The Travails of Teacher Education

Particularly in Higher Education in India, I have long been bothered by a systemic gap in Teacher Education. The gap lies in the preparation of teachers for HE. Today the minimum entry criteria for an Assistant Professor in HE is the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SET/SLET) [UGC Regulations 2009, and the most recent one UGC Regulations 2010], a good academic record and 55% marks at the Master’s level. PhD holders are exempt from the NET requirement.

The norms of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (faculties of agricultural and veterinary sciences), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (medicine, dentistry, nursing and AYUSH), National Council of Teacher Education (faculty of education), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE, Engineering and Technology, Pharmacy and Management) and the Rehabilitation Council of India (rehabilitation and special education) will supersede these regulations. Of these, the most striking exceptions are for education and those under the AICTE (which excludes perhaps 30% of the HE institutions in the country).

Essentially then, these regulations are majorly for Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, Commerce, Education, Languages, Law, Journalism and Mass Communication programs across HE in India, not really affecting professional education in most part.

The selection process include advertising at a national level and a Selection Committee that is formed on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the UGC (typically university nominees, college principal and governing body member, a couple of subject experts, college Head of Department and so on).

For the direct qualification at a Professor level, the requirements include 10 years of high quality work, atleast 10 publications, atleast 10 years of teaching/research experience including guiding doctoral candidates, (surprise) contribution to educational innovation (read innovation, design of new curricula and courses, and technology mediated learning process) and a minimum score in the Performance Based Assessment System (PBAS) indicator called Academic Performance Indicator (API)  [must read: Pratiksha Baxi on Kafila : The UGC Dictates]. A Professor could also be directly recuited if her credentials prove that she is an outstanding professional with established reputation in the given field, having made significant contributions.

A college principal, on a side note, is expected to have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, must have been an Associate or Full Professor for 15 years and must have a minimum API.

An Associate Professor must have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, atleast 5 publications, atleast 8 years of teaching/research experience with evidence of having guided doctoral students, significant contribution to educational innovation  and must have a minimum API.

Norms in the 2010 UGC regulations also vary slightly in other disciplines such as Music and Performing Arts. Regulations in professional programs like Management/Business Administration at the institution level include a focus on past work experience and credibility in the industry, but let go of the more rigorous requirement of being an educational innovator.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. What does it take to teach vs. what does it take to become a teacher?

I strongly believe that domain expertise is really crucial, but coupled with that must be some amount of knowledge/skill/passion for teaching. The regulations sort of assume that you are born a good teacher or that you have become one through experience. The regulations attempt to quantify in the PBAS what constitutes quality in research or innovation in education (but fail miserably, IMHO). For example, educational innovation is thought to be:

Participatory and Innovative T/L Process with materials for problem based learning, case studies and group discussions etc., with points given for interactive courses (5 points), participatory learning modules (5 points) and case studies (5 points). If the teacher uses ICT (Powerpoint/Multimedia/Simulation/Software) in addition to chalk and board, she is entitled to 5 more points.

The PBAS provides a maximum score of 20 for “use of participatory and innovative teaching learning methodologies, updating of subject content, course improvement etc.” in an overall score of maximum 125 and a minimum required of 125.

Similarly, if you look at Paper 01 of the National Eligibility Test, called General Paper on Teaching Aptitude and Research [samples here], there is some attempt to gauge whether the test taker is a good teacher or not (atleast in the limited manner of a multiple choice question diagnostic test). The test covers analytical reason, math, english, data interpretation, general knowledge, basic IT knowledge, and a bit of knowledge around education and our education system. I am guessing some intrepid test preparation institutes would have a good amount of printed course material and question banks already around these to help students get past this death-defying assessment.

And in typical style, someone in the bureaucracy decided they want a review and have posted an undated questionnaire online which seeks to “elicit the views of a cross-section of the society regarding utility, effectiveness and continuity of UGC-NET”. The questionnaire (and you will miss it if you don’t click on the link to the MS Word quiz labelled “questionnaire” in the last paragraph) is a multiple choice quiz of 4 survey (Yes/No) questions. There is no mention of the results so far though the NET has been running since 1989.

