Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Teacher Training Program - An Answer?

For a better tomorrow, my current thoughts are that we must focus on the people who engineer the tomorrow - K-12 teachers.

First draft of my HOW-TO guide for this huge plan:

1. Study current methods that are producing such low quality teachers in India
  • Is the input to the teacher training program not good?
    • How good do they have to be?
      • What is needed to be a good primary/ secondary school teacher?
      • What is lacking in the incoming people?
        • How to inculcate the qualities in the incoming batches of people?
        • Is this possible?
        • If not, why is it not possible and what kind of people should come in?
          • To get these people what do we need to do?
  • Is the curriculum outdated?
    • What should go?
    • What should stay?
    • What should be added?
  • Are they motivated and told that they are engineering the future? They must be. They are going to be doing important, very cool work and not something drab - and they should know that!
2. Get money from corporations (force them to pay up - training fees that is going to reduce their training expenses in the future :P)
3. Develop a curriculum for teachers - (totto chan, sukhomlinsky, janusz korczak, divaswapan - MUST read - i am reading up - i have lots more to go...)
  • timeline
  • first unlearn a LOT of things
  • then start learning
    • about children
      • their lives
      • their backgrounds
      • health
      • who they are?
      • how they think?
      • how they learn?
      • how each one of them can get successful
      • what is success?
    • about parents
      • how to find out who they are?
      • how to deal with different types
      • how they affect their children
      • how they must be coerced into not adversely affecting their kids
    • about adolescents
      • their problems
      • dealing with it
  • How to evaluate? 
    • Develop evaluation methodology
    • What is wrong with the current technique? What should change and what must remain (nothing?!)?
  • Motivating children and always know that they will definitely get there - given enough time and enough encouragement - children will definitely get to doing their best.
4. Start the teacher training program
  • Get unemployed folks after a test to get the kind of people we want
  • get them to the right level for primary classes first and then middle school and then high school
  • rigorous training for them
    • to appreciate their importance in the lives of the children they will deal with  
    • to make themselves capable fo taking up this responsibility
  • Evaluate the teachers after the program and throw out those who havent unlearnt well enough
5. Start taking stats of student /teacher ratio in village schools

6. For each school without a good ratio, sponsor the number of needed teachers from the good pool that we have trained - paid by the corporates - these teachers should be supervised and overseen by a set of dedicated people who need to be trained too (esp teachers of middle and high school children who have to deal with adolescent kids)

7. Evaluate these teachers every year, evaluate the students in appropriate ways and not continue the same insanity that prevails in evaluation methods - teachers may need to be thrown out

8. Make such a difference that the current teachers also want to do a better job - provide incentive for signing up for the training

Will these steps take us closer to a better future for everyone? And not a chosen few?

Some operational questions that need answering: How can we raise money? How can we get every expat indian to sponsor the cause? How can we get people to get started on it? Who will drive it all? And how can we get the government to agree with the plan?

Is this going to be mired in controversy somehow and never see light because the evil powers-that-be do not want to see things change, because if they didn't wouldn't things be better already?? Am I just too pessimistic? Or is that just reality? If so, how can that be dealt with and how will we make this program a reality?

Will it work? Are there any gaping holes in this that you see (who ever you are, will ye be kind enough to point out what you see/ don't see). I want this to be extensible and doable in a large scale, so that many many people will be benefited.

Is it not high time that we did something? I'll end with what woke me up 5 years ago. It is impossible to be indifferent when you are awake and you start seeing things differently:

So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them - Vivekananda


Ramana said...

First impressions: Extremely ambitious- But I guess you already knew that. Let me answer your questions this way-If I was a corporation school teacher and had to make credible excuses these would be my excuses: 1) Too many children in each class to manage. This is not going to go away anytime soon and we probably have to live with this constraint forever. (Unless your program inspires everyone to become teachers and we have more teachers than students :-) ) So we have to find a way for teachers to more efficiently work with all the students. Think about assistant teachers(TA types) to do all the menial work and leave the teachers to focus on the kids. 2) I am not being paid enough and hence not motivated enough to be a teacher- Money is a crucial factor and we need more money to be pumped in for paying the teachers. Thats a fact. My biggest concerns apart from the teachers would be the bureaucracy and the inertia associated with them. To bring about any change like this would require massive government support- I am presuming your main target would be government schools. According to me the best approach would be to start off a school, employ and train your teachers according to your methodologies, show off the progress you are making as a pilot program to the government and get them to do something similar. I see this as a fantastic plan to alleviate most of the real world problems we face. Best of luck with it.

Nithya said...

