A great deal of the focal point on education, especially in modernepoch, has shifted to concerns about the excellence of education. It is candidlyknown that the quality of education being given to our children, in general, is quite poor. We have plenty of test scores-based evidence of this. It seems that we cannot ‘select’ good potential teachers when people apply for teaching jobs. People apply for teaching positions after completing their education, so we have no way of checking their teaching record to see if they will be good teachers or not. Literature on education shows, quite conclusively, that selection based on other verifiable variables, like educational background and teacher certification, explains little in terms of who would be a good teacher. So, teacher quality cannot be improved, despite testing or increasing educational requirements, through selection. But we can ‘weed’ out bad teachers two to three years into a person’s teaching career. Again, literature on education shows that we can identify who are good teachers, using various measures, over this teaching period. If we have a two- to three-year probationary period, we could weed out poor teachers. If we are able to do that with every incoming batch of teachers we recruit, we can substantially improve the quality of teachers in a matter of years. The problem is that public sector organizations finds it very hard to refuse confirmation to people they have hired, even if they are on probation. Teachers, at least are ‘confirmed’ as permanent after probationary period but, irrespective of performance, almost everyone is confirmed. If selection and probation periods cannot be employed to screen out poor teachers, we can only hope to train and motivate people to be better teachers. The evidence on teacher training does not give any easy solutions. In general, return on investments in teacher training is found to be low and quite inconsistent. We do find that training has the biggest impact when training is customized to the individual needs of the recipient. Generic trainings give poor overall results. How do we customize trainings, then, when employing a large number of teachers? Government employs huge number of teachers in the public sector every year. How do we create trainings that are (a) standardized at a certain quality, and (b) customized for individual needs? Traditional teacher training programmes were generic. When teachers joined the public sector, they were given induction training, which had to be standardized to reach all teachers. Induction training still remains fairly standardized. Districts have also started continuous professional development programmes to support teachers throughout their careers. These programmes started off being fairly generic. For each subject, common pedagogic and content knowledge deficits would be identified through training need assessments and then there would be attempts, through standard program, to address these deficits.
Such programs have been ongoing for years now. Evaluations, done externally and even internally, have shown limited impact in terms of removing specific deficits, changing classroom practices and/or having an impact on student learning. Technological changes have opened up other possibilities to consider as well. Governments, across provinces, are introducing tablets and computers in schools. This opens up the possibility of teachers having direct access to quality material through the internet. Assessment of individual teacher needs, provision of quality material for remedial work, and assessments to ensure that such interventions have worked could all be delivered through the internet. We could even think of a hybrid model that uses technology to support specialists who, in turn, help teachers. Literature shows good teachers matter in student learning, but the question is how to find good teachers and/or how to support them to deliver better teaching. Selecting teachers on the basis of quality does not seem feasible: we do not have visible markers through which to identify who has the potential to be a good teacher. The only option for us, it seems, is to train teachers to deliver better teaching. Given the size of public-sector education systems, this is no trivial problem. How do we deal with the large system, the need for standardization and the need to customize? The experiment with specialist training has yet to be evaluated, and technological options have yet to be fully explored. So we do not have a working model at present. Until we do, it is hard to see how the quality of education can be improved to any significant degree in the public sector.
( The author is a section officer at Central University of Kashmir. Views are his own)