By Dr. S. Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
The HRD Ministry has launched the National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA), which is a massive teacher training programme long overdue and indeed indispensable for reform of school education in India. It is said to be one of the biggest programmes in the world undertaken for in-service training of school teachers and heads of schools at elementary level in all government schools.
The initiative has come at the right time. While introducing the New Education Policy, it is also necessary to bestow attention on enhancing the quality of teaching through reforms in teacher education (TE). Global thinking is also in favour of providing relevant teacher training and updating its contents.
Teacher training is mainly designed to equip prospective teachers with knowledge, attitudes, behaviours, and skills to perform effectively in classrooms, schools, and in wider community signifying the multiple role of teachers in shaping children. Professionals engaged in this training are known as teacher educators or teacher trainers. Policies, procedures and contents of training are educational matters, but are in many countries high on political agenda so as to encounter multifaceted challenges.
Teacher education is a major factor in student learning and in improving teaching quality. In fact, it is a career-long process as social conditions and needs keep changing and require adaptations to be learnt through education and training. It is the centre of much-needed educational reform in India for enhancing the quality of education and student learning. Investment in teacher education and training is part of educational progress. The teacher needs to keep abreast of a changing world. The classroom is his/her laboratory where professional techniques have to be developed and tried. Teacher education and training also depend on the support of educational research.
The necessity for refreshment, growth, adaptation, are some crucial factors in making in-service training in any field. In Britain, a proposal to introduce compulsory in-service training has been considered for teachers, but not adopted.
Aimed at capacity building of over 42 lakh teaching staff in elementary schools, the mission now launched by the Government of India has the specific objective of motivating and encouraging these teachers to foster critical thinking in students. The foundation for proper education is laid at the elementary stage which is not realised by many people.
The training presently envisaged, will be a 5-day programme to impart innovative teaching methods, the use of art and technology in the classroom, and basic counselling techniques. This is expected to generate interest in school teachers to help students to think critically and not just mechanically reproduce textbook lessons. Rote learning has come under severe criticism these days as the enemy of true learning.
Wide coverage of teachers is being planned under the programme to include faculty members of State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), block resource coordinators and cluster resource coordinators in all States and UTs. Training is to be conducted directly by over 30,000 key resource persons and state resource persons trained by 120 national resource persons identified by NCERT, NIEPA, CBSE, and KVS among others. Thus, it is organised to create a chain of professionally qualified and trained teaching community.
NISHTHA aims at creating awareness among teachers to the multiple responsibilities of teachers in grooming students besides covering the contents of the prescribed syllabus. The responsibility relates to developing skills on various aspects of learning outcomes such as competency and proficiency and student-centred pedagogy. Training in school safety and security, cultivation of personal social qualities, motivation for inclusive education, ICT in teaching-learning, promotion of health and well-being including yoga are included in the programme.
The classroom in any government school in India today is vastly different from what it was at the time of independence. School education is in reality open to all – rich and poor, backward and non-backward classes, boys and girls, and rural and urban children. The teacher has to handle pupils with widely different background and need ability and interest in promoting educational equality. To cope with students from diverse background, teachers require education and training in a democratic knowledge system. They must be prepared by attainments and attitude to take special efforts to uplift the educationally backward and first generation learners – a task peculiar to the teaching job, particularly at the primary level in India.
Primary education in India refers to class I or grade I up to class or grade 6/7. The pupils are in the age-group 5 to 12 or 13 years. It does not include pre-school education. This elementary stage is considered very important in all countries.
NISHTHA is designed to help build character in students. Through this programme, teachers at the elementary level are expected to acquire scientific temperament and knowledge of important aspects of education and transmit that knowledge to students. Elementary education will be enriched with character development and not restricted to the conventional three Rs.
Even if these laudable objectives are not realised straightaway and just remain on paper, repeated assertions will not go in vain. These will help to lessen school-based inequalities furthered by indifference and ignorance of teachers to their social responsibility. The important role of teaching community at the primary level is at last getting recognition. It has to be sustained by constant reiteration and follow up action to remind parents and pupils and others who are prone to concentrate attention on higher education as the gateway to employment and neglect elementary education as a simple task and ignore primary schools as if they do not matter.
In the US, public school teachers must be licensed. But, there is no licensing system in India. There is a degree course in teaching. Any suggestion for re-assessment of teachers meets with strong protest naturally as such a system is needed in any profession.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is the main programme of the Government of India for universalising elementary education, which is implemented in partnership with State governments. Its mandate is not only to provide universal access to education and retention, but also to bridge gender gaps in education and advancement of learning levels of children. There are other schemes also like “Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao”, “E-Pathasala”, and “Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyan” for primary and secondary education. NISHTHA can be a big support for education for all.
Policy cooperation in the European Union has led to a broad description of the kinds of attributes that teachers in EU Member-States should possess. Teacher education, which is high on the agenda of school system is organised in three stages – initial or pre-entry, induction stage, and in-service. Continuous professional development is provided in most countries.
Reports are coming about the poor quality of school education at the primary level in many government and aided schools pointing to the urgency to take remedial programmes. Ill-equipped teachers are not likely to show commitment to improve the capacity of students. We have to avoid landing up in a state of educational emergency marked by wide inequalities in quality of learning and learners. Action must start immediately. — INFA