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Learning from One Another

16 Sep

“When children teach other, they learn better”. I remember hearing this from a teacher in a simple school in a small town. Then I heard the same last year from Vicky Colbert WISE Laureate – indeed this is what transformed education in Colombia via the Escola Neuva system. Through difficult terrain, poor communities, scarce resources – here was a power to be harnessed – the peer.

Learning from each other is a natural way of picking up knowledge and skills. As children and as adults we learn by watching each other, even more so by copying each other’s actions. The next stage is trying it out – learning by doing. There is an old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” But there is one more step. A recent study of retention in learning marked out a pyramid where ‘learning by teaching’ showed a retention rate of 90%, compared to a 5% retention rate for a lecture or a 30% retention rate for a demonstration.

What does that look like in a classroom? A class full of teachers will be chaotic surely? If all the students are teaching each other, then what is the role of the teacher? The role of the teacher evolves to being so much more than a passive fount of knowledge. A peer learning class needs to be arranged differently. They are given challenges, tasks and resources. They share their learning journey, nudged and directed by the teacher till all the students have reached basic competence in that learning module. This means that the style of teaching must be very different. Not only is it more participative but also engages the teacher in different ways. The learning resources became important but what is most important is the question asked by the teacher that sets the children off on the adventure. Too wide, and there is chaos. Too narrow and they are merely parroting lines to each other, even copying from each other mindlessly. This is a trap the teacher must avoid – the point of peer learning in classrooms is to encourage students to think and engage with the learning. Not just copy from each other or the board.  Designing the question, organising the class, managing the range, channelling energy constructively – the teacher’s focus moves to these in peer learning classes. And learning levels go up more – not only has each child been engaged, each child has received personal attention from the teacher and has been taught using a pedagogy that improves retention levels.

Changing pedagogies midstream is always a bit daunting for most teachers. Only few would have been trained in peer learning, others will have to figure it out on their own. Unless, they have a peer learning group. What is applied to the classroom can, and does work for teachers too. Teaching and learning is enhanced with peers (or why would schools exist!) and the best teachers keep learning new techniques and sharing them with their peers. Not just colleagues.

There was a time when peer learning was restricted to one’s circle of colleagues and the only peer learning network that was active was in the staffroom. Occasional training sessions extended it for a while to peers across other schools or in the same district. Technology has now removed these barriers. Peer learning groups are being supported by tech companies such as google, by newspaper groups such as the Times (UK based, working in India) and others. Facebook groups are a great way of creating peer learning networks across the country and even the globe. Look up a group to join, or even create one of your own. It doesn’t have to be all serious and theoretical for learning to happen. For example, we used to share little stories of what happened in class with the Facebook group. Sometimes we would share laughter and often it would get responses that were very supportive and helpful. Teaching tips can be shared. Another great tool to create a peer learning network is twitter. Teachers and educators come together and discuss ways to improve their teaching practice or other issues in education. The Indian education chat is called #EduIn where one can meet a community of educators. Others are more global and include groups for new teachers, teachers learning to incorporate technology in their classes, mathematics teachers etc. Shared blogs with multiple contributors work as peer learning for both teachers and students, as do whatsapp groups. Both the flipped classroom model as well as peer learning pedagogies can use these tools extensively.

Whether peer learning is technology driven or not, there is a great deal of value in peer learning groups. In Punjab, STIR and NISA are working in the Rajpura district of Punjab to bring teachers together regularly to speak about in class innovations, teaching practices, solutions and experiences. The teaching community meet at one of the schools in the district on a regular basis and worked together to share and learn. They were able to improve many outcomes in the school district in a short while, but of course there is a lot more to be done. Similar efforts have been in place for decades in Rajasthan and other places.

Peer Learning Networks do not have to be an overly formal construct – each of us can create a PLN where we identify and nurture our sources of learning. While many of us do so naturally it is more of a conscious effort for others. A PLN gives better results if there is a semi-formal structure around it not the least because it ensures that we put in the time and resources required to make it work. A semi-formal or formal PLN will also set its goals, monitor progress and have a community of care that helps it course correct as required. For example, subject based peer learning networks of teachers could be very useful where they share teaching tools, resolve classroom hurdles, share worksheets and quizzes and even create intra-school events. Sometimes only a peer learning network can help – or even understand what the problem is and how to find your way through the maze.

Peer Learning is not a magic wand that resolves all problems but it does form the basis of sustainable solutions. This is where we tap into all parts of learning – previous knowledge, relevant experience and the adventure of sharing to grow our skills together. The PLN grows together as it encourages and supports the whole group to improve themselves.