A few things that I did not explain in the post because of it was becoming too long: 1. I know it is very ambitious, but as far as I can see the only way out - I just hope it is doable in some length of time 2. I think I answer the problem of too-many-children-in-each-class, by increasing the number of teachers, picking from the large pool of unemployed people we have in our country (6.8% of our total labour force of 523 million ppl in 2008 acc. wikipedia) 3. Yes, we need to raise funds to train them and pay them decently (even during the training period). This money needs to come from the people who earn decently, the corporate sector, the government and the rich expats 3. Government schools are indeed the targets because they have the poorest of the poor - kids, infrastructure, student/ teacher ratios. Absolutely the place that needs change 4. This whole idea came to be after a discussion of starting a *model* school. I am not for it at all! Because I do not see it as being a means to an end where every one has equal opportunity. We will just "choose" a community to serve, and only they will benefit - the chosen few will become a bigger set. The problem is we have too many people who need good teachers, we have government schools that are supposed to do the job but don't - Making these functional will be what works for the entire populace. The model of starting our school and putting in all our resources into it is just not scalable

Statement of Purpose

Here is what I wrote more than 2 years ago hoping to apply for a Masters program in Education. Eventually, though, I never used this for anything. Took the well tread route. Applied for a Masters program in Computer Science and that is what I'm doing now.

But this is still close to my heart, something that I want to do. Someday, I will. Probably.

I dream that there will be a day when every child is given equal opportunity regardless of gender, financial status and parentage. I want to engineer a bright tomorrow for every child for whom a tomorrow is a very bleak prospect. A tomorrow which will see every child blossoming into the best that he or she could ever be. With nothing discriminating them from the rest. Without anything to hinder them from realizing their beautiful dreams.

The disparity that is existent in today's world is shocking. A case in point is a personal example. Our domestic helpers son is 22 years old.  He has passed his 9th standard and works as a peon in a private company. He earns Rs.1500 a month and is expecting to get a raise of Rs.500 by end of this year.

I am 22 years old. I have completed my B.E degree and I am being paid more per month than what he would earn in twelve.

He was born there, and I here. I can't see, how much ever I try, any causal difference other than this.

Why then, this disparity? For no fault of his and for no faultlessness of mine?

The school that I went to was chosen from a list of the best that were available. I had amazing teachers and was given excellent facilities which would make any child want to learn more. This is what every child should get. But doesn't. And that's where the other differences start.

A child's future is secured in the first years of schooling. And currently we are living in a world where a very shocking reality is silently ignored by the wealthy few and tolerated without complaint by the masses. The people who desperately need improvement in their lives, are the ones who are denied the only legal entry point to a decent living. Quality Education. The only way through which people can be freed from the misery of poverty, never ending debts and harassment.

What differentiates the children of the poor and the rich, is the quality of every kind of input that they receive as children. The inputs that they receive in school and at home. Financially stable, well educated parents know that confidence is the key to success. They try to find as early as possible what their child is good at and provide every possible opportunity for the child to realize that s/he is very adept at some things. The child is sent to one of the best schools and there the child is guardedly allowed to explore possibilities. Encouraged and educated, s/he gradually gains confidence and is able to do wondrous things by the time s/he matures into an adult. An adult who is capable of leading a happy, meaningful life. On the other hand, uneducated, financially unstable parents are required to spend more time worrying about current realities than a distant future. Their children just manage to go to school. The schools that they go to fail to make a difference to them. And here they do not learn about the existence of many other beautiful things that life would otherwise offer them. They grow up thinking that they are capable of nothing because nothing that they have done so far has either been appreciated nor been encouraged. A meaningless, unhappy existence awaits the emerging adult.

Children from poorer backgrounds have to be shown that they can DO things and do them well.  They lack the confidence that their richer counterparts easily get. By instilling confidence and skills in them, they need to be empowered. This has to be done by exposing them to various opportunities, helping them identify their strengths and weaknesses, building on their talents while working on their problem areas, so that eventually, they grow into well rounded, capable and confident adults. A personal relationship with every child with the intent to provide enough encouragement and necessary early corrective action is what every education system must seek to achieve.

I wish to make myself capable of spearheading the much needed revolution in education. The current system has failed a large number of people. Education which must enlighten, enthuse and energize every child is mostly an ordeal which dulls a needy child, suppresses its imagination and scares it away. Less than half the children who start their formal education complete the mandatory 8 years in school. This HAS to be changed. And soon.

For this I require the knowledge about the different systems of education that are existent around the globe and know the intricacies of each. I need the detailed knowledge about what aspects of life shape a child's mind. About educational policies and how it shapes posterity. About what precisely are the faults in the current system that need to be addressed. About how to make quality education possible for each child.

I wish to be a part of a renowned educational institute where I can get to see what really makes quality in education. I wish to make solid, achievable plans to reach an equitable and therefore more stable tomorrow. To be able to conceptualise and make a reality a world where quality education makes every child's childhood.

