It is unfortunate that the teaching profession in India is no longer considered an
attractive career option by young, bright people. This article outlines a plan to make
teaching a more viable profession in India. It recommends strengthening teacher
education institutions, incorporating practical experience into teacher preparation
programmes, promoting performance-linked rewards and career progression, and
creating a more professional environment for teachers.
How many people do you know aspire to be school teachers when making a career choice in India? Hardly any, right? Isn´t this ironic, given the fact that apart from the home environment, the teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in shaping the minds of young students?
India has had a time-honoured tradition of holding teachers in great regard. Sadly, in the past few decades, the teacher’s status has degenerated from being a revered member of the community to being a disempowered government functionary who is relegated to the bottom of the administrative hierarchy. It is no longer aspirational to choose a career in teaching. We need to ask ourselves why the brightest of our young people view teaching as a last-resort career option.
Shortage of high quality talent in teaching
The 2009 Right to Education Act (RTE) has two major stipulations with regard to teachers. One is that all teachers must qualify to teach with a Bachelor’s or diploma in Education (B.Ed. or D.Ed. respectively), and the second is that the Pupil Teacher Ratio should be 30:1 for primary schools and 35:1 for upper primary schools. The latter measure necessitates an urgent increase in the number of teachers recruited and certified.
India currently faces a shortage of over 12 lakh (1.2 million) teachers, according to estimates by the Ministry of Human Resource Development1. Many states have been working their way around this by hiring under-qualified contract teaching staff. Given the dire need for quality in Indian education, it is imperative that we attract a talented workforce in order to meet our developmental goals for the future.
Poor teacher quality is a catch-22 situation in India - it is not possible to recruit high quality talent without restoring dignity to the profession, and it is not possible to restore dignity without making teaching a viable career option.
A systemic problem
Though it has become customary to blame teachers for poor learning levels in schools in India, it is also important to remember that the problem has a deeper root. It is a systemic problem that is associated with each stage of the the entire life-cycle of what it means to be a teacher in India. This cycle can be broken down into several stages: an individual’s decision to choose teaching as a profession; pre-service teacher training period; recruitment and induction; actual service period, including ongoing in-service training; and finally, career progression opportunities.
Those who study to be teachers get inadequate preparation for it in the B.Ed. and D.Ed. courses. We begin by setting a low bar for entrance to these institutions. To appear for the B.Ed. entrance exam, candidates need to have only 50% marks in their university degree. During their course, there is very limited practical exposure for aspiring teachers to practice their craft. As a result, pass rates in the Teacher Eligibility Test, which is now a requirement for applying to teaching positions in government schools after the B.Ed./ D.Ed. courses, have fluctuated in the worrying range of less than 1% to about 11%. In contrast, Finland, South Korea and Singapore recruit teachers from the top third of the graduating class in high school. These countries use a combined strategy encompassing compensation, prestige, and the needs of the labour market at the national level to attract high-quality talent for teaching.
India does not have a structured process of inducting newly qualified teachers. They receive next to no mentorship in their initial years of the profession. Regular teachers have minimal access to a professional network where they could discuss their challenges and learning with their peers. Most harrowingly, our teachers have very few opportunities towards career progression. A regular teacher may be promoted to the position of the school principal only on the basis of seniority, rather than performance.
However, contrary to popular perception, teaching in India is now a relatively well-paying profession. Prior to the 6th Pay Commission, the ratio of average teacher salaries to the national per capita income was 3:1 (2006). This ratio is now 5:1. In contrast, this ratio stands between 1 and 2 in OECD2 countries, and closer home, it is 1 in Bangladesh and 2 in Pakistan.
Restoring dignity to the teaching profession in India
What, then, can we do to restore dignity to the profession and make it a career choice worth aspiring for? Here are some options worth considering.
Campaign to give teaching its due place: India should run a national service campaign to recruit quality talent for teaching on the lines of the campaign run by the UK government in 2000. The UK campaign targeted segments of high-potential candidates and highlighted key messages based on extensive market research into the motivations and inhibitions in choosing teaching as a career. While the country had been facing one of the worst teacher shortages before the campaign, by 2005 there were eight applicants for every job opening.
