Teacher education and social inclusion in India: the role of teacher educators
As part of its drive to decentralise primary education, India has set up District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) to provide regular in-service training for primary and upper primary school teachers. At the same time, another opportunity for teachers’ professional development comes via the innovation of Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs), each covering schools within a geographical area of about 10 km. CRCs have helped teaching to change from being an isolated job with few opportunities for professional sharing, to become a job with regular opportunities for sharing ideas and practices with colleagues.
A key challenge for both these new organisations is to motivate teachers in government schools to adopt the ‘joyful learning’ and a ‘child-centred’ approaches associated with the revised, competency-based school curriculum. These approaches all demand that teaching and learning be geared to the needs of each individual learner. This brings many challenges for the professional development of teachers since:
…teaching activity has been reduced to a minimum, in terms of both time and effort. And this pattern is not confined to a minority of irresponsible teachers – it has become a way of life in the profession [Public Report on Basic Education 1999, p. 63].
It is crucial that teacher education rises to those challenges, since repetition and drop-out are closely linked with joyless and teacher-centred schools. This is an important issue for social inclusion, as it is the government schools that serve the social groups who have so far been excluded from formal education.
CRCs are led by talented teachers who can try to persuade colleagues to adopt new ideas and approaches. This can work well with teachers who are open to change – but there is little they can do with teachers who do not respond, and there are many teachers who doubt whether these approaches can really work in the classroom. CRCs have no power over teachers and can do little more than suggest, or try to model new approaches. However, in terms of ‘whole school improvement’ which is at the centre of successful educational change, a very positive aspect is that all teachers in the school regularly talk to each other about their work at CRC meetings, and so a professional discourse is emerging.
Formal in-service training is still needed, to provide direction and support for teachers, but this focuses on individual teachers away from their schools. The quality of the training itself is not without its problems. The DIETs are mostly staffed by teachers who used to be in higher secondary schools and few of them have primary teaching experience. This makes it difficult to respond to the requirements of the job, which are to work in schools with primary teachers, evaluating training impact, identifying teachers’ needs and designing programmes that respond to them. The DIETs function more as a site of delivery of programmes designed at the state or national level, than as organisations that respond creatively to local needs. Rather than places of exciting teacher development, they have become known as training institutes (see photo in editorial).
What, then, can be a way forward for teacher educators to develop more meaningful support for teachers in schools, and so fulfil the promise of decentralisation?
- There is a strong need for comprehensive professional training for DIET staff to help them be effective by developing the skills, knowledge and understandings appropriate for primary teacher educators.
- There is a need to reconsider the recruitment rules that demand double Masters degrees for DIET posts, and therefore exclude most primary teachers from becoming formal teacher educators, as primary teachers are rarely university graduates.
- There is a need to promote closer links between the DIET and CRCs to help create upwards and downwards information flows between teachers and teacher educators.
Any move towards ‘well supported teachers in schools’ will need to be accompanied by paying closer attention to developing the professional competencies of those doing that support – the CRC and DIET staff. This is an issue of social inclusion, for the power of government schools to enrol and retain children from the communities who are hardest to reach can only grow if committed and competent teachers are supported by committed and competent teacher educators and sensitive teacher development policy.
This article is based on a research project entitled District Institutes of Education and Training: a comparative study in three Indian states, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and carried out in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the funding body.
Caroline Dyer is a Senior Research Fellow in International Education in the School of Education, University of Manchester. She has been working in basic education in India for the past ten years.