My dream is a happy tomorrow. For everyone. The path to realizing it will be tough. It may indeed be unattainable in a single lifetime. But I don't want to die regretting that I too, never made a difference, when I could have


viswajith.k.n said...

some of the lines in u r SOP r killer lines..:) But to be honest education these days is more of a business than a duty. As an example I would say this: I did my masters at Kentucky...And during my last year there we were informed in blunt words that the university is running out of funds and so scholarships yada yada wud slowly be cancelled...And a couple of months later the university brings in a reputed Basket ball coach(supposedly the best in business)on 32 million dollar contract. :) So as a neutral I would be scared that if someone who intends good while beginning a Masters of education program would not at the end of it change in to a money making educating monster...:D No offense meant to your statement though...

Nithya said...

Sports is an important component of education! As far as I know, people here join schools dreaming about becoming professional players. And also doesn't that totally depend on how budget is allocated to various departments? I don't know ground reality in your school, but this is my space to think out loud :) AND I've looked at courses in Educational Psychology and don't think they are evil inducing!! Though people do change over time and that is reality in any field!

Arvinth said...

Awesome post.. You have all my support for creating such a world.. Infact, I first want to finish my loans and other stuff and seriously start working towards this.. Let us hope to make it a better tomorrow for everybody.. :)

Viswajith said...

All I am saying is its not a fair deal trying to allocate so much on one department when there are tonnes of other departments that you can take care of!

A passage from a book by Vasily Sukhomlinsky

I'm moving the education related posts from my random thoughts blog to here - this one was originally put on it on Nov 6, 2009. The next two posts are also just traveling here from their old home.

This is one of my favourite passages from "I Give my Heart to the Children" by Vasily Sukhomlinsky. A must read for any teacher dealing with children. I wish we had some great inspirational training for all teachers. Don't they make the future?

Our Corner of Dreams

Finally we lit a fire in the stove. The dry twigs blazed up gaily. Evening fell over the land, but our little hideout was bright and cozy. We looked at the trees and bushes covering the slope of the ravine and there, from the secretive thickets, fairy-tale images came to us. They seemed to ask, “Tell a story about us, please." The trees and bushes were enveloped by the semi-transparent haze of twilight, bluish at first and then lilac. The trees took on unexpected outlines in this haze.

Children fantasize eagerly at such moments, making up stories.

"What do the trees piled over there on the slope of the ravine look like?" I asked, addressing myself not so much to the children as to my own personal reflections. To me they looked like green waterfalls, which had fallen swiftly, down a precipice, now hardened into carved images of basalt or malachite. I wondered if any of the children would see what I saw there, for the evening hours are also the time to observe how children think.

And then I saw that one child's thoughts were flowing wildly and swiftly, giving birth to new images, and another was thinking like a broad, deep, mighty river, slow but secretive in its deep places. Whether or not the river had a current was unclear, but it was strong and irrepressible. This river could not be easily re-routed as could the swift, light current of the thoughts of the other children, or blocked off, as it would look for a way out at once. Shura saw a herd of cows in the treetops, but as soon as Seryozha asked, "But where do they graze? There's no grass there", Shura changed his mind. They're not cows: they're clouds that floated down to earth to rest for the night. Yura's thoughts soared and changed just as quickly. But Misha and Nina watched silently with concentration. What did they see? Dozens of images born in the children's imaginations had already swept past us, but Misha and Nina were silent, and Slava was, too. It couldn't be possible that they hadn't thought of anything. It was already time to go home when Misha, the quietest boy of all, said, "It's an angry bull pounding at the rock face with his horns. He can't conquer the rock, so he stops. Look how he's straining--look, look, he's shoving the precipice over..."

And suddenly all the images, which had crowded around us flew away. We saw that the pile of trees was in fact surprisingly like the hardened fury of a bull. The children started to twitter: look how he set his legs against the bottom of the ravine. Look how his neck was bent--his tendons were probably trembling, and his horns were stuck into the earth...  

Look what Misha thought up! At that instant, while clear living images floated above our heads, his train of thoughts went their own way. He had listened attentively to the words of his comrades, but not one image had fascinated him. His fantasy was the dearest, the earthiest. The child had caught sight of something he had probably seen, which had made an impression on him. And yet such taciturn, slow-witted children suffer dreadfully during lessons. The teacher wants the child to answer the question, more quickly; it matters little how the child thinks-he must have an answer then and there so he can give a mark. It has never occurred to the teacher that it is impossible to speed up the flow of this slow but mighty river. Let this river flow in accordance with its nature; her waters will surely reach the destination, but don't hurry. Please don't get nervous; don't beat this mighty river with birch switches of bad marks--nothing will help.

Why this blog?

No one can tell whether a child gets more from looking at the blackboard or looking out of the window
- Janusz Korczak in "When I Am Little Again"

I will use this blog to think out loud about my dreams for attaining an equitable tomorrow through quality education for every child on the planet. By providing interesting blackboards and rich experiences, between and outside safe windows, and all the support to make happy childhoods.

I hope that one day, these dreams will come true.