There are perhaps better ways to elicit views.

Directly impacting these issues is really the availability of technology (hardware, software) and content at the institutional level given the scale and diversity of the Indian HE challenge (now 33000 institutions, 600+ universities and about 20+ mn students). I am hoping that over time, these conditions will evolve and improve – the existing resources being Sakshat-NMEICT, InfLibNet, Journals access etc. – to embrace OERs and low cost hardware riding on the National Knowledge Network itself which is being now extended to private institutions as well. Infrastructure is required in order for a teacher to teach.

Other direct impacts are can be derived through focus on areas such as

  • providing an ecosystem (and infrastructure) at the institutional (or group) level that encourages innovative practices,
  • the building up of a community of teachers, facilitating their interactions through techniques such as peer coaching, peer conferences, awards and recognition
  • devising a program for teacher educators for HE,
  • devising programs for pre-service and in-service teachers that are embedded, not in the traditional system, but in precisely the new age education systems that they will seek to further
  • embedding appropriate andragogical and heutagogical techniques in the curriculum and building teacher skills to adopt these in their own learning
  • investing in open and distance learning at the institutional levels
  • providing a more rigorous system of assessment and evaluation for teachers at the entry level without acting as a bottleneck

So what is the UGC doing in the area of HE teacher education and training. According to the UGC website, it has established 66 Academic Staff Colleges. It is interesting to read through the Refresher Course rules and regulations. They lay down career progression linkages through the Career Advancement Scheme which stipulates the number of refresher courses that must be taken in order to considered for the next higher level. At this point, it seems that they have to attend at least one orientation and 1-2 refresher courses.

The curriculum coverage is as follows:

The content of the Refresher course will have essential percentage of the core material in the subject discipline along with required percentage of areas of emergence and priority, (both national and global), essential laboratory and practical component, computer application and I.T. Contents, if required with relevant advancement to the subject discipline.

The Orientation Programme provides opportunities for newly appointed teachers as well as for in-service teachers to make them familiar with the use of tools (software) and “Internet Literate” as Orientation Programme has I.T. based contents and about one week time will be devoted to I.T. based contents and training.

The curriculum for the Academic Staff Orientation Course may have the five components with 144 contact hours, i.e., 6 hours daily for 4 week programmes and 3 week Refresher Courses may have a minimum of 108 hours as already communicated to the UGCASC/ RCC. In addition, computer awareness and application of computers in teaching and research in different areas as relevant for the subject disciplines. All UGC-ASCs and UGC – RCCs have been requested to take steps to implement the programmes/courses accordingly.

If you take a look at the responsibilities of the ASCs, the overwhelming focus seems to be on subject and (assuming very basic) IT skills. Teacher participation is all paid for by the government. The detailed list of Orientation programs in 2009-10 gives very little reason to cheer. Organizations like JNTU, Hyderabad and MANUU, Hyderabad are actually talking workshops on effective teaching and open source software in education, but the vast majority are definitely not. One thing that may be good is that I see a lot of focus on principals and administrators based workshops.

Of course, none of these are in any way open or visible. Like much of Indian education. Which is not to say that innovation does not exist, that  there are not people with cutting edge thinking in education and that the future is grim – just that those dark corners need to be illuminated soon.

In school teacher education, however, the situation is richer with the National Council for Teacher Education (which has been although recently superseded by the government for 6 months on account of malpractice). NCTE has come up with many publications and I would suggest that they are worth a look, particularly the National Curricular Framework which has good ideas such as the Teacher Learning Centre. They have also got a Teacher Education Institute evaluation and accreditation mechanism.

It also has developed a Central Teacher Eligibility Test to select teachers fit to teach in schools for Classes 1-8 (essentially for BEd students). Please do look at the curriculum and sample tests – it will be an interesting exercise for teacher educators around the world to contribute and critique these.

Of related interested is how organizations like the Distance Education Council address the problems of faculty development and certification for blended programs and those offering academic (tutor) support online. This is something that is quite important to address as well.

In summary, it remains a challenge for us to figure out a more effective system for teacher education in HE today. The existing mechanisms need to be reviewed and the hidden dialogues around this issues needs to emerge.

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