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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 26, June 18, 2011

Nero’s Sublime Flute-recital: Teaser for Teacher-education in India

Monday 20 June 2011, by Dev N Pathak

Emperor Nero did intend it to happen, rumours suggested. The fire broke out in the city area of Rome and metamorphosed into a mythological inferno swallowing the eleven districts of Rome out of total fourteen. Numbers of all and sundry helplessly charred to death and fumes of destruction leaving the ruins behind: the vivacious dance of death. The proverbial flute (lyre) recital of Nero was well atop the flames that burnt down the city of fame. Recollecting this instance, at a time when Nero is a term famously used for an optical disc authoring a programme for Microsoft Windows, is ironical indeed. We use Nero to burn our CDs and write a data on it from the memory of our computer. The moral of the lesson: Nero Burning ROM is inevitable, unless the programme is corrupt. A healthy/functional Nero would successfully burn the ROM(E).

In the age of irony the evil becomes a source of success. This is what characterises the teacher-education programmes in contemporary India. When this paper is being written, the Central Board of Secondary Education is opening bids for the private stake-holders in teacher-education. The idea is to find the best trainers/educators who could orient school teachers for Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). All the private companies (corporate organisations who claim to be in the business of education for no-benefit, no-loss) are bidding for the tender. The winner will get allotted (obscene) sum of money and conduct training programs for the teachers of the schools affiliated with CBSE. The objective, as it is put forth in the ‘expression of interest’ paper, is to enable the teachers to objectively evaluate the students’ holistic education. (Could holism be quantifiably evaluated? Nobody at the CBSE entertains this ugly question.) The bidders have already made illuminating presentations with the help of extraordinary power-point slides. The presen-tations have highlighted all the possibly efficient models already tried and tested in the schools of America and Europe. The best presentation is apparently one that has caught the audience unaware of the latest technique in teacher-training programmes. Enough to suggest that approaches to school teachers of India suffer from absolute reliance on the techniques and formulas, as though teachers were robotic creatures without their autonomous faculty of critical thinking.

This scene of bidding and pre-bidding presen-tations is a recurrent phenomenon. State governments are also opening the files of school education for private parties (read companies), considering that private-public partnership is an indispensable paradigm of thinking in the babudom of India. These are heavily funded projects. Recently the State of Gujarat invited biddings for the project on assessing teachers’ needs, measurement of students’ success rates, and so on. The National Council of Educational Research and Training has also opened the counters to cordially encounter the private players. All goes for the public-private partnership, from influence-peddling to favouring the techno-smart educational companies. In this backdrop, it is imperative for the discerning minds to ask a simple question: what is the yardstick to judge the credibility of the private stakeholders? To complicate the simple question it could be added: who are these private players and what is their vision (principle plus praxis)? Could their credibility be judged by the annual turnover of their companies? Could they be called educators because their models of teacher-education converge with those of the international companies in the field of school education? What is the modus operandi of their business? What is the academic strength of these companies? What is the nature and scope of the educational researches sustained by these companies? And so on so forth, unless we are ready to witness the Rome of Indian school education burnt down by a few callous Neros in India.

Teacher-Education: Contested Category

ON very many occasions the heads of these organisations/companies come bare in the shallow hammam of their vision. In personal conversations, the author of this article has gathered some theoretical and practical perspectives prevalent in these companies. This section of the article is built on those.

The first shocking revelation is the belief that school teachers of India are unthinking/unreflective minds. The whole business thrives on this assumption and it reflects in the designs of the professional development programmes. The content-heavy programmes for teachers also reveal a desperate move on the part of the teacher-educators to prove themselves superior to their soft-targets, the school teachers. By extracting servile submission from the teachers the management/administration ensure the success of these training/educating programmes. Interestingly enough, teachers have learnt the strategy of switching off themselves, at the level of mind and spirit, in the face of these programmes. It is a universal commonsense amongst teachers that these programmes have to be somehow coped. Only the rarest of the rare would seek for a lesson worth learning through these ill-designed content-heavy programmes meant primarily for the self-fulfilling prophecy of the educators. And what is the prophecy? That teachers are incapable of thinking and educators have to prove it by dispensing almost everything under the sun. What rules the intellectual horizon of the teacher-educators and their bosses is the much abused saying owed to George Bernard Shaw—those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

Secondly, the administrative bosses of the organisations, mainly the privately-run ones, have no engagement with school teachers. They have seldom a day in their annual calendar spared for interacting with teachers who they intend to educate. The litmus test could be the fact that none of them could be patient enough to listen to teachers. Teachers are to be governed and instructed in their pedagogic pursuits. Ironically though, they will be votaries of the idea of teachers’ empowerment and one of the organisational claim, writ large in their punch-lines, would be about enabling-empowering teachers. More often than not they will mouth platitudes on it, and more often than not they will say in hush-hush tone—those who fail to become anything in life eventually become teachers. Not only the bosses, even educators who indulge in strange sorts of researches and design the training programmes, know only to listen to their bosses. Let alone listening to school teachers’ voices, wafting in the thin air, they do not listen to even their own conscience. The end product is often a design of training that suits the business interests of the organisations.

Any teacher-training programme is primarily designed to taste palatable to the organisational heads, and then to the funding agency. School teachers, who are the real targets of these programmes, are the last to be thought of. Ask any of these educators/trainers or their bosses to speak impromptu on the needs of the school teachers of contemporary India, and they will be caught unawares, except a few vomiting politically-correct, fragmented ideas. Given a platform, however, they would all wax eloquent for hours, at the price of the captive audience of school teachers in the training sessions. It has certainly yielded what is famously known in the researches on education all over the world as ‘training fatigue’. For further substantiation of the arguments, the following is a case study that emerged from an extensive participant observation in the so-called non-profit making corporate organisation called TeacherSITY.