Meeta Sengupta is a writer and advisor on education. She designs institutional interventions to improve learning outcomes and bring a sense of fun and movement in classrooms. She can be contacted at meetasengupta@gmail.com or on twitter at the handle @meetasengupta

http://www.teacherplus.org/cover-story/learning-from-one-another

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Do we need a single textbook?

2 Jul

Giving one author or publisher of books authority over knowledge dissemination for an entire generation does sound dangerous when you put it like that. But this is exactly what designated textbooks do, especially when organised by a national authority. India is not alone in having standardised textbooks, nor is it the only one to have controversies about the content of its textbooks. Yet, it does seem to be one of the few countries where teachers accept the changes without expressing their professional opinion on them. In countries such as England the changes to the history textbooks were received with much protest against the ‘Stalinisation’ of the curriculum.

Textbooks are one clear way of sharing a single narrative across thousands, nay, millions of classrooms in one sweep. They are also — for the very same reason — a great tool to ensure that all children get the same level of education, regardless of location or economic capacity of the school. But here lies the catch: The best schools do not rely only on textbooks to deliver learning; they have access to great libraries, excellent teachers, Internet-based resources, school tours and exchanges and so much more to add to the perspective that the textbooks provide. Again, it is those with fewer resources who are trapped in the single narrative provided by a national authority.

There is a great deal of good in having a basic low-cost textbook at especially in the younger years. The NCERT textbooks provide vast amounts of knowledge at the cost of a basic roadside meal or the daily wage at the poverty line designated by the Government. But in trying to create a low-cost ecosystem there have been compromises on quality. The rate for editing a Government agency textbook is five-to-10 per cent of a commercial editor’s rate. Peanuts and monkeys come to mind.

Textbooks are an anchor for learning. In distant villages with lone teachers holding the bastion of knowledge and mobility for the children in their classrooms, the textbook is what gives them continuity. It gives them authority and direction. This is what they are there for — to deliver on the textbook. In a way the textbook is where accountability is anchored — the teacher is held responsible on ensuring that at a minimum the contents of the text are communicated to the students, at the same time the students are accountable for reporting back on the contents of the textbook.

Interestingly, a good student is seen as one who can do just that — replicate the textbook in an exam. To that student, much else is forgiven as long as they can demonstrate knowledge of the text via recitation in the classroom or examination in other ways. The internalisation of the textbook, often to the exclusion of all else, is seen as an objective of schooling.

When there is just one textbook all of this is possible. As is the danger of single narratives taking over, and narratives flip-flopping with changes in regimes. This is easily remedied, at least theoretically by a single move — competition in the world of textbooks. While it is tempting to say that the Government has no business being in the business of producing textbooks, it is also sensible to accept that this is unlikely to change soon.

At the same time, many schools have supplemental texts that are changed every few years. The national and State authorities could be tasked with creating books with contra-narratives that supplement the main text. As one goes through primary to higher education the dependance on textbooks must reduce. There can be no room for a single textbook in higher education, especially professional education. And this process of researching across various sources must start in schools.

 

 

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on June 26, 2014

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/reform-textbooks-to-reform-education.html

Second Chance for Adult Learners

2 Mar

 

Second chance for adult learners

Thursday, 06 February 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Regardless of where you are on the education ladder, even if you are not on it, there should be a window of opportunity to improve

Two Hundred and Eighty Seven Million. People. Adults. This is the estimated number of people who are denied the dignity of literacy in India. These are people who are dependent on others to read their bank balance, to understand what they sign, and are unable to comprehend the laws they are held to, they cannot read the names of the medicines they ingest. They are handicapped when it comes to seeking opportunities because they cannot realise it. They cannot read. Four in 10 people in the world, an estimated 37 per cent according to the recently released UNESCO Education for All Report Global Monitoring Report, are illiterate.

This is not about the children who have had schools built for them; this is about the adults who are too old to go to school. And they have few other options. Yes, there are designated adult education centres, there are NGOs and there are programmes. Despite that India dominates the world in adult illiteracy. A visit to my local adult education centre revealed that it did not have admission forms, did not know when these would be available and was unwilling to commit to an annual cycle of admissions, if there was any. Being illiterate is a stigma that these people carry through their lives like an illness where seeking help is a matter of privilege. If you are lucky, you are rescued from this, for there are few systemic solutions for your plight.

There has been much invested in school infrastructure and capacity in the last Five Year Plan, and enrollments are said to be at 99 per cent at the primary school level. Without debating the quality of the capacity built, let us look at its utilisation. These buildings are accessible to living clusters. They already have roofs for bad weather, space outdoors and basic learning material. They are also not used for three quarters of a day. Allowing for poor electricity connections, there are at least three hours in a day when school buildings can be used as community learning hubs, specifically for adult education classes. If India wants to solve its literacy problems, it has to start using its resources better in addition to making targeted investments. Again, there is no real need to restrict school learning (and admissions) only to children. People can work according to ability sets, rather than age, which would bring other advantages of scale and opportunity too.

