Sitting in a largish room of a Block Development Office in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh at 3 pm in 41 degrees Celsius heat was not quite a pleasant experience. However, neither the high temperature nor the irritating sound of the fan really mattered as the conversations unfolded over the next two hours. There was intense debate on several suggestions for teacher development and other such initiatives to contribute to improving the quality of education in the block. The group included teachers and government academic support functionaries of the block, such as the Block Resource Coordinator and Cluster Resource Persons. My colleagues from the Azim Premji Foundation were facilitating the meeting. This was one of the preliminary meetings under the ‘Voluntary Teacher Forum’ (VTF) to be initiated at the block level.
What was remarkable was that each member was participating voluntarily. It was the result of our team members’ efforts at the ground level and their trust that the Azim Premji Foundation had something valuable to proffer.
Such events are happening across the 45-odd districts where we are currently present. All this leads to the concept of the Teacher Learning Centre (TLC), that becomes a fountainhead for increasingly more teachers voluntarily participating in conversations, discussion fora, seminars, workshops, large get-together events for both teachers and children (referred to as ‘Teacher Melas’ or ‘Bal Melas’, respectively) and many more activities.
For those curious about the kind of work the Foundation does on the ground, when I explain the VTF or TLC the first question they ask is, “Why should the teachers or other functionaries participate in such events/activities?” While everyone likes the concept, there is scepticism about how it would work without a government order in a sustained manner. The reality is that thousands of teachers, teacher educators, head teachers and education functionaries are currently associated with the voluntary forums that have been created near their homes and the number is likely to grow significantly.
It is not easy at all to carry this through or make it happen. It needs enormous mobilisation by our team. And there are several issues/principles involved in creating traction with people in a manner such that it creates the urge in them to visit the space beyond school hours.
Here, I am going to deal with only two critical underlying principles.
The first principle is: ‘An indefatigable belief in basic human goodness’. Whether you relate it to Theory Y propagated by Douglas McGregor in the early 1950s or any similar theory, it simply believes in the positive energy among human beings. It believes that all people want to do something good, constructive and positive in life. It believes that professionals want to excel and do a good job in carrying out their responsibilities. It believes that teachers want to teach well and ensure that their students learn well. It believes that education functionaries want to contribute meaningfully so that the quality of school education improves. It believes that the current unsatisfactory quality of school education is not because people don’t want to do their work but because they are unable to do it due to several constraints – including their own ability to contribute. And therefore, if enabling conditions are created or if the constraints are eliminated or significantly reduced, the professionals would intrinsically want to perform better. Illustratively, teachers are unable to realise their full potential because of the poor quality of teacher education that they have received or other disabling factors that temporarily inhibit their performance and productivity.
The second principle is: ‘Understanding the process of human development’. Corporate organisations are typically known to invest significantly large amounts in training their employees. However, even my colleagues in corporates would agree that classroom training as a methodology of human development is a much failed concept. In the first 10 years of our Foundation’s experience we derived some crucial learnings:
λ The probability of people development is higher if they voluntarily initiate the process. In other words, people need to take charge of their own development.
λ Classroom training does not yield significant results — especially in changing practices at work. The development effort is a combination of theory and practice where one creates a virtuous loop of learning-practising-sharing-learning.
λ Mere one-time interface with the given set of people is not very impactful — especially if the objective is to cause changes in the work practices. We need to engage with people in a sustained manner over a longer period.
λ One type of effort or method does not work for all individuals. Different methods need to be deployed for different people. A multi-modal approach is a must — as opposed to ‘one size fits all’.
Everything in our country is on a humongous scale and our education system is no exception. The need to contribute to teacher development is at the core of improving the quality of our education system. Currently, the institutions established by the government at the State, District, Block and Cluster level are grossly inadequate to reach out to the eight million teachers engaged in 1.5 million schools – leave aside taking care of their individual capacity development needs. There is no alternative to creating ‘voluntary spaces’ for teachers to take charge of their own development. Spaces that are convenient, comfortable and conducive to teacher development. Spaces that are closer to a cluster of homes where many teachers live. Spaces that are well-equipped with learning resources such as a library, a laboratory, digital learning resources and enabled by appropriate hardware and Internet connections. Spaces that are facilitated by resource people who have a wide social, educational and subject matter perspective, who encourage meaningful discussions related to children and their development in the most meaningful manner.
The voluntary forums must identify from among the existing competent teachers those who are motivated to contribute to the development of their peers and create a much larger resource pool of teacher educators — to address the enormous dearth of such educators across the country.
If teachers develop a deeper understanding of the connection between child development and society, of the importance of the integrated nature of the so-called subjects and of the processes through which children learn more effectively they would obviously teach better. They would evaluate their own current practices and make a conscious effort to modify them.
Dileep Ranjekar is CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation.