By Amita Chudgir
There is widespread acknowledgement that learning levels in Indian schools leave a lot to be desired. Research provides strong evidence from across the world that teachers are crucial for improving learning outcomes. But after asserting the centrality of teachers, the literature stops speaking with a uniform voice. While from a policy perspective, teacher education and teacher training are often considered crucial, research on the performance of trained and untrained teachers fails to find that students of trained teachers always perform better.
The narrative about the importance of teacher education is further complicated by a few parallel currents in the education system. One is the growth of a fairly heterogeneous private schooling sector, which pays limited attention to hiring trained teachers yet exhibits student performance that is comparable (and not inferior) to public schools. Second is the lack of systematic evidence that contract teachers with limited training underperform compared to the trained government teachers.
Insufficient Teacher Accountability and Assessment
Such results about lower or similar performance of trained government teachers and untrained private or contract teachers translate into calls for greater teacher accountability and assessment of teacher performance. An underlying assumption is that teacher accountability mechanisms with potential sanctions will serve to change teacher behaviour (increase motivation, commitment, effort) and thus provide a solution to the problem of academic underperformance.
While the attention on teacher behaviour may be necessary, it cannot be sufficient to bring about long-term and sustainable changes in the system.
Quality of the Teacher Education Enterprise
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) document, “Themes and questions for Policy Consultation on School Education” is on the right track when it asks, “Why have the existing teacher training programmes failed to bring about improvements in the quality of teaching learning?” But arguably, before we can get to this important “why” question, there are a series of “what” and “how” questions that also need to be answered about teacher education in India. According to 2013 figures, the country has a little over 1,000 government teacher training institutes and close to 15,000 private teacher training institutes. Together each year these institutes enrol close to 1,3,00,000 aspiring teachers.
In terms of number of students, our teacher education system is larger than entire higher education systems of many small countries. How is it that such a vast enterprise seems to be unable to produce a discernible difference in the quality of education in our country? If trained and untrained teachers perform similarly, then we must understand what does teacher education entail across India? What does it mean to be a B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) or D.Ed. (Diploma in Education) certified teacher? Is the teacher training adequate in length, content and, most importantly, quality?
In 2012-13, while studying teacher distribution patterns across India, we spoke to over 30 officials and actors involved in various aspects of teacher training, recruitment and placement. We heard consistently from these respondents, dissatisfaction with the quality of teacher education available across the country both at pre-service and in-service levels. The respondents voiced concerns about training institutes that did not really train, exam results that were completely manipulated. The 2012 Justice Verma Commission has made similar remarks and raised related concerns.
But beyond this qualitative and somewhat sporadic evidence, we do not have any systematic way to verify how well these teacher education institutes perform in terms of training teachers. An influential study from the United States stands in stark contrast. The authors gathered detailed data on several teacher education programmes in one state, how they train, what they train on, who their faculty are and so forth. They were then able to follow the aspiring teachers who trained at these different training programmes into their classrooms, with their own students. They found that different teachers were differently effective in improving the performance of their students. But more importantly, they were able to link at least some of this teacher effectiveness all the way back to the specific aspects of teacher training they had received in their training programme.
Developing a Rigorous Model of Teacher Training
A centralised test like the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET), some might argue, provides a measure of what the teachers are learning. And indeed the passing rates of the most recent Central TET (CTET) at 17% in September 2015, or 12% in February 2015 are an alarming indication of the underperformance of our teacher education system. (B.Ed. or D.Ed. degree is required to be eligible to appear for CTET). But this process too, as it is set-up now, shifts the burden of underperformance on the aspiring teacher, while not holding their training institute to account, and it also tells us little about how effective these teachers will be in their classrooms.
Teacher education is an extensive higher education endeavour with real costs to the aspiring teachers and real implications for teacher hiring and salary decisions. We must therefore develop a clear understanding of what the labels of B.Ed. or D.Ed. from one institute versus another imply. What should a rigorous model of teacher training look like for diverse learners in our country? These systemic questions need to be addressed for solutions that are long-term and sustainable. A focus on teacher assessment and accountability is important but the close to 16,000 teacher training institutes must also be held to account for providing appropriate teacher training. Without attending to how teachers are prepared and supported to teach in the challenging circumstances they often work in, our educational reforms will remain incomplete.