´Teach for India´3 has demonstrated that it is possible to engage high-calibre college graduates in two-year teaching stints in low-income schools. Last year, the programme received 11,000 applications for 480 positions.
Restructuring teacher education institute capacity: We need to turnaround or phase out low-performing pre-service teacher education institutes and grow capacity in well-performing institutes. But before that, the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) should define a framework that articulates what competencies we want in a teacher at every stage (beginning teachers, and experienced teachers at different levels of experience), and in what ways we can structure systems within teacher training (at the teacher preparation stage, and during their career as part of continuous professional development) to build those competencies. This would require a robust mechanism to ensure the quality of teacher education institutes as well as a re-imagining of the key processes involved in the establishment of an institute, including its recognition, accreditation and affiliation.
Presently, at the national level, self-financing institutes constitute 92% of our pre-service teacher training capacity of 1.2 million4 . Once these teacher education institutes are granted accreditation by the NCTE, they have complete autonomy without any process that holds them accountable. As a result, the quality of classroom instruction is heavily compromised. An accrediation body such as the National Accreditation Council (NAC) can institute a periodic monitoring mechanism that encompasses teaching-learning, research, performance of trainee teachers in the Teacher Eligibility Test, qualifications of faculty and other circular aspects.
Practice-oriented teacher preparation programmes: Like other practising professions, such as medicine and law, newly-qualified teachers need a form of apprenticeship. Without this, new teachers enter the system with theoretical knowledge of pedagogy and subject matter but little knowledge of the practicalities of teaching. New teachers revert to what they know – delivering content and not facilitating learning.
Delhi University´s Bachelors in Elementary Education is an example of an effective curriculum that integrates theoretical knowledge with practical experience, as its students have to spend a significant portion of their four years in the programme teaching in a classroom, in order to be eligible for their degree.
Opening lateral entry into the profession of teaching: We can open up the teaching profession to a wider range of motivated people by creating opportunities for lateral entry for high-calibre individuals with quality work experience in other professions. Countries like the UK, US and China have opened up alternative pathways into the teaching profession. Today, 40% and 25% of new teachers come through such lateral-entry programmes in the US and UK, respectively5.
Alternate certification programmes that enable lateral entry into the profession, recognise that teaching is a practice-based profession and an apprenticeship model is best suited for preparing teachers. In these programmes, motivated people are trained through theoretical instruction along with learning to teach inside the classroom.
Creating a professional environment: In Shanghai, ´Teacher Study Groups´ are intrinsic to the city´s success in school education. In these groups, subject teachers form groups,led by a senior mentor teacher, and share thoughts and lesson plans, thereby creating a platform to exchange knowledge and ideas.
A study conducted by the NCERT in 2009 shows that only 35% teachers nationwide received in-service training in India. The same study also shows that 55% of teachers found in-service training to be irrelevant. Creating networks like study groups and ‘subject teacher forums’ can aid in enhancing the professional development of teachers.
Promoting rewards, recognition and career progression: In India, teaching is considered a stagnant profession with few opportunities for career progression, as promotion to the position of a school principal is based on seniority and not performance. Like in Singapore, teachers´ aspirations should be taken seriously.A career path charted with three separate tracks for leadership, content specialisation and teaching could be created, where teachers are periodically assessed to see whether they have the potential for embarking on career paths in any of these areas. This should be done with the objective of creating clear paths of career progression, without making one track more aspirational than the other.
Further, we need a well-thought out system of recognition to motivate our teachers. Prof. Karthik Muralidharan´s research in Andhra Pradesh6 demonstrated that a nominal 3% performance incentive resulted in significant positive outcomes. The motivation factor here was largely the recognition that teachers received, rather than the small financial gain of 3% over the annual base salary. Such recognition will strengthen the morale of teachers and galvanise innovation in their teaching methods.
It is worth recalling the words of Lee Iacocca, the legendary former CEO of Chrysler,an American automobile company, who had said, "In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilisation along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honour and the highest responsibility anyone could have."
How far are we then in our quest towards such a "rational society"?
A shorter version of this article has appeared in the Times of India.