The current definition of school is narrow, and education is seen as an isolated bubble limited to books, examinations, teachers, tutors and buildings. These bounds do not allow in outsiders — such as the adult illiterates who were left behind — nor do they allow students to interact with the rest of the world. It is only in some excellent schools that students work on projects that engage the local area around them. Both groups suffer. Neither do the illiterate people get access to learning and opportunity, nor do the ‘literate’ students begin to understand the real world of life and work. Schools create barriers to engaging with real life problems when they should be doing the opposite — preparing the students for life, not merely examinations.

Schools and the education community need to open up their portals to engage with more sections of society to foster a culture of continuous learning. Regardless of where you are on the learning ladder, even if you are not on the learning ladder, there should be a chance to improve yourself. India needs a caring community college network that engages the local community in disciplined ways and engages the learning communities in ways that work for them.

This is an uphill battle — those who were unable to learn to read and write in their early years may not be suited to the traditional ways of learning. They may not be used to using memory and may need to see results soon. A daily wage labourer is used to instant results. Literacy requires patience, iteration, care, commitment and the resilience to fail and try again. Those who missed out by choice or circumstance in their childhood deserve a second chance and a life where they can live with true independence — that is a life of dignity and informed choice.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/second-chance-for-adult-learners.html

The Reports of the Death of the MOOC are Highly Exaggerated

28 Nov

MOOCs are still in their infancy, their technical feasibility has been tested but little else. We now know that they work, that there is a large section of the population that is interested. How much of this is a market? We are not sure yet (yes, there are forecasts). And so we arrive at the stage, as with every innovation, where we try to understand revenue models. There are some revenue models for some MOOCs being tested now. Corporate MOOCs of course have a revenue model built in, and there are other pathways to success too.

Like any good innovation, MOOCs are clearly a disruptor. They have shaken up the market for higher education, showed up the gaps and created opportunities not only for lifelong learning but for broader learning. Not only can people breach the linearity of time and geography, they can also move horizontally across learning areas that were traditionally in inaccessible silos. As with any disruptive innovation, the establishment gets upset at the beginning as there is a clear and present danger of their way of life becoming redundant.

Universities have been asking this question since the MOOCs became a phenomenon – Is there a future for traditional universities? Will they have to change how they do things? The early consensus was that the best universities would survive but the rest across the globe could be disintermediated as these MOOCs provided better quality teaching anyway.Debatable. Debated.

Some professors who ran excellent MOOCs were gaining a large followership of a scale never seen before. The era of the celebrity professor seemed nigh. (Some even spoke of a caste system in teaching, with different classes of teachers emerging as ratings systems emerged – this may yet happen) But one could not deny the value of extending teaching from elite institutions to students across the world. Of course the better universities had made their lectures available online long before these MOOC platforms, but that did not engage students as these courses did – assignments, peer learning – the age of social learning was here.

Then the criticisms started. Some spoke of a ‘colonial’ approach to learning – where the MOOCs were designed and delivered by a benign first world to the lagging third world. An act of knowledge charity, one that was not necessarily what the third world needed. (The fact that they signed up in droves, showing that they liked and wanted these courses did not seem to affect those worrying about colonised education). Cracks started showing as some high profile MOOCs were cancelled. Some tried fees and certification and the jury is still out on those models. Some more will be tried, surely, for MOOCs need to both earn revenues and provide certification to bring value both to its market and to its creators.

And then came in the data – apparently these MOOCs were not as charitable .. oops equitable as it was previously thought. Those who accessed, completed the courses and benefited from it were largely graduates – apparently the same 7% who always win, were winning again. I wonder why this is either surprising or a revelation – MOOCs require self driven learning, one has to be dedicated and motivated to succeed. These are skills for success that are developed in schools. While some school drop outs have the committment to succeed via specific courses, these skills and other study skills are ones that they have not mastered. One of my first, and still my main grouse with MOOCs is that there is little pastoral care built into the model. Learning is not just a social process, it requires positive strokes. It does not only depend upon a good peer group, the need for validation and approval is essential for course correction when we stray, as we will inevitably.

All this may be set to change, and the next phase of the MOOC journey is almost here. No longer driven by supply side impulses, MOOCs are growing up. Much like a teenager who suddenly realises that rent and bread need money to be earned, MOOCs are just coming of age. Corporate MOOCs are already proving to be a valid model, though there are doubts on whether the appellation “Massive” and “Open” can still apply in this context. This will be an interesting journey to watch, but my guess is that some MOOC models will appear that will still fit the original ask – and will be part of the corporate learner’s bag. The pathways through the modules, the reward systems and the breadth of the learning that still fits the corporate goals will be a quick evolution. This is the easy part of the forecast.

