Educating the Educators

Educating the Educators

Programme Officer Jitendra Rath leads Oxfam India’s work on education in Odisha. He shares his experience of visiting a school where children face multiple challenges such as weak numeracy skills even as they attend school, and the crucial role teachers play.

The students were of standards four and five. Of them 6 were students of class four and 9 were in class five. There was a small blackboard in front of them on which was written the alphabetic order from A to Z and numbers from 1 to 50. Out of curiosity, I asked who could read the alphabets and the numbers. To my surprise, out of 15 children only four raised their hands. I asked each one of them to read it and only one could do it correctly. 

The class teacher, who was closely watching my interaction with the students, jumped in. “The children are unable to recognise alphabets and numbers because they don’t study at home and their parents are not serious about their education.”   

I continued my discussion with the children. I asked them the name of their village, their panchayat, and the nearby market place. Most of them could answer it: Kasakhunta village, Bagdore panchayat, Belpada block. I asked whether they had heard about their district Balangir, their state Odisha and their country India. Not a single child answered. Once again the teacher responded, “they know all these things but they are not saying it because they are shy.” 

When I wrote 22 and 28 on the blackboard and asked the children to write these figures in their notebook and add, much to everyone’s disappointment, not a single child could solve the sum. Moreover, some of them even failed to put the plus symbol correctly. This was a simple double-digit addition, which should not have been a difficult task for students of standards 4 and 5. The students in these classes should have by now achieved the competency of simple additions. 

This is not the story of one school or a handful of children. This is the reality of many students across schools. Whether it is the Annual Status of Education Report or NCERT’s National Achievement Survey, both narrate the same story more or less- a large number of students perform poorly in learning outcomes. In other words, they fail to achieve the desired level of learning competencies while getting promoted from one class to the other. 

These reports that highlight poor learning outcomes get immense media coverage and become part of policy discourse. Usually the Centre and some states have criticised the no-detention policy (up to standard 8) as a result wherein they have called for a relook of this policy, a key component of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. But there is no scientific evidence to prove that detention ensures quality learning outcomes. 

As I introspected on my interaction with the students of Kasakhunta, I wondered if it was possible that a teacher would teach, but the children would not learn.

The RTE Act clearly talks about trained teachers. There are number of pre-service and in-service training provisions for teachers. Teachers should not only impart thematic or subject-based knowledge to the children, but go beyond. The most important aspect of teaching is “how” and not just “what”. However, when it comes to practice, our teachers stress mainly on “what” and not on the “how” of teaching. In this context, “what” is basically competencies, whereas “how” are the methods and the whole teaching atmosphere. Teachers in government primary schools mostly follow traditional methods like rote learning or lecture methods instead of participatory methods of teaching.

To ensure quality learning for the children, the teacher has to believe in the ability of each child and must be empathetic to them. As children belong to different socio-economic backgrounds, have different learning styles and abilities, teachers too have to develop strategies accordingly. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in many of our classrooms and schools. 

I met a number of teachers, who despite their qualifications discriminated children based on their caste, community, gender and even geographical backwardness. They believe that “education” is not their cup of tea. Teachers are often heard saying that, “these are tribal children and they prefer to roam around, go to forest and climb trees, they are not made for education” and “girls! What will they do even if they complete standard 10. They should do what they are made for.” These beliefs and mindsets and biases towards some children essentially scuttles any interaction between the teacher and children and the scope to teach and learn. The result is for all of us to see. 

Never mind that there are programmes to strengthen elementary education. Never mind that there are provisions for free textbooks, scholarships, special classes and evaluations for children to enhance learning outcome. Never mind that there is clear direction from the government to identify and pay special attention to children who perform poorly, that there are enough Teaching Learning Materials for teachers to choose from. Never mind that we do Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). It is the teacher’s attitude that comes first. Unless teachers change their attitude, it is unfair to expect every child to be able to read and write.





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