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Uh- Oh!!!!

When non experts give advice to educationists…doesn’t quite work.

(And it seems everyone is an expert on education probably because they went to school. Admittedly expertise in education is difficult to come by, yet there is an experienced view, and then there is everybody else telling educationists what to do. Also, as an aside, a real education expert will never ever assert ‘do this and that will happen’ – they know that this arena is about humans)

So today I lost my cool, and shredded a ten point list for improving teachers. It was not amongst the worst – at least it did not faff around with teacher accountability. It was pretty dire still. Simple language sometimes is just that – simple with no possible use.

My comments are only in response to the ten statements. I offer no expertise, solutions or a priori knowledge in these comments.

Overall I have 3 issues with such commentariat inputs: (i) Loose language (ii) Internal contradiction (iii) Patronising solutions mapped from other sectors with little understanding of either the sector or it’s previous experience with similar interventions.

Here it Comes. First the Excerpt from the Article, then the comments:

“1. Respect our teachers. Let the practitioners decide teaching standards, assessments and testing. Create the much-talked-about Indian Education Service (IES) along the lines of the IAS, IPS, IRS and so on. Let only those who chose education as a profession regulate teaching. As of now, most appointments in the human resource development (HRD) ministry are punishment postings.”

  1. (i) Cannot command respect. An assertion will not change reality. (ii) Practitioners are currently not all at the level where they even have the vocabulary to describe pedagogy. As for the better educated and aware practitioners – they are part of every editorial board for these – do read the compositions of committees, and/or textbook author names. Involving practitioners has not been the panacea that it seems to be logically because practitioners are under trained and wear blinkers too. With rare exceptions. (iii) Creating an additional bureaucracy does not always create specialism. It does however create more layers to decision making and slower processes. What may be required is a ‘scientist’ or ‘educationist’ cadre as exists in other ministries. (iv) Edu Professionals to regulate teaching is loose language and does not communicate an actionable (v) Punishment postings due to their policy monopoly or operational challenges or ineffective internal systems which will be mapped by the new recommended ‘service’?

“2. Kill teacher training institutes. The current teacher certification system has done the biggest disservice to India. Integrate teacher qualifications into the university system. They must be part of the arts and sciences schools of the universities. B.Ed and M.Ed should be a part of our university system and not in the teacher training institutes.”

2. (i) Kill before reform. A distributed system that has gone astray should be demolished while we rebuild a new … distributed system. This system has done harm but there is no systemic study of the cost benefit, nor of the implications of the SC judgement on teacher shortages. It lies maligned, ignored, unstudied and unsupported. Though it might be a Cinderella for all we know. (ii) Teacher qualifications to be merged with a failing higher education system might not be an improvement (iii) B.Ed and M.Ed are already part of the Uni system…a university degree is one of the options in the portfolio of teacher training available. (v) In a time of grave national teacher shortage it is not a wise move to assert a change towards a centralised model with an assumption of quality improvement when there is no proof of this even if Finland and other countries have adopted this model.

“3. Teachers must do a major in the subject they will teach. Simply knowing how to teach doesn’t make good teachers.”

3 (i) Do we have a system of ‘major’ in this country? (ii) Knowing how to teach DOES make good teachers (iii) Knowledge dissemination as the primary role of teachers was valid in a pre-internet age. (iv) Specialised content knowledge is indeed revelvant at secondary and post secondary stages – please do state that else we will over engineer our system and create costs that it does not need to bear.

“4. Make teaching a respected, revered and aspirational profession. Treat teachers the way we treat our armed forces. They are securing our future too. Give them the stature that puts them one step ahead of any other profession. It can be through housing schemes, subsidised schooling for their children, medical allowances or pensions. A careful look at our fiscal policy with respect to teachers will yield the desired results.”

4. (i) Are the armed forces respected for their housing, school subsidies (teachers get that anyway), medical allowances and pensions? (ii) In any case teachers in government service get these benefits. (ii) A fiscal policy re teachers is your next point – there seems to be very little understood between national fiscal regimes and teacher performance to make this assertion (iii) One cannot ‘make’ anything revered and aspirational in this day and age unless the suggestion is to convert teaching into a cult. Which is what was done with certain types of school chains which have not shown much progress. Reverence is the end of critical thinking (iv) Teachers have been entrusted the task of securing our future, armed forces secure our present. One cannot change the primacy of the present in the minds of a population (if we did that entire financial theory including the concept of an interest rate for the time value of money would be up-ended)

“5. Make teachers’ salary tax free. It will give them a stature, acknowledge their importance and contribution, and make the profession aspirational. Put more money in the hands of our teachers without increasing the cost of education.”

5(i) Teachers salaries are not always in the highest tax bracket – their very strong unions have not yet made taxes an issue. For tenured staff with no accountability, this is a major concession with limited understanding of its possible benefits. (ii) Do we have an established correlation between tax free salaries and aspirational professions or are we brainstorming in black and white? (iii) A fiscal loss in terms of tax revenue not due and not collected will be attributed to the cost of education. Lost revenues do not reduce costs.