The other cross current that will change the face of MOOCs is Big Data. MOOCs will deliver true value when the data begins to track progress, correlate it to the teaching and e-learning process and start answering some of the basic questions about how we really learn. A fundamental understanding of learning, an adaptive learning system, a responsive learning tool – this is what the future success of MOOCs will look like. Will it be an intrusive process? In a way yes, because every aspect of the online learning process will be tracked and analysed.

There will be storms ahead, including ones on privacy, on the fact that offline learning complements online learning and is not being included in the studies, and even on the fact that every bit of experiential learning and talent cannot be mapped precisely in a big data driven analysis. The MOOCs will have to weather all these storms to survive – naturally, they will evolve.

MOOCs are just beginning their journey. They have merely passed the first milestone and established their viability. There are many avatars that they will take – there will be MOOCs for conflict education, there will be MOOCs designed to support the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there will be others designed to meet the much maligned skills gaps between education and employment. Much of the MOOC model still needs to be created – such as the governance model. The supply chains of MOOCs too will need to be crafted for efficiency and not just for service delivery. Much will change, but what will remain the same is the fact that finally the learner is at the centre of the process. And this is why the MOOC will not die – it has become the doorway to better access to the learner and the learning process.

* With apologies to Mark Twain for the title, but as with much else, he seems to have said it before anyone else.

Meeta Sengupta
27 November 2013, 11:17 PM IST

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/the-reports-of-the-death-of-the-mooc-are-highly-exaggerated

How I Would Teach History

14 Nov

It started with a discussion over a sentence from an NCERT text:

“The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society.

They believed that by killing dangerous animals the British would civilise India.”

This was class 9, History.

After the usual outrage on textbooks and social engineering, I was asked a very interesting question –

“When my children come to me and ask me to explain this, what will I tell them?”

And my response was – “Tell them there is more than one book”

And that is how history should be shown – it can never really be taught.

As I wondered, I began to plan my perfect history lesson.

(Never having been a history teacher, this was an exercise in pure pedagogy sans content expertise (declaring that upfront). There are many ways to design a lesson, I promise this will not become a workshop on lesson plans!)

First comes the story of the people and the peoples involved. But can there ever be just one story when it is about people, their lives and the grand battles they commanded? Can there ever just be one version of the truth or just one perspective? With a prescribed textbook there is – by definition – a prescribed version of the truth.

Of course the perfect history lesson would have great students (a range of abilities in the class, not all academic) and great resources (libraries and access to materials). And as a teacher, I’d start off the story and then send the students off to find out more. To bring stories back to each other.

What is the risk here? One, cynical students would not bother. Two, if they work individually they may lose their way, if they work in groups they may get lost in the group and be able to shirk work. In this case, I’d send them on their journey of discovery in pairs, or triads. Three, they may all come back with the same story – and that is the risk every teacher takes in an unstructured quest. There are advantages to giving the student groups their head and letting them run wild and find out whatever they can. If the topic is rich in diverse stories – say the Empire of Akbar, World War II, then I would be happy to take the risk. If the thing to be researched is remote from the context of the students or does not have much depth in its tales, then I would certainly partition and direct the students to give structure and boundaries to their quest.

I’d ask them to come back and tell each other the stories they had gathered. I’d add some of my own. I’d ask them questions. I’d tell them to ask each other questions.

(I can hear some experienced teachers voices in my head now – where will you find the time? The class will be chaotic! It will go all over the place. When will you finish the syllabus?

This is when lesson preparation comes in useful. The art of teaching is based on the science of planning. While the class looks chaotic to the casual observer, it is the teacher’s task to ensure that the questions follow a pre-decided pattern. The experience and training of the teacher must ensure that the facilitation of the learning is skillful. If a teacher depends on a general idea of where the lesson should go, it will be less than successful – the pathway of questions and stories must be managed – that is the purpose and task of a teacher)

And then, I would show them sides. If there was time, I’d ask them to act it out, to take sides and tell the tale. I’d let them feel the need to win, the urge of the cause, the power of their tools, their trust and distrust in people and the pathos of loss. The lessons of history are about learning for the future. If these are embedded in ways that they stir questions, reflections and discussions, then a large part of the teacher’s job is done.

Will the lesson end as the bell rings to signal the end of class? I should hope not. There is more to history even if one is limited by one’s prescribed syllabus. Much in history is the art of making connections between societies, civilizations, circumstances and times. There can never be a history lesson isolated from other parts of history, or even separated from geographies, the sciences or even mathematics.

