Thursday, December 22, 2016

Teachers are backbone of our society: Dev Lahiri

According to data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Human Resources Development Minister on December 5, 2016, 18 per cent positions of teachers in government-run primary schools and 15 per cent in secondary schools are vacant nationwide. Educationist Dev Lahiri talks about whats plaguing the system.

What’s the biggest problem our education system is facing?

Our teachers. It’s the last choice for most, for various reasons. They just want to get the job done with and make money from tuitions. Most teachers have very little connect with students and don’t know, for instance, how to keep them engaged on days they are ‘switched off’ and don’t want to know Maths or Science. Good teachers link curriculum to life in a very imaginative way.

How do we get the right kind of people on board?

We need to put out the message strongly that teachers are the backbone of society. Thanks to the Nehruvian ethos, right after independence the emphasis was on engineering and medicine, then as corporate world took over, MBA became big, then IT and finance. But school teaching was never given priority, and so even today we don’t have a single teacher-training institution with the brand equity of an IIT or IIM. We need to make teaching a prestigious, well-paying, aspirational profession and have an elite examination like IAS for it. Teachers must be held accountable with stringent assessment and accordingly promoted. Pride (with substance) needs to be built into the profession. In Finland to become a good teacher is like getting into an IIT!

You’ve worked with several schools. Do you see a flaw in the mindset?

Schools are obsessed with certifications and not education. The system itself is flawed. Students have to choose between Commerce, Science and Arts as early as Class 9. At that level you should be able to do physics and Shakespeare, music and Maths, Humanities, Sociology and Political Science, and understand the connection between all diciplines. The US offers this even at university level. Our system is repressive. CBSE has a range of wonderful subjects, but it’s so difficult to find teachers, especially for the Humanities, because it has no tuition market. The Humanities are largely scoffed at and we (the nation) are paying a heavy price for it.

Wouldn’t it be better at boarding schools?

Boarding schools have a great opportunity for non-curricular activities, value building and citizenship and it does wonders to kids. But they too are facing competition from the tuition market. Post Class 10, parents want to remove their kids and get them seriously involved in professional exams. Therefore, some boarding schools have started outsourcing that part to tuition academies. Ironically, that’s pushing corporates to take employees for group and outdoor activities to develop their leadership skills and out of the box thinking.

No board seems to be doing well, including the once-prestigious ICSE. What’s the reason?

CBSE is constantly working towards upgrading and the NCERT’s doing good research for text books. But there’s no support and there’s a lot of heterogeneous activity thanks to our numbers. Moreover, it often becomes a political tool in the hand of governments; it should be neutral. As for ICSE, it’s become the preserve of a very small community that in the past gave us amazing teachers, but has no new thinking going on today thanks to brain drain. State boards are the greatest concern, 80% in some states is equivalent to 40% in others.

Is there any attempt to standardise scores with mechanisms like GPA?

No, but there should be. The focus is entirely on higher education; no one talks about schools even though they preparing you for it.

And what about contemporary issues pertaining to students?

Bullying is a big problem, but heads try to push all issues under the carpet, increasing the danger. We need honest dialogue between all stakeholders on substance abuse, atheism and gender issues, but our schools have no place for it. Hence, even today, in co-ed schools, when girls make requests regarding their periods, a titter goes around the class and ill-equipped, embarrassed male teachers end up tackling it ham-handedly.

You’ve been advocating student-led solutions. Can they help?

I have great faith in young people, but how will their creative juices flow, when they are so busy trying to get that 99%? With students at the university I work in, I’ve created a peer counselling programme to rescue kids who are getting drunk and putting themselves in danger; they can call the university for help or to be picked up when in vulnerable situations.
Source: Daily News and Analysis dated 20 December 2016

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