“6. Maintain a national registry of teachers and faculty — academic, publication, research and consulting records. This ensures a free market for teaching jobs”

6. (i) A national registry is an additional cost to the nation with unknown and unlikely benefits (ii) A list of experts is supposed to be maintained by all senior education institutions and in the age of the internet often is available as a simple search. There may be a case for edu institutions to do better PR for their own people (iii) There is a free market for teaching jobs already (iv) Employment agencies for teachers do exist where there is an economic need (v) The labour market for teaching has its own dynamics that are not necessarily reflected in a national registry (vi) There is a national employment agency where all central government jobs are posted (vii) How can a national registry – a supply side information portal be the same as a portal or clearing house for jobs if there is no demand side information? (viii) There is a case to be made for a knowledge portal of papers, expertise and achievements but this is not necessarily a cost to be borne by the taxpayer. (ix) There is a case to be made for the value of education research to be made more accessible.

“7. Incentivise people who chose teaching as a profession. Their salaries must be at the least competitive, if not the best. Our best students must be tempted to choose teaching as a profession.”

7. (i) Assumption made that monetary benefits are the only incentives to selection of teaching as a profession (ii) Competitive salaries are already in place in K-12 at least officially. (iii) ‘must be tempted’ again is telling other people what to think. One does not ‘make’ or ‘tempt’ other people, one identifies serves their felt needs. We cannot change people, nor should one presume to – it is disrespectful. (iv) There are structural issues in education that make it difficult for education to be the first choice of profession. These are hurdles to be addressed by smarter systemic investigation and improved system design, not a minor requirement for ‘incentives’

“8. Ensure that no educational institution or university ever can be charged any tax — income tax or service tax or sales tax. Bring down the cost of education.”

8. (i) There is little evidence to prove that tax free educational institutions provide better quality education or higher learning outcomes (ii) Tax relief is an option but there seems to be no sense of whether this reduces costs more than creating smarter cost efficient systems within education. (iii) Clusters in education have been proven to improve academic outcomes, removal of tax ensures that these clusters have no local income for roads, drains, lighting etc. It may not be wise to leave educational areas dependent on others for handouts (ii) Taxes are not the largest component of education costs (iii) There are other ways to bring down the PRICE of education, reducing the cost of education may have adverse consequences on quality, impact, reach and access.

“9. Encourage private education with enough regulation. Create more opportunities for teaching as a career option. Let the salaries increase due to such competition.”

9. (i) Education is over regulated and under-governed. To encourage private sector participation in education (private education could mean home schooling too…it is not clear or actionable) is a good goal but let us not ask for more regulation. (ii) There is a need for better governance and support, feedback and self improvement mechanisms -and more. These are not achievable with more regulations but with fewer. (iii) More opportunities for teaching may be a good idea but it contradicts the suggestion above to centralise teacher training within university behemoths. The teacher shortage which is already in the tens of millions will only become a bigger gap. (iv) There is a possibility that this tactic will increase teacher salaries, but it is equally if not more likely to create a secondary market of untrained, underpaid teachers as currently exists in the sector. (iv) Increased teacher salaries increases the cost of education which contradicts an assertion/demand made in a previous section.

“10. Lastly, and most importantly, give teachers a boss that they can respect and look up to. Educational qualification is not a pre-requisite but stature definitely is. Don’t humiliate them by making them report to those who don’t understand the importance of education. “

10(i) For teachers to have bosses is to impose an administrative structure on an academic endeavour. One can either have a factory like environment with ‘bosses’ or one can encourage learning. (ii) To be led by someone who is worthy of respect is indeed a laudable goal but another of those interesting challenges when setting up scale worthy checklists to appoint ‘Teacher’s bosses’. (iii) Why does educational qualification suddenly disappear from the radar of pre-requisites. Does it not contradict the ‘look up to’ requirement as stated previously. No academic has ever been taught to look up to an administrator, consultant, businessman or even entrepreneur. It rarely happens and is therefore neither a sustainable nor a scaleable ask. (iv) Educational qualifications may be necessary but educational certification is probably not necessary. There are other non certified pathways to being qualified for a post, which will certainly help break the current logjam to a limited extent. (v) Precisely – do not ask them to take advice from a ‘boss’ or anyone who has been schooled in a ‘boss – subordinate’ structure.

Oh, and one last thing. Do not, please, engage in cut paste commentary. If one searches online for ‘improving teachers’ or ‘teacher quality’, most of these solutions will pop up in the popular headlines. Few have what it takes to even survive basic scrutiny. It is ironical that this comes as a commentary to the NEP document, which itself suffers from an overdose of hearsay. My fourth objection therefore: Do not offer hearsay solutions that have not come from a personal analysis of the situation. Or one risks being the mouthpiece for inferior analysts.

A rare skewering from me, but not personal. Just had enough of well meaning outsiders pulling back conversations to where they were 5-10 years ago. We are much, MUCH closer to solutions. Please stop wasting our time. Fund us, if you want to. That will be genuinely appreciated. Much MUCH more than this.

Oh, and that article? Here it is: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/mahesh-peri/ten-ways-to-make-teaching-a-respected-and-aspirational-professio/

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