What then is the role of the teacher – is it one of a connector? In these times of access to information via the internet (hopefully to most in a few years) the teacher is not the person who tells the stories. The teacher curates and stimulates. The teacher seeds and watches over to ensure that the seeds germinate. If the teacher has embedded the questions, and shown the path to finding answers, it is enough to start.

 

How I would teach history

Meeta Sengupta
04 November 2013, 06:19 PM IST

Link:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/how-i-would-teach-history

A Letter from a gathering of Educators

6 Nov

Letter from a gathering of educators

Meeta Sengupta
31 October 2013, 11:13 AM IST

An old fashioned letter to all of you educators

Greetings from Doha. I hope this finds you in the best of health, the highest teacher attendance levels and the best student achievement levels ever.

No?

I can’t ask you not to worry. But they say there is comfort in finding others with the same problems. At Doha, surrounded by thousands of educationists, I am assured that we have a lot of company. The issues in education are similar all over the world. The good news is that the solutions too have things in common, which means we can share them.

The big questions across the world are the same- how do you get children to school, how do you keep them there, how do you build and sustain high achievement levels and how do you make them fit for life and employment. In some measure or another, we all struggle with these. And with measuring them.

We are all broadly aligned on the solutions too – put the child at the centre of learning, teachers are the key to higher achievements, school leadership is key to success, involve the parent community, use Edutech as blended learning and of course monitor and measure everything.

We also disagree about a number of things. Assessments, for one. Pasi Sahlberg calls it a virus. And yet all the success pathways seem to involve exams and certifications. We preach what only a few have dared to practice. Yes, global data does link poverty and education, and we see the poverty gap impacts education and growth. It is a vicious circle, so I don’t question the causal links, but it does set off a flurry of other questions. We disagree about systems monitoring, we disagree on what motivates teachers though all of us seem to want teachers to be self motivated and supported.

The broad themes and problems across the globe seek solutions. The good news is that many, myriad solutions are being tried. Many have been great successes. Now, the next challenge for them is to be scaleable. It is a pleasure to meet people who have trained 2 million teachers in a program. It is also remarkable to note that such a large scale of learning has been achieved in one year in other programs. Those designed for scale, with a will, with good partnerships are able to have great impact – which is heartening to note.

Is there a purpose to such large jamborees for Education, one reflects, as one must. As day 3 begins, I must admit – yes. Ideas and solutions have been gathered from all over the world to bring depth to scale and influence. Those who have access to funding are listening to those who have ideas. This is how we find synergies – by creating opportunities for serendipity.

I will add to this letter soon.. From the educationist’s paradise, I sign off  – ready to share and learn for another day.

 

 

Link: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/letter-from-a-gathering-of-educators

How I would Teach History

6 Nov

How I would teach history

Meeta Sengupta
04 November 2013, 06:19 PM IST

It started with a discussion over a sentence from an NCERT text:

“The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society.

They believed that by killing dangerous animals the British would civilise India.”

This was class 9, History.

After the usual outrage on textbooks and social engineering, I was asked a very interesting question –

“When my children come to me and ask me to explain this, what will I tell them?”

And my response was – “Tell them there is more than one book”

And that is how history should be shown – it can never really be taught.

As I wondered, I began to plan my perfect history lesson.

(Never having been a history teacher, this was an exercise in pure pedagogy sans content expertise (declaring that upfront). There are many ways to design a lesson, I promise this will not become a workshop on lesson plans!)

First comes the story of the people and the peoples involved. But can there ever be just one story when it is about people, their lives and the grand battles they commanded? Can there ever just be one version of the truth or just one perspective? With a prescribed textbook there is – by definition – a prescribed version of the truth.

Of course the perfect history lesson would have great students (a range of abilities in the class, not all academic) and great resources (libraries and access to materials). And as a teacher, I’d start off the story and then send the students off to find out more. To bring stories back to each other.

What is the risk here? One, cynical students would not bother. Two, if they work individually they may lose their way, if they work in groups they may get lost in the group and be able to shirk work. In this case, I’d send them on their journey of discovery in pairs, or triads. Three, they may all come back with the same story – and that is the risk every teacher takes in an unstructured quest. There are advantages to giving the student groups their head and letting them run wild and find out whatever they can. If the topic is rich in diverse stories – say the Empire of Akbar, World War II, then I would be happy to take the risk. If the thing to be researched is remote from the context of the students or does not have much depth in its tales, then I would certainly partition and direct the students to give structure and boundaries to their quest.

I’d ask them to come back and tell each other the stories they had gathered. I’d add some of my own. I’d ask them questions. I’d tell them to ask each other questions.

