Why India Must Support Its Teachers If it Wants to Help Students
There is a need to empathise with our nation’s teachers, understand the challenges that they are going through.
Online education has created not only a digital divide in the lives of students, but also in the lives of the teachers. Teachers from government schools and affordable private schools bear the brunt of this inequality as numerous reasons, ranging from training to infrastructure to support, render them ineffective in imparting online education when compared to their peers in elite schools.
This, in turn, affects student learning and further exacerbates the educational inequality in India.
The discourse regarding the merits and demerits of online education tends to overly focus on student-related inequities while paying scant attention to inequities faced by teachers serving low-income communities.
Even when attention is drawn to the difficulties being faced by the teachers of low income or government schools, the debate is reduced to fixing near-term infrastructure or technology issues while ignoring the systemic issues behind the inequities.
The Fault in Teaching Courses
The obstacles faced by a teacher in a government and affordable private school are never-ending. From arranging access to devices to learning how to use a platform or a tool to curate content for students, to conducting online classes with no prior training, teachers are facing many roadblocks.
Upskilling of teachers on how to use tech as an effective mechanism to teach, from the very onset of their career, is an area that has always been negligent.
That is precisely the reason why this is a systemic issue. Even the pre-service teacher training curriculum has little or no mention of the words "digital pedagogy" and "technology" in the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education.
Had there been an incremental approach to introduce basics on how to leverage tech to teach better, teachers would have been in a better place in terms of their preparation to teach students during this pandemic.
The school management expects teachers to work on the creation of online learning modules and send them to students. Logistical crisis and financial constraints of sourcing tech devices for teachers and students have further exacerbated the current crisis.
Even if some teachers have access to these devices, learning how to make a lesson that they can share on WhatsApp or creating a lesson presentation for video classes is still a challenge.
WhatsApp and online-based learning requires an entirely different base of pedagogy that teachers haven't been trained for and effects of which haven't been tested thoroughly yet, and thus, throwing them in and expecting results is unfair and frustrating.
Both Students & Teachers Lose in Fight Over Fee
Schools need funds to source tech devices for the teachers to start preparing lessons, worksheets and share them with students.
A recently released report by Central Square Foundation stated that, “Less than 20 percent of teachers from private schools continued to receive their salaries after March.”
Parents have been very resistant to paying school fees as they question the efficacy of online education. The problem is cyclic since it is caught between two opposing forces, the need for funds to increase infrastructure to enhance efficacy & the withholding of funds by parents precisely because of lack of efficacy.
The ASER 2019 data report accentuates the gap in the numeracy and literacy of grade 5 students. More than 50 percent of students from government schools and 35 percent of students from private schools cannot read grade 2 level text.
Similarly, in numeracy, only 22.7 percent and 40 percent of students, from government and private school respectively, can perform division successfully.
If teachers don't get access to tech devices and relevant training on how to conduct online classes, the gap will increase many times over, and relevant authorities will be blamed for this crisis.
Empathise With Teachers, Please
Teachers from government and low-income private schools are privy to enough obstacles in their job, and now the pandemic has made the situation even more difficult for them.
There is a need to empathise with our nation’s teachers, understand the challenges that they are going through and support them to help millions of other students.
The government should ease as many barriers as possible for schools, not-for-profit organisations etc, and work in tandem with them to achieve equality in access to content to all students.
Measures can be built on top of existing proactive approaches like the Delhi Government model of sharing weekly worksheets. Education departments can start sharing worksheets with students from private schools alongside government schools.
As part of the Atmanirbhar Scheme, the current government should also offer interest-free loans to low-income private schools under the fee range of Rs 25,000 per annum, along with extended moratorium.
Other schemes, like direct benefit transfers, relief packages, if offered for a stipulated time frame, can also provide some relief to the schools and teachers.
The battle for India's educational inequity stands at a crossroads, and we as a nation will be well served if we invest in our teachers.
Ultimately, as Bill Gates said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
With more than 90 percent of our children in government or low-income private schools, the government has to do more to support the teachers in helping the children studying in these schools during this pandemic.
(The author is a ‘Teach for India’ alumnus, and currently works with the ‘321 Education Foundation’. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.