In what way can technology help carry out in-service teacher training, and in forming localized teacher circles where teachers take active charge of their growth?
The issue of teacher education has assumed great importance in recent months, with the RTE Act now in place, and the realization that the Act will require for its effective implementation a large number of trained, quality teachers.
The country is very short of teachers at the present moment. Further, the level of professional expertise is low even for the bulk of the existing teacher body. To address this shortfall, many pre-service teacher training centers will need to be opened, and existing ones revamped. Of course, this is primarily the work of dedicated institutes of education (and the country surely needs many more of these).
But pre-service training has inbuilt limitations: it can only take a prospective teacher to a certain point. Beyond that, professional development will take place only during one's actual teaching career. While to some extent this will happen even with no special effort dedicated to it, simply through the practice of teaching, various conditions are necessary if it is to acquire strength and significance:
- A supportive school management which is willing to invest time and money in teacher growth;
- Easy access to quality resources (libraries, books, journals, websites, resource persons);
- Teacher networking and opportunities for peer learning.
Concerning (a), support for teacher growth from school managements is at a low level in most varieties of schools. Private schools are unlikely to change in this regard. In government schools, the status quo may change if there is a suitable directive from the concerned Government department.
Existing models of in-service training tend to be significantly resource-person centered. When they are run well (naturally, this cannot be taken for granted), they have many positive features; for example, they make quality resources available to the teacher. A motivated and resourceful teacher can benefit greatly from such interventions.
But for the most part such workshops remain remote from classroom teaching, and their impact is not as great as we may hope for; moreover, this is the case even when they are well liked by participating teachers, who may feel personally enriched by the workshop.
The reason (in my view) is that these workshops are largely focused on subject content and on teaching methodology, and not on building the peer learning environment; and as such they are not sufficiently self-sustaining.
Can technology help?
If we are to redesign our in-service workshops keeping the need for peer learning in focus, we must be prepared to make full use of available technology and available human resources.
To what extent can technology help in forming and nurturing self sustaining teacher communities? Can the setting up of internet linked video-conferencing centers and master labs, together with the identification of teacher mentors, help in some way?
One can envisage a scheme whereby live video-conferencing sessions are organized on a regular basis, using such facilities, putting teachers in contact with mentors located elsewhere in the state. These sessions would be differentiated by subject and grade. Simultaneously, an interactive website would be set up, allowing users to post questions, comments and suggestions which are responded to not only by mentors but also by other participant teachers. These two media would work in tandem.
Once such a facility becomes available, the scheme can be extended in various ways. For example, we can screen pre-recorded lessons taken by expert teachers (recorded earlier in the master lab). We can also screen lectures that are not necessarily related directly to the school syllabus; say a great lecture on a contemporary topic in natural history, economics, or some relevant social issue. The idea here would be to expose the teachers to gifted expositors, showing them in interaction with students or the public.
The administration responsible for such outreach work would have to see that participating teachers are given support in the form of travel allowance, time off from their parent schools, accommodation, meal allowance, etc.
As I see it, the full value of such a scheme will be realized only by the formation of localized teacher communities in which teachers take a hand in their own professional activity and growth. I like to call them teacher circles in analogy with the famous and highly successful mathematical circles of the erstwhile USSR. (These circles were organized town wise, and brought active mathematicians of the State in contact with school students and teachers in small towns scattered across the country. The scheme survives in present day Russia.)
I believe that it is only through the formation of such localized teacher circles that teacher education will acquire a long term, self sustaining character. But to get such an initiative going, we need the cooperation of people with strong human relationship skills as well as administrative skills, who will interact with the local teacher population and help bond them into a cohesive working unit.
These considerations lead me to pose the following two questions. I ask them in the specific context of mathematics education, because that is principally the work of the Community Mathematics Center in Rishi Valley, but I believe that they are relevant across the board, for all subjects and grade levels.
- To what extent can technology like the internet help in reaching out to teachers and creating strong, self sustaining teacher circles? What are its limitations and weaknesses?
- What administrative and logistical bottlenecks can we anticipate that might trip such a scheme and stop it in its tracks?
- Are there are examples of teacher training programmes that use ICT, from which we can draw some lessons?
Query posed by
Community Math Center
Rishi Valley School
Rishi Valley 517352, A.P.