(I can hear some experienced teachers voices in my head now – where will you find the time? The class will be chaotic! It will go all over the place. When will you finish the syllabus?

This is when lesson preparation comes in useful. The art of teaching is based on the science of planning. While the class looks chaotic to the casual observer, it is the teacher’s task to ensure that the questions follow a pre-decided pattern. The experience and training of the teacher must ensure that the facilitation of the learning is skillful. If a teacher depends on a general idea of where the lesson should go, it will be less than successful – the pathway of questions and stories must be managed – that is the purpose and task of a teacher)

And then, I would show them sides. If there was time, I’d ask them to act it out, to take sides and tell the tale. I’d let them feel the need to win, the urge of the cause, the power of their tools, their trust and distrust in people and the pathos of loss. The lessons of history are about learning for the future. If these are embedded in ways that they stir questions, reflections and discussions, then a large part of the teacher’s job is done.

Will the lesson end as the bell rings to signal the end of class? I should hope not. There is more to history even if one is limited by one’s prescribed syllabus. Much in history is the art of making connections between societies, civilizations, circumstances and times. There can never be a history lesson isolated from other parts of history, or even separated from geographies, the sciences or even mathematics.

What then is the role of the teacher – is it one of a connector? In these times of access to information via the internet (hopefully to most in a few years) the teacher is not the person who tells the stories. The teacher curates and stimulates. The teacher seeds and watches over to ensure that the seeds germinate. If the teacher has embedded the questions, and shown the path to finding answers, it is enough to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/how-i-would-teach-history

Do Credentials Matter?

24 Oct

 

Does it matter if a teacher or a professor has the right credentials for the job? What can credentials tell you anyway?

 

Just because a person is an expert in a subject area does not necessarily make them a competent teacher of that content. Every holder of a doctorate has spent about half a decade creating their nugget of knowledge to share with the world, often confined to the library, laboratory, research arena and the company of peers. They have been trained in asking a good question and then answering it with rigour. In this process, they know a lot about their PhD domain, but know little about the world of teaching and learning. Would they make good teachers?

 

Not just recent PhD students. The same question applies to anyone with deep domain knowledge from the industry who wishes to share their expertise with students. Some are excellent teachers, others are not. They, like the PhD candidates, have received little or no training in teaching and mentoring their students. Do their credentials and degrees have anything to do with becoming good teachers? Taking it one step foward – Do academic credentials have any meaning for leadership and administrative roles, such as the directorship of an institution?

 

At the school level too, one wonders if there is a correlation between good degrees and good teaching. On the one hand we have clear evidence from countries with Finland where every teacher must study both content and teaching for at least seven years before they are allowed to teach. Finland, of course, keeps topping the league tables in student achievement. On the other hand, there is evidence gathered from studies in some states of India where trained teachers were often absent. Para teachers were able to match their output as measured in student achievement. Does this mean we don’t need trained teachers at all for our primary schools? (Not really – further details in the study revealed that trained teachers could turn out higher achievement rates, if given the right incentives. And if they were present)

 

Again and again we find the certificate that is seen as a pre-requisite for obtaining a job has little to do with the skills required for the job. A vice chancellor of a university is expected to watch over governance, manage the politics and be the ambassador for the university. While the selection criteria clearly include these, the certificates and credentials they are expected to produce are often more academic than anything else. They have little relevance to the job at hand. A professor to a university has far more value in their networks and experience than the mere certificates that they must produce for the selection procedure. A school teacher who holds a B.Ed degree may still be utterly unqualified for the task of teaching a real class despite having spent years on the theory of education and child psychology.

 

This issue is coming to a head in India as the provisions of  RTE (Right to Education Act) are being implemented and imposed upon schools with fines and punitive action for non-compliance. There are arguments on both sides. The RTE insists that all teachers have a B.Ed qualification. This is doubly challenging. First, there are not enough qualified teachers in the country. Second – what happens to those teachers who have been doing a wonderful job of teaching for decades without ever needing this qualification? There is no provision in the act for accepting years of competent service as a proxy for the qualification.

 

Of course our students should have well qualified teachers – they are better teachers, are they not? Err.. sadly, not necessarily. Well, then are they not at least better prepared teachers? In theory yes, but even a good B.Ed program has not exposed them to enough classrooms to actually prove or train them to be better teachers. Let us not speak of the incompetence in B.Ed teaching that allows teachers to receive credentials with minimal learning – it has often been called a scam, a shame. The B.Ed credential has lost value due to such misuse by many colleges.

