Community for Quality Education

10 Aug

Offering the right  learning experience in classrooms is the task of teachers. But they work under pressure and need support from the members of society

 We all know that the quality and commitment of a teacher is what ultimately makes a difference to learning in the classroom. The teachers who care will put in the effort to make a difference. Those who don’t will be swamped by circumstances.

Our teachers, especially in Government schools and in the best of private schools are well qualified. They can provide certificates to prove subject mastery as well as training in the craft of teaching. They are now paid a reasonable salary too. And yet, it does not seem to be enough. We still have huge teacher shortages. People choose it often as a lifestyle job rather than a vocation. If you are in a profession without a deep passion for it, then where will the motivation come from?

Also, few people want to join this profession. Those who are in it seek tenure (permanent posts), prefer to stay in larger towns, refuse or avoid transfers and would like to operate in very limited ways. It has been recorded in the ASER reports that on an average 25 per cent of teachers are absent from Government schools on any given day.

Smaller private schools face further challenges, and this works both ways. They cannot access the more qualified or experienced teachers who prefer to work in permanent posts in Government schools, or would prefer to move to prestigious city schools. Teachers, on the other hand, report exploitative conditions in many schools where the principal rules the roost. Those who lose favour are given tougher roles, suspended on flimsy reasons and suffer a difficult working environment.

While teachers like to settle into a routine, it does become wearisome after a while. The best of teachers need to be able to re-dedicate themselves to their vocation for it to be a meaningful experience for them and their students. Merely going through the same ‘course’ every year may make them senior teachers but does not always improve student performance. Not many teachers demonstrate the will to do so — sadly.

But these are two separate issues, even if related. Motivating teachers to improve student performance is a step above getting the teachers to teach the classes they are paid to teach. This is the classic you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink problem. Except that here there is a clear breach of contract — both legal and social.

If teachers violate their contracts with such impunity, there is clearly a failure of governance. Either the rules are terribly lax, or they are not enforced consistently. What is worse is that creativity and effort are not invested in improving the lives of students, they are spent in beating the system.

In such circumstances, there is only one power that can change things and that is the power of the people. Teachers, students and parents are not just bound by the legal contract but also by a social contract that places the teacher on a pedestal. The teacher is in loco parentis — in the position of a parent  — and is, therefore, in charge of each student’s welfare. The teachers are accountable to the parents even as parents owe it to the teachers to inculcate learning values in their children. This tricycle can’t function if any of the connectors doesn’t deliver.

Parent communities have immense power, as urban school teachers will attest. Strong communities in rural and urban villages are the first step to reviving good governance. This does not have to be an adversarial relationship. Students perform best if the three (parent, teacher, student) work in tandem.

It is time the parent community took charge and strengthened the traditional social contract with the teaching community. These bridges are necessary to enforce and motivate the teachers to do what they have chosen as their profession.

(The writer is an education strategy consultant who has lived, worked and taught in London for over a decade. She is now based in New Delhi.)

 

 

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on August 9, 2012 as Parents too have a Stake in Education, linked here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/52179-parents-too-have-a-stake-in-education.html

 

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