International Panel: Bridging Policy and Practice
A Focus on Teacher Preparation
Presentation 7: Pre-service and In-service Education in India
Pre-service Teacher Education
Three types of institutions are responsible for pre-service teacher education in India. These are government institutions, institutions that are government aided but privately managed, and institutions that are privately managed and financed. Unaided private institutions also prepare teachers for pre-primary education and higher secondary education.
Structure of Pre-service Teacher Education
Due to teacher shortages, more than ten percent of practicing teachers have not gone through a teacher education program. These teachers are offered an opportunity to get a diploma/degree through Distance Education. Open universities provide such courses. The number of untrained teachers is expected to decrease dramatically in the near future because a large number of untrained teachers are nearing retirement. The teachers who replace them will be more likely to be trained.
Recent efforts to strengthen teacher education have included the following:
In India, in-service education is conducted by the State Department of Education through the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and the State Institute of Science Education (SISE). Colleges of Education organize pre-service courses, but a few selected institutions are also entrusted with the responsibility of in-service training. Educational Societies/Associations such as the Atomic Energy Education Society and Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan organize in-service training courses for their members. Voluntary Agencies and organizations working in the area of education also arrange in-service courses for teachers.
Research and development projects at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education have led to five programs to strengthen teacher education. The first was a remedial program for rural schools (1987-90). The goal of this program was to show teachers in rural areas how to incorporate a remedial instructional strategy to facilitate the learning of mathematics. The second program, Instructional Reforms through Voluntary Agencies (1990-93), equipped the members of the voluntary organization to undertake in-service training, follow-up, and monitoring. The third program, Capacity Building within the System (1993-96), trained resource personnel drawn from the school inspectors, active school-headmasters, and innovative teachers to provide on-spot guidance to practicing teachers. The Quality Improvement Program for Ashram Schools (1996-present) acquaints teachers with methods and materials to overcome learning hurdles faced by tribal students in Ashram Schools (residential schools on the lines of ancient Indian Gurukul system). The fifth program, Training of Teacher Educators in Mathematics (1997-99), familiarized teacher educators with the needs and requirements of practicing teachers and provided them concrete guidelines.
Although integrated science is taught in India, teacher preparation programs still teach isolated methods courses. Researchers hope that the teachers will read the research and implement it in the classroom. This does not happen often, so it is the responsibility of researchers to go to teachers and explain how beneficial the research can be.
Education in India follows the "10 + 2 + 3" model. This means that students receive 10 years of basic schooling (i.e., until the high school level). This is followed by 2 years of "intermediate" or "plus two" education (this is when one starts to specialize), and 3 years of undergraduate education (or 4 years in the case of professional courses like Engineering).
The Indian education system is very examination-driven. Not only are there the usual school-leaving examinations but also a whole host of entrance examinations that have a very direct bearing on the future careers of children. The "examination mentality" has, inevitably, had a strong negative influence on just about everything connected with education in India: textbooks, style of teaching, and teacher preparation.
Also, as is perhaps the case elsewhere, teaching today is not a particularly well-regarded profession in India, although it used to be at one time. The highly regarded professions are in medicine, engineering, management, the civil services, computer software, law, and architecture. Teaching would seem to be nearly the last option for most young people who are thinking about their careers. The highly capable students mostly opt for the high-status professions listed above. It seems like the least capable students opt to take up teaching as a profession. An important element that inevitably plays its part in this vicious cycle is the low level of teacher salaries (which are certainly much lower than, say, those of engineers and doctors). Unfortunately, this state of affairs follows a self-fulfilling path to its own detriment.
The Governmental school system requires prospective teachers to acquire a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) certification. There seems to be a widespread feeling among teachers, however, that expertise in teaching really comes only from hands-on experience. Theories of teaching and B.Ed. degrees do not carry much weight. At one time the course could be done entirely by correspondence. Now a ban has been imposed on such programs. However, on the whole it would seem that the influence of the B.Ed. program on the Indian educational scene has not been very significant. There are, however, some colleges of education where a good degree in education may be obtained.
If the B.Ed. degree does not do what it ought to do, then the only option left is in-service training-via short-term instructional courses, workshops, summer courses, etc. Many agencies see the need for such teacher enrichment programs. Many teachers take part in these courses, which contain a mix of mini-courses and expository lectures. It seems that the primary levels tend to get left out of such programs. The focus is by and large on the high school and "plus two" levels.
Teacher education in my own school
Rishi Valley School has a strongly religious and philosophical orientation, and owing to this we get many unsolicited applications each year from individuals who have not been trained to teach at the school level but who may have excelled in some other field before turning their sights to education. Indeed, many of our teachers do not possess a B.Ed. degree at all. As a result, we rely very heavily on the mentor system, hands-on learning, subject specific workshops, and teacher conferences involving our sister schools.
