Elementary Teacher Education institutions engaged with the pre-service and in-service of teachers have typically remained severely isolated from centres of higher learning as well as from schools. Traditional isolation from centres of higher learning have created teachers who merely learn to implement a given curricula. Intellectually isolated thus, teachers are neither viewed as agents of change nor are they seen as generators of knowledge. Isolation from schools on the other hand, has taken teachers away from the real challenges of the classroom: the learning child and the societal context. As a result, teachers are not ‘trained’ to view learners and the process of learning within ‘real’ contexts. To cite an example, teacher practitioners complete their ‘formal training’ without ever having to examine a school textbook to assess its suitability for children or having to engage with issues of diversity in the classroom and how children learn.
Generalised models of children’s development and psychological theories of learning dominate teacher education curricula. The ritual of lesson planning as it is taught during teacher training is merely a formal routine. The underlying assumptions about knowledge, curriculum, learner and learning are never brought into the classroom discourse during initial teacher training. Therefore the outcome of conventional teacher training is a teacher who learns to adjust to the needs of the existing system. This situation rarely changes with inputs through in-service training. This is mainly because in-service training is often designed in accordance with what ‘experts’ think to be best for practicing teachers. The consequence is that programmes of training judiciously leave the ‘real’ classroom-based concerns of the teacher and children’s learning largely unaddressed.
The Baseline Survey undertaken by JNU during the programme-building phase of the University Resource School Network (USRN) for instance, demonstrated a relatively poor participation of children in classroom tasks and interaction. Curriculum transaction was found to be mainly teacher directed and focused around the textbook and a narrow set of activities in which the majority of children appeared to be largely uninvolved. One of the concerns that emerged was the inability of teachers to address the varied needs and experiences of children. For instance, the baseline survey points to home environments of children that vary in relation to the languages they speak, the educational backgrounds of parents and the extent to which the family is able to ensure regular attendance of the child in school. The fact that parents also differ in their levels of literacy and schooling suggests that children are likely to vary in their `preparedness’ for formal schooling and the quality of academic support they are likely to get from within the home. None of these issues become the central concerns of teacher training programmes, either in-service or pre-service.
The Baseline also found many a dissonance between children’s home and the school. Given the linguistic diversity that is characteristic of the communities to which children belong it was felt that the `mismatch’ between the home and school language was an important factor that could explain gaps in language proficiency. Assessment of skills in mathematics showed that children have not grasped basic concepts such as that of `place value’, fractions, or how to choose appropriate units for measurement. Further where word problems are concerned while at one level, children found it difficult to apply the mathematical procedures they learnt to the task at hand, this was compounded by poor development of skills of language skills. It was felt that there was need to build connections between what children learn in schools and their every day lives as this aids understanding of mathematical ideas and concepts. Research studies of classroom processes and children’s learning across the country have raised similar concerns.
Most teachers need to enhance their basic proficiency skills in language and often demonstrate a knowledge-base of school subjects that leaves much to be desired. Teachers do not necessarily carry positive attitudes especially towards children of marginalized groups. Currently teachers appear to have no stake and no sense of ownership in the school programme. Even where teachers show interest, there are no fora where they can discuss these concerns and the difficulties they face in educating children from diverse backgrounds. In the absence of any academic and peer group professional support, teachers often resort to ways of teaching that they had themselves experienced as students. This perpetuates ad hoc and arbitrary methods of teaching often compounded by the pressures of completing syllabi and pushing children to prepare for tests and examinations.
The need instead is to create teachers who can respond to the needs of children and their learning. There is need for instance, to engage teachers with the larger socio-economic and cultural context in which children grow and develop. This includes issues of linguistic and social diversity, processes of socialization, cultural practices and the immediate school and classroom context. There is also need to engage teachers with children in ‘real’ contexts; examine their cultural practices, knowledge systems and ways of knowing and learning and to critically reflect on their own assumptions and beliefs about knowledge, learners and the learning process.
Such engagement is likely to develop teachers who can reflect on themselves as persons and as professionals and develop the ability to think independently about the various issues that confront them. The need is to create teachers who value the world of the child and who understand the role that children’s identities play in the educational process; who view learning as a search for meaning and knowledge generation as a continuously evolving process of reflective learning. ‘Structural spaces’ within pre-service and in-service programmes need to be created during which such engagement is made possible.
Regional Resource Centre for Elementary Education
The Regional Resource Centre (RRC) is conceptualised to enable the creation of such spaces and mechanisms, using the USRN projects as a starting point and proceeding to institutionalise some of the ideas and strategies with which the USRN is envisioned to function. This model is envisaged to provide assistance of resources and ideas to the university-based teacher education institutes offering a four year integrated model of teacher education (BElEd) and the DIET(s) offering a two year model of teacher education, both of which are partners of the USRN. Apart from grounding their understanding in the immediate context of the classroom and the larger societal context, the RRC can also serve to prompt teachers to undertake self-directed activities, documentation and analysis of field realities and experiences, engagement with children, developing materials for teaching and learning and skills of self-reflective enquiry. The RRC is based on the vision of Resource Support for Practitioners in Elementary Education (RSPEE), established by MACESE at CIE, University of Delhi in 1999.
