher education”.

Post 1970, Finland completely re-vamped its education system by transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers.

As a result, each one of its teachers had a Masters degree, with almost identical level and intensity of preparation. They have professional teachers who are competent in what is expected of them.

This was clearly the most fundamental reform in their education system. Their teacher education is designed so as to make it very difficult for just anyone at all to become a teacher. Only one out of ten aspirants is able to become a teacher. But once you are a teacher, your status, competitiveness, compensation and opportunities are equivalent to those in any other profession.

The two most important consequences of such high quality preparation of teachers are — Finland outclasses other Western countries on the Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) results and they have managed to eliminate domestic testing of students because they trust their teachers.

Their teacher education prepares teachers to work as scientists in the classroom and it lays huge stress in working collaboratively. It prepares them to think and does not stuff them with education theories. Above all, it prepares the teachers to effectively meet classroom situations.

Admitted that Finland is a very small, highly developed country with a population of half that of Bangalore.  And it is also true that a huge, diverse country like India brings its own complexities to the problem. However, irrespective of our size and other socio-economic differences, we must accept that the issue of “quality education” cannot be addressed unless we first address the issue of “quality of preparation of teachers”.

We cannot expect to prepare teachers through an outdated ten month BEd programme. The current teacher education fails to add any value to the students nor does it prepare the student to face the multi-socioeconomic, multi-cultural and multilingual situation in the classroom. 

Here are some questions we need to ask in order to make the teaching profession perceived as worthwhile:

*Who are the people  choosing the profession?
*What is the admission process to the profession?
*What is the nature of the curriculum? Does it allow for enough practice?
*What is the quality of educators who carry out the teacher education programme?
*What is the teaching-learning process like? How does assessments happen?
*How are teachers appointed / selected for the job?
*What are the opportunities for them to grow in their career? What is the recognition system?

The reality is that teaching is not among the most preferred professions in the country. And this is despite the fact that in a village, with Rs 22,000 per month average starting salary, a government teacher is among the most highly paid professionals. The compensation is almost comparable with that of a new software professional.

And why is that so? Having seen the schools, education system and the teachers in the school closely for several years, I have some hypotheses.

*Quality of education: The current teacher education is at best obsolete, inadequate, and entirely lacking in rigour. Anyone can choose to undergo this education – there is no perceived premium. Many teacher education colleges practice fraudulent practices of just registering students for a fee and issuing certificates at the end of the year. The student gets no practice, no perspective, no attitude to love the job of constructing the next generation.

*The job: The teaching job must be positioned as a job with great challenges, learning value, and exciting opportunities to impact the development of the generation and therefore the development of our nation. It must have scope for self development and career growth.

*Image, status and aspiration: To begin with, the education system and the society must treat teachers with great respect and care. Teachers must not be subjected to the vagaries of locally “influential people” and made to appease anyone in the system. The current system is devoid of any “risk-reward system.” Excellent performance is not recognised and poor performance not punished.

*Personal needs, comfort and lifestyle: For teachers located in thousands of our villages, it is a major struggle to reach the school, meet the educational needs of their own children and achieve some basic comforts in life.

If we show the requisite political will, apply sound education management principles and make a genuine effort, we can surely make the teaching profession in India too – if not the highest paid at least the most respected.

(The writer is CEO, Azim Premji Foundation)    

(Published 14 September 2011, 10:46 IST)

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