 

Even if the schools were willing to recruit, would they be able to afford to do so? Budget schools that often charge as little as Rs. 50 per month as fees from students are unable to meet the RTE criteria regarding teachers – both for pay and qualifications. Teacher pay at the higher level is an absolute amount that works out to more than the total revenue they collect as fees! The fact that children and parents opt to join these schools actively rejecting the free government schools in their areas proves that these schools provide good value – even with uncredentialled teachers. The business model breaks down with the new requirements imposed by law, and a valuable public service will be forced to shut down leaving students with little or no choice in their education.

 

What does a credential tell us anyway? All it can truly say is that the person named in the credential had access to certain resources for a certain period of time, and was able to secure a decent attendance and examination record. The link between credentials and competence is patchy at best.

 

The real question that remains to be answered is this: Can learning (read: student achievement)  be improved with better teacher training? If uncredentialled teachers are doing such a good job, wouldn’t teachers with a degree do even better? We do not have definite answers to this question yet, even if the intuitive response (and some studies) is in the positive.

 

Even if we agree on the basic truism that more training, teaching and experience will turn out better teachers, credentials are not the correct response. They are merely another gate that needs to be crossed creating a hurdle for many – and only makes the scarcity situtation worse. What India needs is a system of teacher appointments and training without an insistence on certification. Teacher training is not a one off process. It needs reinforcement and maintenance. Teachers who have been teaching well for many years need a pathway to receive accreditation of prior learning (APL) via a rigorous process. Para teachers and B.Ed certified teachers need to recognise the need for life long learning for teaching rather than rest on a static piece of paper that may not be of much value when standing in front of a classroom full of possibilities.

 

 

 

This was published in the Times of India blogs on October 17, 2013 and is linked here http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/do-credentials-matter

Disruption is essential to Innovation in Education

17 Oct

Reinventing Innovation

10/09/2013

student

 Image: Shutterstock

“Yes, he has got the right answer but the method is all wrong. Where is the method?! It was given in the class so many times, but he does not do it! ”

I stared at the teacher dumbfounded.

(No, I was not about to comment on the language or tone used, though that was pretty objectionable too.)

This was against all the principles of good education that had been shared at every conference, teacher training programme and seminar I had ever attended or led. Learning was supposed to be a journey of discovery. This was standardisation to the level of micro management, approximates to learning by rote, and leaves no room for individual growth, let alone individual pace within the system. It is a system designed for efficiency, geared to a specific goal. Change the goalposts, and the system flounders. The goalposts, of course, do not stay the same ever, and this system is clearly not future proof.

The quest is always for higher standards in a system, not mass standardisation at the last mile. If every notebook in the nation is expected to look exactly like every other, then all we are doing is raising a nation of replicators. They are trained to repeat what has been done before, not to create and bring rigour to their inventions or innovations.

Innovation often starts in the classroom where any exploration or creative journey into the subject is clearly inefficient use of class time. The rote learning method with micro standardisation is the most efficient way to demonstrate results, with the consequence of leaving little room to develop the higher faculties of the student. If a child cannot ask disruptive questions, then their learning has been stunted. If they are not appreciated for breaking the mould and creating new solutions, then they are merely being trained to be followers–and that is not where the premiums head.

Innovation needs to extend beyond classroom content and classroom processes to school systems. Local administrators and policy makers play a key role here–those that are supportive have found massive improvements in school achievements in their areas. Others, we hear, are keen to maintain the status quo and do no more. These areas tend to stagnate.

This carries through beyond schools, into higher education and research laboratories too, where hierarchies determine the degrees of freedom (and credit) received.

Creativity is a habit as much as it is a discipline. The process of creativity needs to be fostered if innovations are to be scored and used. Strong hierarchies, where research agenda are set by those of a previous generation, may not always be the best way to plan future knowledge building. Fresh entrants are often bubbling with new ideas, many scholars admit their best work was done in their twenties and thirties. The brain, we know, tends to atrophy with age. An innovation culture must do its best to capture the ideas of the young and foster them to create value.

Innovation, by definition is a disruptive process, it needs disruptive attitudes to foster innovation cultures. An excess of respect, lack of humour and continual deferring to those who came before are not always ideal. While I see many go tut-tut and say the young are disrespectful, an excess of ‘respect’ is stultifying. Let me say it straight out–many Indians are over sensitive about hierarchy and respect. And the continual deference to the guru- figure stems the exchange of ideas and the discovery of new pathways. Sometimes (and it is reported in less than hushed whispers), the incentive to innovate is lost when credit is taken by the ‘seniors’.

The process of innovation starts with the meeting of ideas and process. This is where strong structures of mentorship, not just hierarchies of process, are useful. The role of the teacher, research guide and even workplace senior is critical to innovation. Their experience and networks can foster the idea and bring it to fruition in ways the young ideator may not even be aware of, and thus incapable of implementing.

