In any educational change programme, fulfilling the expectations and needs of students, their parents, and the wider society are not easy tasks. The key starting points for change initiatives in education remain largely the same as ever, says Dr. Beena Menon
Highlight – One may list at least three major trends in the current teacher education theory and practice. Firstly, there is a shift from the traditional transmission-oriented, product-oriented model of teacher education to a constructivist and process-oriented model. Secondly, there is a greater recognition of teacher cognition and practice being situated in concrete contexts and greater emphasis on closer relationship between theory and practice. Thirdly, the tremendous influence of the previous learning experiences have on a teacher is being recognised as a crucial factor.
The role of English as the emerging global lingua franca is undeniable. In recent decades, in response to and recognition of the growing importance of English, governments and educational authorities, corporate and private institutions and even non-governmental organisations around the world are making serious efforts to improve the teaching and learning of English in schools, universities, and communities. Programmes are being implemented at national, regional, municipal, community or institutional level, and are quite successful as they are conceived, designed, and implemented quite systematically. The changing role of English in the world is the main factor driving the increased interest in these projects. More and more, English is seen as a basic skill necessary for organisations wishing to operate internationally and for individuals who wish to improve their employment prospects and engage with the wider world. This internationalisation of English means that the language is no longer the exclusive preserve of people in the traditional English-speaking countries. English now belongs to the whole world.
In the eighties and nineties idealised frameworks focused on fixed timescales, measurable outputs, sustainability, and risks and threats. Project after project in different parts of the world ended when the money ran out and the planned time came to an end. The process of educational reform takes several years as involving all stakeholders in the reform is an arduous process. Any process of social change is slow, as the involvement of all stakeholders is absolutely imperative for lasting impact. A shared understanding of the stakeholders’ agendas is also essential, if the best outcomes are to be obtained. To bring about social or educational reform, the political ethos of a country must also be taken into consideration along with intercultural issues, which can make or break a change initiative.
The challenge of educational reforms:
In any educational change programme, fulfilling the expectations and needs of students, their parents, and the wider society are not easy tasks. The key starting points for change initiatives in education remain largely the same as ever – the curriculum, methodology, assessment, adapting the behaviour of teachers in the classroom and materials. It is also important that different elements in the educational equation be tackled in parallel, if lasting impact is to be expected. For example, the initial training of teachers and testing and assessment systems, alongside the curriculum, textbooks and other resources, are key elements that need to be addressed.
One important emerging trend in the last decade is viewing teaching as a profession comparable to medicine, law, etc. Teaching like other professions requires professional preparation and development. Continuing professional development is extremely crucial in teaching because the pre- service education and induction training are highly inadequate. Professional development is essentially a personal journey in which one needs to work out one’s personal agenda and action plan for a meaningful and sustainable professional development. This has important implications for teacher education policies, programmes and plans. The educational development projects advocate teacher development along with learner/learning-centred and communicative approaches in ELT.
Teacher education, particularly language teacher education, has undergone some significant changes over the past decade. One may list at least three major trends in the current teacher education theory and practice. Firstly, there is a shift from the traditional transmission-oriented, product-oriented model of teacher education to a constructivist and process-oriented model. Secondly, there is a greater recognition of teacher cognition and practice being situated in concrete contexts and greater emphasis on closer relationship between theory and practice. Thirdly, the tremendous influence of the previous learning experiences have on a teacher is being recognised as a crucial factor.
India- educational reforms: A changing scenario
In India, a lot of institutions, corporate as well as NGO’s and charitable trusts viz. the Aga Khan Foundation, The British Council, The Regional English Language Office of the American Embassy, the Times of India’s “Teach India”, Thermax India’s “Teach for India” and Wipro Ltd. to name a few, have begun a number of CSR initiatives that have undertaken educational reforms involving teacher education and development amongst other aspects.
One of the recent concerns of the Government of India has been to revive and reform its primary and secondary schools which cater largely and increasingly to the underprivileged classes of Indian society. These schools have fallen into the quagmire of sub-standard teaching and inadequate facilities far removed from the changing needs of an emerging India. Since 2007, the Government of India has collaborated with the British Council to bring educational reforms to Government- owned and aided primary and secondary schools.
The British Council has substantial experience and expertise in the field of educational reform, with particular reference to the teaching and learning of English. Since 2007, the British Council’s ‘Project English’ later renamed ‘English Partnerships’, has worked in partnership with 11 state governments to improve the standards of English language teacher training, teaching and learning at the primary and secondary levels. Working with local bodies of the Education Department and other private and public sector partners, the organisation has directly trained over 731,136 teachers at last count. British Council English Language Partnership projects are collaboratively designed to support local initiatives in English language teacher education and management, Continuing Professional Development (CPD), curriculum and textbook reform and in-service or pre-service teacher training and aim to build institutional and research capacity. All projects and programmes integrate innovative technologies such as Teaching English Radio-India, Learn English and Teaching English websites and locally produced films of classroom teaching to enhance teacher and student learning. Teacher communities are strengthened through conferences and seminars and access to free digital resources.
The British Council supports state governments in the design and delivery of face-to-face training through a variety of different models, the most common being the cascade model which transfers training from one layer of teacher to the next one. At the same time, they work collaboratively to design and manage parallel interventions and build sustainable support systems to build capacity for the long term. The training consultants are Indian and understand the local needs of teachers and learners. The projects are systematically designed, working from an analysis of needs of each state, to materials development, teacher training, monitoring and evaluation of progress and development, post-training. The project thus runs with the partnership and cooperation between academic support provided by the British Council and administrative support provided by the Education department of each state in a collective bid for reform.
Such models provide shining examples of sustainable development in the field of education. Hopefully 30 years from now, we should be able to erase forever a teacher-centred classroom from the Indian education system through these reforms thus get in-step with the global reality.
The British Council has been entrusted with partnering with the Indian government’s education departments for each state to bring about positive reforms in state-run schools throughout the length and breadth of the nation. My work involves visits to schools in remote areas, assessment of prevalent practice and recommendations for development to the administration.