“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in the way the child can learn.” – unknown
Ideally schools all over the world should gravitate towards 21st century education imbedded with science and technology where the teacher is the initiator of the education process, facilitating the creative assimilation of knowledge.
But we live in a real world and Milton’s Paradise is a utopian concept in most developing countries. Finland boasts of the highest PISA scores, but the minimum qualifications required for the teaching faculty in Finland is a Master’s Degree.
In most Asian countries teacher competencies and skill sets are sometimes abysmal; a primary teacher could be just a twelfth pass with a TTC certificate or a PhD with a doctorate in sciences. Teacher competency is evidently at high variance.
The teacher training courses address basic teaching strategies, psychology, principles of education and core subjects, they however do not address skills to develop or evaluate resources.
Primary school teachers are expected to teach all primary school subjects, yet not all are equipped to handle the subject areas as they lack depth of subject expertise.
The very foundation of the teaching profession is being questioned largely due to two significant trends. The first is the lowering of the quality of education. A combination of demographic, social, and economic factors led to accelerating growth in the school population.
This in turn led to a massive recruitment of teaching staff. In 1970 a world total of 14.6 million primary teachers and 9.3 million secondary teachers rose to 22.7 million and 17.7 million respectively in 1989, this number has increased significantly world over.
In many countries, this recruitment was carried out with very limited resources and qualified candidates were not always to be found. The teacher competence and readiness remains a question mark. As a result the quality of education deteriorated and the standing of teachers was lowered.
An additional element contributing to the crisis is the low salaries paid to teachers owing to economic difficulties. In several countries, teachers’ pay is over fifty per cent less than that of other professions requiring a similar level of training. Clearly, this makes it difficult to attract and retain the best qualified and most motivated personnel.
Owing to a lack of adequate resources, working conditions are also difficult - crowded classrooms, ill-equipped and not properly maintained, absence or shortage of teaching materials, as is often the case in the developing countries, then a further serious deterioration in the quality of education is inevitable, with all the harmful effects on pupils this may entail.
Secondly, at the turn of the new millennium IT and education reform agendas were adopted in much of the industrialized world to institute a much needed paradigm shift “from a largely text-book based, teacher-centered approach to a more interactive and learner-centered approach. These reform agendas were all concerned with the adoption and use of IT in schools to increase learning opportunities and student motivation and achievement.
However stringent curriculum requirements, 35 minute lessons and examination pressures gave little time to try out new ideas. The teachers felt burdened by the ‘overfilled’ curriculum and believed that there must be a national imperative to change the curriculum before they could be expected to explore and adopt new ways of working.
They felt their priority was to ensure that their students attained the academic level required to gain a good pass in the existing examination system. The current examination system encouraged rote learning from Grade 1 to 4 in primary school.
There was a general agreement that unless the examination system was changed, teachers would be under considerable pressure from external agencies- the community, parents and students as well as internal agencies- the principal and management to focus on helping students achieves good examination results.
These findings suggest that a shift to learner centered approaches to teaching and learning is dependent not on the introduction of IT but on changing the curriculum and the exam orientated educational culture that still exists in Asian schools .
International studies into successful IT adoption in schools tell us that teachers need considerable additional support to make significant changes in their roles and pedagogic work practices and that IT by itself plays a very minor role in transforming teachers and teaching approaches in schools.
Change is a dynamic process and needs to be handled with care, 21st century education with a focus on learning rather than teaching is definitely a step in the right direction, but the repertoire of change needs to be well orchestrated and well planned. Textbook driven education needs to be changed, but the process must be gradual. Teachers need a standardized curriculum that ensures minimum levels of learning for each grade level. Teachers need quality professional development programmes to gear them for activity and enquiry based teaching -learning strategies. Teacher training institutions need to revamp their training modules to ensure high standard modules that incorporate the latest innovations in technology and science.
Educational institutions across Asia need to invest hugely in curriculum mapping that address the need of today’s student and create an outcome driven curriculum where teacher and learner standards are in place. Then and only then; can we do away with textbooks from the Asian classrooms. It will take huge courage to cut through the morass of complexity and the deadwood accumulated over the last 60 years. If the schools have to move in the direction of textbook free class rooms they must undertake the following measures:
= Curriculum mapping and learning standards to be defined without any ambiguity.
= Clear visibility on teacher and learner standards.
= Core competencies and skill sets of teachers to be identified.
= Completes shift in pedagogy and methodology
= Integration of ICT in teaching and learning.
But till such time we achieve the objective of textbook free class rooms, teachers with minimal training in innovative teaching strategies, teachers with low skill sets, varying competencies, inadequate subject expertise, inadequate knowledge of resource building, overburdened with content driven curricula and teachers living with the fear of examination results- will depend on textbooks and this dependence will be justified.
Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author, and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor, to TSPL (Thinksite Services Private Limited) He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.