What does this mean for the learning leader? It means they need to change the way they do things. It means they need to include a wider range of opinions and options in what they discuss. It means, they should let students have some fun while they are learning–to take a little side path once in a while, a little self exploration before coming back to what they ought to know anyway.

Things are changing slowly but surely globally and in India. Singapore, as they often are, have realised that creativity that leads to innovation will be the growth engine of the future and have now changed their curriculum and assessments to grow such creativity. Many other countries are investing in fostering a research and innovation culture. India does not speak of creativity and innovation directly in its education policy but the introduction of continuous assessments in class give teachers enough room to foster it, if they choose to–and are able to handle the workload. Unfortunately, this is not enough.

Innovations in the classroom do exist, but many of them remain underexposed, and so under-utilised. Micro-innovations need to be fostered and shared. STiR (disclaimer, I am on their advisory board) does stellar work in gathering, sifting and fostering such classroom innovations and seeding an innovation culture in schools. Little things make a difference–celebrating teachers who find new ways to help students learn, listening and nurturing smarter ways of working, sharing content or a process that increases student achievements. The need is equally great in higher education where innovations are required to jumpstart the process of quality enhancements without which India has no claim to a place at the global table.

It is time to accept dissent as part of the discussion, to be secure enough to deal with change and to be smart enough to create new ways of working.

What is the purpose of Marks?

17 Oct

What is the use of marks?

Meeta Sengupta
08 October 2013, 03:45 PM IST

What happens after the marks are declared?

After the whole cycle of learning, examinations, assessments and exhaustion, come the marks. Then what?  

 From the school gate chronicles:

 Parent:  “Did you get your paper today?”

Student: “Yes, I got 95”

Parent: “Why? What happened to the other 5 marks”

 Student mumbles. 

Bystanders applaud, for the focus is on the lost marks. 

 

In a workshop, this would be a mini case study. I would pause and ask the participants to ponder this dialogue. 

This is not unusual. This conversation is had between caring parents and students all over the world. 

 On one hand, it is awful that parents seem to focus on the loss rather than on the success. It is a part of good mentoring and parenting that the successes are celebrated first before the losses are bemoaned.  

On the other hand.. what is the purpose of marks but to give feedback for improvement? 

If marks are an end in itself, then they have no value in any education system. The entire purpose of an assessment system, whether at school or at work is to identify development needs, and then to create an individual plan to fill those development gaps. 

Assessments are traditionally either formative or summative. Mid term examinations, weekly tests, CCE (continuous evaluation) and semester or termly exams are designed as formative tests. They are supposed to provide feedback on progress during the learning cycle. Summative tests are at the end of the year and their purpose is different – even as they give feedback and form the base line for the next cycle of teaching and learning, their purpose is to signal attainment (or not). Did the student make it? Did they learn what they were supposed to learn? Did the resources serve their purpose? 

Students learn from both success and failure. Success needs to be analysed as much as failure does. What went right? What processes should we replicate. How can we make a good thing better? Does it tell us something about our interests and aptitudes? Can this success be converted into something monetisable? Does it help build our portfolio of skills? Can current success be a launching pad for some interesting projects? 

The same with failure? An introspection on what went wrong cannot stop with a moan and a cry. Nor is it the end of the world, because every failure, every lost mark gives information about what needs to be done differently. This is where the attention needs to be – charting a path that improves from the path that lead to failure. What were the gaps? What could have been done differently? What held us back from meeting the target? The failure is only a tool in identifying the path ahead. And the only true failure is not recognising the potential for improvement. 

Do schools consistently use this opportunity? Are school exams during the year (and even at the end) converted to learning plans for children. Each child can be shown the habit of reflection and can be taught the skills of creating a path for themselves. This would be a far more important life lesson than the mere content that they have been asked to memorise and replicate on paper. (What is being assessed is a whole other discussion, ideally examinations should be about thinking (cognitive) and analytical abilities). 

Does this apply to teachers too? Of course it does. And to school systems. They too have goals for the year, and are assessed during and at the end of the year. Such assessments are often seen as a judgement of the teacher and the school. For example, school inspections. It is less important to note what the school achieved in an external assessment than it is to know what it plans to do to improve the school. The same applies to teachers – they would benefit immensely from peer assessments. Teachers who sit in each other’s classes and then point out what they would have done differently. This is not about judgement – this is a constructive way to improve the school and its commitment to better teaching and learning. 

 Children, and teachers go through this intense exercise that is emotionally draining and time consuming  called examinations. Every assessment is rich in embedded information, if only we care to ask the questions. It would be such a shame to waste the results.

 

This was published in the Times of India blogs on October 8, 2013 and is linked here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/what-is-the-use-of-marks