Investigating Challenges in Teacher Development

by on July 21, 2016

Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. The more effective teachers are, the better would be the student outcomes.

Established by research, it is one of the least debated arguments in education. What continues to be debated is how to make teachers excel in their jobs.

Mirage 2015, a TNTP publication showed that despite a large investment in teacher development, there is no substantive improvement in teachers from year to year. It also made the argument that continuing to invest in teacher development is critical and would rather require us to redefine what it means, reevaluate existing practices, and reinvent support for effective teaching at scale.

In an attempt to investigate and understand the challenges associated with the teacher development in India, let us look at the entire value-chain starting from teacher recruitment, preparation or pre-service training, professional development or in-service training, and teacher motivation.

Recruitment: Often teaching is not the most preferred profession, making it difficult to attract and retain the top talent. The report shared by McKinsey stated that few countries like Finland, Singapore and South Korea are able to recruit 100 percent of their teachers from the top one-third of the academic cohort. This is not nearly the case in India. Programs like ‘Teach For India’ fill the gap by attracting and placing academically bright fellows in government and low-income private schools to teach for two years. A large number of these fellows continue to work in the education sector. However, very few stay back in teaching for reasons including lack of teacher certification or career pathways. Attracting top talent in teaching would require creating better career pathways, working conditions and rebranding the teaching profession.

Preparation or Pre-service training: Pre-service teacher training programs run in a fragmented system of 18000+ teacher education institutions, which has around 13 lakh seats. The vast majority of this capacity is of extremely poor quality with few, if any, centers of excellence. The quality of teacher preparation can be gauged by an abysmal low pass-percentage in Teacher Eligibility Test, which is a test that every new teacher needs to take. Less than 6 percent of the seven lakh graduates who appeared for September 2014 passed the exam. Several factors along with admission eligibility criteria, shortage of faculty in institutions like SCERTs, DIETs are responsible for such poor quality. Moreover, the curriculum lacks rigor and has only been recently revamped to include longer practical in-school training time. The voluntary accreditation of the teacher education institutions also leads to their poor accountability.

Professional development or In-service training: In addition to the problem of teacher preparation, we need to address challenges in continuous professional development of the existing 8.3 million teachers in our school system. Recognising this as a need, the government has made efforts for its teachers to receive up to 20 annual training days under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. However, the data released by District Information System for Education (DISE) for 2013-14 shows that only 31.45 percent of all government school teachers received training in the previous year, down from 47.01 percent as compared to the last two years. In a few places, where training is being conducted, we observed many challenges such as:

  • Top-driven nature of training does not account for needs of teachers making it undesirable for them to actively participate
  • A disproportionate focus on theory compared to actionable classroom strategies or tools leads to very little translation in teacher actions inside the classrooms
  • Fixed nature of training days and locations restricts flexibility of access
  • Cascade model without standardised training practices dilutes knowledge dissemination
  • Insufficient training and tools for cluster level resource, school principal or peer-level support leads to erratic academic support or mentoring
  • Non-transparent data and communication systems result in ad-hoc and often irrelevant training assignments

Teacher professional development is almost non-existent in the unaided private schools with only 3.32 percent of teachers reported to have received any training as per DISE 2013-14. One of the most common reasons cited for this is the lack of school management incentives to invest in activities not directly visible to parents. If high-quality teacher development programs can be made available at affordable prices, more schools may be interested in developing their internal capacities.

Motivation and Incentives: Various research studies show the impact of employee motivation on their performance. What motivated a teacher to join the profession in the first place, what continues to motivate or demotivate, and how we can create teacher incentives to achieve goals of education are some questions that we need to deeply deliberate on. In addition, we need to think about the impact of career progression as well as supporting school culture on teacher effectiveness.

Applying the principles of ‘Growth Mindset‘ to teachers, we need to start with the belief that all teachers can grow in their professional capabilities and performance when right conditions are created. At Central Square Foundation, we are working with several partners to create evidence-based strategies for teacher preparation and professional development as well as teacher motivation and incentives, and hope to share our learning with the larger ecosystem in the subsequent blog entries.