The Council with which we are formally affiliated conducts many workshops each year for teachers as well as Heads of Schools. Some of our mathematics teachers have attended these workshops and have come back with good reports on them. Others have attended workshops conducted by the well-known mathematics educator PK Srinivasan. He has devised a new way of teaching algebra called the design/pattern language approach. Many of our teachers have been exposed to this.
I have personally conducted numerous workshops for practicing mathematics teachers. My approach, based on what I feel are the most common areas of lacunae in teacher preparation in India, is described below. The feedback I have received from those who have attended the workshops has been quite enthusiastic.
List of "must-do" items for workshops on mathematics teaching-1: "Hands-on Activity"
List of "must-do" items for workshops on mathematics teaching-2: the "Culture of Mathematics"
An important guiding principle in the design of workshops is that the exposure must not be limited only to expository lectures (and this holds however inspiring they may be) but must also involve hands-on learning. Teacher-trainees must struggle, in the classroom and while doing homework assignments, just as their students do. After all, mathematics is not a spectator sport!
Teachers who have been through the workshops report that what makes them successful and worthwhile is precisely the "struggle" aspect. Therefore the sessions on Problem Solving, Investigations, Transformation Geometry (which too is taught through problems) and Proof acquire particular significance, and need to be designed very carefully. Brief notes are included below on the units on problem solving and investigations. (The materials used in the units on proof and transformation geometry are in Appendix D).
If it is vital that students should tackle hard problems as part of their mathematical education, then it is equally vital that teachers should tackle hard problems-as part of their preparation! What is nice about problem solving is that it puts students and teachers at the same starting point and the same level. A feeling of democracy gets established. The value of tackling challenging hard problems, for student as well as teacher, is immense. The following quote, from Benjamin Finkel-founding editor of "The American Mathematical Monthly" expresses this beautifully.
The solution of mathematical problems has an educational value which cannot be overestimated. It is the ladder by which minds ascend into the higher fields of original research and investigation. Many dormant minds have been aroused into activity through the mastery of a single problem." (American Mathematical Monthly, No. 1, 1894)
However, we need to keep in mind David Hilbert's advice on the matter:
A mathematical problem should be difficult so as to entice us, yet not be completely inaccessible, lest it mock our efforts.... (Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 1902, Foreword)
What was said above for problem solving holds just as well for mathematical investigations. The difference is that here the problems are of an open nature. The problems to be tackled must not look too formidable. Hilbert's comment is very apt here. The important thing is that the teacher-participants experience mathematics not simply as something to be learned from the texts. They need to understand that it is not a "fait accompli" subject where everything that is worth doing has already been done by some great mathematician who lived several hundred years back. They need to feel that there is a possibility of teachers adding to the subject, even if only in some small way.
It seems that the design and execution of good workshops is much more promising than the design of even a challenging B.Ed. program. Good workshops expose teachers to real mathematics through problem solving, investigations, and other hands-on activity. These courses also expose teachers to the culture of mathematics-its history, its human side, and its humor.
Perhaps more energy should be put into in-service training and teacher enrichment programs rather than in pre-service training. However, it is important to note that these initiatives tend to work well only with certain kinds of teachers. Teachers who tend to really benefit are those who have a genuine desire to learn more, are intrinsically motivated, and are not afraid that struggling to solve a problem will make them seem less competent than their colleagues.
Promises and Challenges Related to the Approach in India
This conversation raised new points for the seminar participants and added dimension to topics that came up on the first day when reviewing 2001-training mathematics educators and the role and relationship of pre-service to in-service. For some, Sudhakar Agarkar's presentation resurfaced another concern from 2001 and again this year-linking research to the training of teachers. The approaches described by Sudhakar Agarkar and Shailesh Shirali reintroduced issues about how the pieces work together and raised the question of whether the approach to pre-service education should be different from that for in-service education. The efforts they described for strengthening teacher education seem to make a serious effort to close the gap.
Many people found it was promising that so many different groups and organizations participate in the process of designing and providing pre-service and in-service teacher training experiences. The desires for broader participation and greater cooperation have been expressed by many of the seminar participants both in 2001 and 2002. Many also found it promising that one result has been greater attention paid to the experiences of teachers as they grapple with authentic mathematics and their potential contribution to the subject. Among the challenges, some participants mentioned the potential difficulty of finding enough people qualified to run the sort of workshops described. Another challenge was the potential difficulty of selecting appropriate problems in which teachers could engage.
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