TeacherSITY2 : A Case Study

TeacherSITY proclaims to be akin to a university of school teachers, as it writes on its website (see www.teachersity.org). It has been though far from any exhibit feature of a university. Put simply, as a university there could have been a regular engagement of educators with school teachers, through direct imparting of skills and lessons, or through seminar presentations, or research projects and so on and so forth. Never has teacherSITY engaged itself with school teachers for a sustained length of time for either research or direct-indirect training programmes (unless any programme is heavily funded by a service-seeking agency). So it is not even akin to university for sure. Nor does it have any such accredition for the professional efficiency for its programmes. More important to note is the work-structure of the organisation, which is corporate in design, structure, and motif. In addition to the necessary underpinnings of the accounts and human resource segments, the organisation has a crucial part known as the Educational Research and Design team (ERD team). It is this team that is often pitted against the idea of educating school teachers. As the nomenclature would suggest, the team would be conducting researches, writing papers, suggesting new trends in teachers’ educational programmes, and designing programmes.

None of these happen as such. The team does something called research without a library, for the organisation has no library. The organisation does not subscribe to a single educational journal often referred to in the research writings in the world. To cap it all, the organisation does not grant permission to the members of the team to visit any other library in the city for the survey of available literature. And yet the team engages with research (perhaps ignorance is really a bliss). It is all by the virtue of materials available online. To nip the guesses in the bud, the organisation does not subscribe to a single online journal either. It has no subscription to ERIC or JSTOR. Thus the idea of research, as exhibit in the practice, is about flipping through anything and everything available in the digitised jungle of websites, copying and pasting models thereof, and producing models for training/educating teachers in India.

It is not that the members (called faculty in the ERD team) of the team do not think originally or are not creative enough. It is however not required of them to be critical, questioning, creative and imaginative. They have to go around teaching school teachers about the virtue of innovation. But they cannot innovate themselves. Everything done by the faculty members over here is under the strong unrelenting control of the management, which evaluates researchers with the sense of share and debenture market. The output must lead to generating revenues rather than insight: the official-instructional mantra for the faculty-researchers.

With the means of designing and researching, the team produces proposals to various govern-ment agencies for funding. Only the bosses have to decide as to which funding is more lucrative. Spending the energy of the team for the so-called researching and writing toward a not-so-lucrative project is an imprudent sin for the company. It is once in a while that a member of the team would design a programme to engage with school teachers that does not aim at the financial lucre. Any such programme would be instantly dumped by the head of the organisation. Also, that the latter would discourage involvement of hard-core academics in their research, design and programme. It would like to find alliance with those who have clear interest in the status quo of the business. An unrelenting influence-peddling, persuasion and coercion go into the process of clicking a deal. Yes, it is a deal in crude business terms which earns more than just an opportunity to engage with the teachers.

It was with this nature and scope of the organisation that TeacherSITY conducted a school teachers’ conference in collaboration with the National Council for Educational Research and Training and Central Board of Secondary Education in November 2010. The stated objective behind the conference, as mentioned in the concept note published on the website and on the conference brochure, was to accord due respect to the intellectual ability of school teachers. To some extent it met the objective in having school teachers presenting their reflective papers. But the question is: whether it was to be heard by the private stakeholders. It happened to be a ritualistic lip-service to be a tool in the window-dressing. The evidence was the fact that the organisers were keener about the numbers of teachers participating, and paying Rs 1000 each as registration fee, than about meeting the set/expressed idealistic objectives. Each teacher participating in the conference heaped abuses on the organisers (data of those teachers could be used to find the evidences). And in spite of the defeated purposes, the organisers congratulated each other because their purpose was not defeated: the purpose of generating money and the huge number of attending teachers. The number is truly an aphrodisiac for a Nero: the numbers of victims of the massive fire in the Rome, and the numbers of school teachers humiliated by the educational system (the public and private agencies involved).

Conclusion: For a Beginning

IT is not only one case of TeacherSITY. There are many more to be observed critically. One could randomly name organisations like I discover I or Educomp or such educational enterprises. They have been sources of anxiety among those who do not see everything fine with the taken-for-granted dyad of the private and public. These organisations cannot encourage researches and rethinking on the approaches to teacher-education due to their structural reasons. Put simply, teachers’ empowerment is a mere hollow slogan for them to be shouted in front of a funding agency. On the other hand, the conventional universities, where researches, reflections, and rethinking could be possible, have been already noted as remote from the issues of school education.

At this critical juncture, when the inevitable-ness of public-private partnership is a foregone conclusion, there is an imperative to have a critically watchful body of academia and civil society. We really need a systemic regulation of the educational projects, clearly defined yardstick to determine who could be a stakeholder in the educational activities and who could not be allowed to venture, and a vision on the part of the public agencies such as the NCERT, CBSE, KVS, and JNVS among others to be open to public auditing of the various projects. More so, in a country of burgeoning numbers of school teachers, it is necessary to ensure that they are not herded to every Tom, Dick and Harry masquerading as teacher-educator.

FOOTNOTE

1. The author has done an extensive participant observation at this organisation, located at Said-ul-Ajab, in Delhi, in the period between May 2010 and February 2011.

Dev N. Pathak teaches at the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, and has recently finished his primary research on public-private partnership on teacher-education in India.

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