Major Objectives of the RRC
Objective I: Creating a Resource Library and Web-Portal
The RRC has established itself as a resource-base and platform for facilitating and augmenting networking amongst teacher practitioners and between them and the academic community through face-to-face and the electronic mode. The web portal will also facilitate the flow of information within the USRN and enable access to USRN activities by interested individuals and groups.
Teachers need forums within and across schools to share their experience of practices, exchange ideas, articulate their concerns, develop a common vocabulary and learn to reflect together, seek new ideas and academic support. Teachers need to be facilitated to develop a culture and practice of writing their observations and reflections. They need to be given choices to chalk out their own in-service and academic support needs. This should be carried forward by providing opportunities for networking among school practitioners to exchange ideas and share experiences of classroom practice, articulate specific issues and problems related to classroom practice and seek academic support to enhance their professional development.
Mechanisms will be set in motion to facilitate access to the resource on elementary education collated under the RRC, both in terms of a library resource and a web resource. Members of the RRC, USRN network partners, BElEd Colleges and DIETs, teacher and other practitioners will have the facility to access materials: articles, books, multimedia resources etc. on request whenever possible. Resources will include policy documents, commission reports, research reports, academic readings, subject-wise pedagogic and content-based materials, activity manuals, school texts, alternative materials, films and other multi-media materials, network reports and updates etc. There will be an attempt to make digitised copies of select resources.
It is assumed that the collaborative projects under the USRN will facilitate a community of teachers and teacher-trainees across schools and teacher education institutes to evolve. Hence, the dialogue that emerges between them on several aspects of their work can be put into public space for wider dissemination, sharing and discussion. The RRC will enable the flow of reports and documentation from individual projects within the USRN. These reports can also be accessed through the web portal.
While the community of practitioners that emerges under the USRN will meet periodically to institutionalize new ideas during workshops especially organised for the purpose, efforts will be made to provide an open forum for exchange of ideas through the web-portal as well. The idea would be to enable an off-line community of elementary school practitioners (already established as part of programmes such as the BElEd and proposed to be further augmented through the projects of USRN) to also come on-line, thereby encouraging teacher practitioners to develop a common vocabulary that can foster exchange of ideas, subject-content, pedagogic approaches and children’s learning processes.
The Web-portal is committed to make available diverse interactive spaces with the aim to encourage dialogue amongst the elementary education community.
- Library resource such as readings on elementary education, including books, research papers, journal articles, research study reports, policy documents and commission reports. A panel of academics from across different disciplines will ensure that the content is authentic, relevant and up-to-date. Efforts will be made to make readings available in Hindi as well.
- platform for researchersto share their work with academics and practitioners in elementary education. It will also invite teacher educators and student-teachers to share materials generated during pre-service training, such as reports of projects undertaken by student-teachers during pre-service training.
- Discussion forums for knowledge sharing and knowledge generation on key issues and concerns between the various stakeholders in elementary education, teachers, student-teachers, teacher educators and other academics.
- A separate space within and across groups of practitioners and academia to seek answers to specific queries and exchange views on a diverse set of issues and concerns such as: a particular concept; a reading; a pedagogic approach, a classroom concern with regard to the textbook, children’s errors or issues of discipline and peer interaction.
- A calendar of forthcoming events, including film screenings, public lectures and workshops organized by the RRC; meetings, sharing sessions, workshops etc organized by each of the partner organizations.
- E-mail accounts for member users to facilitate interaction. This facility can be extended to the larger community as the network widens and demands increase.
Objective 2: Institutionalising New Ideas and Pedagogic Approaches
The RRC serves as a platform for teacher educators, teacher practitioners and the wider parent community in its endeavour to institutionalise some of the insights and learning gained during collaborative projects.
The Regional Resource Centre undertakes the task of providing a platform for the teacher educator community in DIETs and the BElEd colleges with the aim to institutionalise some of the insights and learning gained during the collaborative USRN projects.
The RRC would serve as a structural space whose resources would be available for teacher practitioners and teacher-trainees to undertake self-directed activities such as analysis of school textbooks and literacy primers, if they so wish to. Teachers could undertake analysis of textbooks to assess their suitability for children of different levels. Analysis of textbooks, using dimensions of subject-content, presentation style, language used treatment of concepts and issues of gender and pedagogic approach would also facilitate practicing teachers to think critically. The study of alternative text material such as stories and alternate textbooks would expose them to the different ways in which texts can be written.
The RRC would design and support specific workshops with DIET and BElEd Faculty which would facilitate teacher educators to integrate new ideas within the existing pre-service and in-service curriculum as well. The RRC would provide the necessary bridge between the teacher education institute and schools in the process of helping the DIETs to institutionalize some of the ideas and new pedagogies developed by their trainees in collaboration with the USRN partners.
