Pre-service teacher development is an important stepping stone for being able to have teachers who are prepared for the task ahead. In-service programs in that sense have to be linked to them and need to build on what pre-service programs do. In fact in-service teacher education is the major vehicle to carry forward innovation and quality improvement in our school education system.
The Teacher Development and Management Conference held at Udaipur in February, 2009 had in-service development as one of the themes. The conference identified the main strands of in-service teacher development as;
- Need for a variety of routes for teachers to further their professional development. - Develop a culture of shared learning and accountability such that teachers are not mere recipients of training conceptualized in a top down manner but are engaged with the task to develop their own and the group's knowledge. - Need to include the key principle of adult learning in programs of in-service development.
The conference also initiated discussions on different aspects of the in-service teacher development system including its curriculum. In the last few years major in-service training programs have been conceptualized and implemented. District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and subsequently Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) have brought in the possibility of continuous capacity building exercise for teachers along with regular academic support through Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs), Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and District Institute of Educational Trainings (DIETs). We need to review this process, the gains, the short comings and share the alternative strategies used at different places including by groups other than govt. We have to review and analyze participation of state level and national organizations in these efforts and the extent to which meaningful progress in design and implementation of the programme of capacity building were made, analyze the scope of participation and involvement of agencies working in education and the availability of capable pedagogues.
In the context of the above ongoing discussion, the following questions seem pertinent
- What needs to be done with the content of in-service teacher with renewed thrust on improving classroom practices and equity and inclusion as per RTE to enable the teacher/s embrace diversity and differentiate instruction for children from disadvantaged groups and to play their collaborative role with School Management Committee (SMC) and Local Authority. This is in the context of the fact that schooling system is today highly fragmented and stratified - and we have to see its implications for teacher preparation and professionalization
- What could be the approaches that help teachers' to become reflective practitioners and agents of transformation in their own contexts.
- What are the gaps in the ongoing in-service teacher training programmes and teacher educator preparation efforts to develop concrete recommendations on short/ medium/ long term basis to address those in a systematic manner
- What could be the indicators to track in-service development of teachers and the institutions that house them.
We would also request members to examine systems, mechanisms and modalities to implement quality in-service teacher training, and continuous academic support through various government and alternate structures in order to meet child-friendly, child-centered education provisions of RTE The inputs of the members would be shared in the proposed conference in Bhubaneswar on In service Teacher Training and would facilitate review of the efforts and available opportunities as well as quality of the in-service teacher development. This conference would also attempt at considering the systems and structures for such programs and how they link with the professional preparation, development and functioning of the teachers.
In my view, the biggest challenge we face in 'in-service teacher education' is the conceptualisation or 'mental map' of the model for teacher education.
In most cases, seeing the 'large number of teachers' to be trained, the focus has been on centralised models, where training modules are designed and developed at state capitals and then sought to be implemented across the entire state in a homogenous manner, so much so that the biggest fear here is 'cascade dilution'. We are familiar with the large size of the trainee groups (even 50+) so as to be able to conduct the program within the expenditure norms allowed, or cases of some teachers repeatedly attending training programs, while others bypass such programs (since the basic reporting is in terms of 'persondays of training', an aggregate number that does not reveal such practices).
There is often no process/system in place to capture/record the each teachers own perception/expectations regarding professional growth and development and no engagement with teacher educators/educationists to mentor/develop such expectations. However, in all large organisations in the corporate sector for eg, the drawing of 'individual learning plans' (ILPs), in consultation between the employee and his/her supervisor and the HR department is the starting point for development processes. This plan is used regularly to assess the changes in learners needs as well as help in design of programs. This ILP is an important complementing document to the 'annual appraisal document', together serving as a basis for appraisal of the past and planning for the future.
Individual learning plan
We need to begin by having a dialogue with each teacher on what her/his professional needs are and aggregate these (these would be qualitative and would need some kind of rough categorisations to begin with, which categories could be refined over time) at cluster/block levels and then design programs that would meet these needs. The dialogue with the teacher is also to probe/provoke/inform so that the teacher can consider possibilities for development not visualised. These 'learning plans' would need to be maintained at individual and aggregate levels at the cluster and block resource centres and updated based on actual programs, with both quantitative and qualitative (including teacher and teacher educator feedback on program) and used for replanning the training programs - to begin with at annual intervals. Thus the AWP (annual work plan) exercise moves from a largely a number exercise to a more qualitative one, based on actual teacher and teacher educator inputs based on learning/professional development expectations and experiences on actual programs conducted. This also means that we need to move from 'forced deputation' of teachers to a cafetaria approach where teachers are invited to apply to a pre-listed set of programs (derived from the collation of ILPs).
If we accept that the most important requirement for adult learning to happen is the interest of the learner, then top down planning of programs would be seen as quite ineffective. This in a sense would help us move from 'mass teacher training' to 'self directed teacher professional development'. A simple thumb rule could be that planning for teacher education in terms of curriculum, methods etc needs to be done at levels, where teachers can be referred to by their names rather than seen only as numbers to be 'covered'. (Just as we require teachers to monitor individual students learning efforts!)
As also suggested earlier, the expenditure norms need to be realistic and flexible, for instance providing for reasonable honoraria to allow for sourcing good faculty, as well as permit residential programs which can provide an environment for intensive learning.
Use of ICTs
While this movement is essential, we also increasingly see it as possible - there have been several pilots/programs at teacher development using such bottom up models. To be able to do this on a larger systemic level, the use of ICTs becomes necessary, in several ways –
- To collate and analyse the data on teacher annual learning plans, teacher and teacher educator feedback on actual training programs
- To help teacher connect with one another and with their teacher educators through learning networks (the USRN project is a good example), so that learning is a continuous activity than a 'event-based' (workshops) one alone.
- To help teachers share their experiences and their resources through portals (the USRN, the schoolwiki of Kerala are examples)
- To publish information about the programs - both financial as well as qualitative feedback for peer and public scrutiny
- Laptops (netbooks) have now come down to Rs. 15,000 a piece and these (with internet connectivity) need to be seen as essential learning tools for teachers. One netbook model that we buy for our staff costs 15,000, weighs less than 1/2 kilo and gives 7+ battery backup, good for wide use. The total one time cost of such netbooks for all the 5.5 million Government school teachers would be 8,250 crores, less than 1/2 of the amount we spend annually on proprietary software licenses in India (see here). We have also encouraged teachers and teacher educators to purchase these netbooks and have installed for them, the Ubuntu operating system with a large set of FOSS educational tools in different subjects which have been used in Kerala schools for the last 7-8 years. Training programs that help teachers access net for learning resources as well as TLMs and to connect with one another need to be a priority. These are no longer luxuries for teachers, they simply are the most powerful learning tools today which need to be made available to all.
Our own small efforts with teachers (through our 'Teachers Community of Learning' in Bangalore), to build their capacities to use ICTs have been rewarding due to our focus on teachers' articulated needs rather than any pre-conceived ideas we have about what 'all' of them want/need. Many teachers are hungry as well, but we need to invest to listen to what they are saying, and then respond.