Parents form an integral, but often overlooked, component of any pedagogical innovation. Experience from various intervention programmes of school education indicate that parents often find innovation in teaching and evaluation practices difficult to accept. There are several reasons for this. The most important being the involvement of the parent community in pedagogical innovation. Parents need to be convinced of that innovation as well. Parents need to be assured that their children are learning and when these ways of learning radically differ from existing forms parents need to be brought into discussions to deliberate these changed pedagogical approaches. This is a key element that ensures not only the child's learning in the long run but also serves to greatly motivate teachers who know that they have the support of the parent community.
Often there exists a large amount of distrust between the parents and the teachers and this has an adverse impact on classroom practices. In an effort to attend to some of what constitutes this mistrust, as well as to allow both parties to understand the structural factors that are largely responsible for this, the resource centre can provide support to facilitate interactions between parents and teachers.
The RRC organises at regular intervals public lectures and skill-building workshops for teacher-practitioners and teacher educators. Two public lectures in a year are organised, choosing a venue of the network partners, may it be a College, School or the DIET. These lectures are designed to facilitate communication between Indian scholars and the wider elementary education community. For instance, authors of books particularly relevant to processes of school education are invited to interact with a community of teachers, teacher educators, trainees and parents. A series of such lectures is likely to help bring a discourse, which often gets confined to select academic circles, to come closer to teacher-practitioners, teacher-trainees and teacher educators. The RRC also organises a series of film screenings followed by discussion on select themes.
Objective 3: Institutionalising Teacher Fellowships
The RRC provides a platform for teachers to undertake classroom-based research through a formal programme of Teacher Fellowships.
Teachers need to be treated as independent learners and given opportunities for self-directed growth. This would mean providing ‘space’ and ‘opportunity’ for teachers to undertake research on issues of curriculum, pedagogy and other classroom-based concerns. Mechanisms for the provision of small scale research grants and teacher fellowships will need to be instituted. Teachers are facilitated to generate school-based research through programmes of teacher fellowships, research grants and teacher exchange.
RRC has instituted a formal programme of Teacher Fellowships in its first year i.e; 2006-07. The Fellowships provide opportunity for Elementary School Teachers to undertake research on issues of curriculum, pedagogy and other classroom-based concerns. Five such fellowships were awarded to five Elementary School Teachers as per the criteria worked out by the RRC team. Teachers were selected from across diverse school settings as well as diverse areas of interest. Teacher Fellows have been pursuing their research under the individual guidance of mentors who are faculty of the University of Delhi.
In addition monthly study sessions have been held for the Fellows under the leadership of Dr. Sarada Balagopalan, CSDS Fellow and RRC team member. Each of the Teacher Fellows is expected to submit a research paper at the end of the fellowship period, which now stands extended to the end of December 2007. The research paper will be considered for publication in a peer refereed journal and for a compilation to be published from the RRC-USRN-DU. This would enable a wide dissemination of teachers’ research amongst practitioners in elementary education.
The RRC is committed to explore the possibility of institutionalizing the process of granting research fellowships with salary protection. A study to examine existing institutional provisions and arrangements for allowing elementary level teachers to take leave for a year to pursue research will be undertaken. After a careful identification of specific requirements, institutional mechanisms will need to be set in motion to create the institutional provision of awarding teacher fellowships with salary protection. Once the institutional provisions are clearly spelt out and negotiations with the educational establishment is in place, two long term Teacher Fellowships will be offered in a given year as per the availability of funds.
Objective 4: Providing Academic Support to DIETs
RRC provides academic support to the initiative of DIET and SCERT faculty in the process of Teacher Education Curriculum Renewal. RRC is also committed to the task of providing on-site support to the DIET engaged in partnership with USRN for establishing a Teacher Learning Centre (TLC) which will serve as a structural space for forging links between pre-service and in-service teacher education.
Workshops with DIETs: The RRC had thought of having specific workshops with the DIET and BElEd Faculty which would facilitate teacher educators to integrate some of new pedagogies within the pre-service and in-service curriculum as well. The RRC had envisioned tobe the necessary bridge between the teacher education institute and schools in the process of helping the DIET to institutionalize some of the ideas and new pedagogies developed by their trainees in collaboration with the USRN partners. This was to be undertaken only after the USRN partners had crystalised some of their ideas and had given tangible shape to them.
This exercise has led to concrete activities associated with the Curriculum Renewal exercise. A Curriculum Framework for the two-year programme along with the scheme of courses, student contact hours and weightage in terms of marks has been finalised for further consultations with the DIET faculty. Fourteen sub-committees are working simultaneously on the task of developing the syllabi for each course and identifying readings. It is expected that this exercise will continue in the next phase with the aim to redesign curriculum for the DEd programme for the year 2008-2009. Services of a consultant would be hired to facilitate this and other RRC activities.