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Changing the Way Teachers Teach

The Indian education system is in a factory mode of production and if this is a good thing, then why do some students move successfully into the market to get good jobs, while others get discarded into the rubble of society?
BY Boban Paul Varghese |   18-06-2013
Pratham: Every Child in School and Learning Well...

The Indian education system is very well defined – it has clear timings, schedules, syllabuses, uniforms, set styles of teaching and learning. This ensures that the quality of education provided remains pretty much the same across grades in a school and across schools. Similar quality of inputs is usually given to ensure that a similar quality of output is generated. In short, the school system is like a factory where raw materials are brought together to produce an output of similar quality. If our education system is in a factory mode of production – then why do some students move successfully into the market to get good jobs, while others get discarded into the rubble of society?

The answer to this lies in understanding the dynamics of the classroom. What we need are structures with variable levels of flexibility that can fit a variety of needs. The needs of one child may not be exactly the same as that of another child, and it is important to cater to all students.

Human beings are naturally attuned to learning. Take the example of playing. As kids, we are not taught how to play. Yet, we find our own ways to play and have fun. In fact, after a point we start innovating. ‘Gali’ cricket is a great example of this. We first learn the concept of playing cricket along with its rules. Thereafter, we start adapting the rules to playing cricket in a ‘gali’ (small lanes usually surrounded by buildings). We learn how to hit sixes with a straight bat, how a batsman can be ‘caught out’ even if the ball has bounced off the ground once, if the fielder catches it with a single hand, and many more such rules. Similarly, children should be taught the concepts of Science, Math, and other subjects in a manner that fits within contexts they can relate to. One also needs to let them take their time to understand important concepts rather than forcing rote learning just to pass an exam. This means that the schooling system must be able to cater to different learning needs of children, which teachers are expected to provide.

This brings us to the key actor in the education system – the teacher. Currently, we tend to limit a student’s understanding of a topic to that of the teacher’s. A teacher’s role is usually limited to teaching a subject from textbooks and ensuring a child passes his or her exams. In India, the responsibility of building a child’s curiosity, an ability to think and creatively solve problems is usually left to the parents, siblings or friends. Hence, there is a need to change the role of a teacher in the education system. A teacher needs to be a facilitator – one who enables learning – so that the child is not limited by the facilitator’s ability and knowledge, thereby allowing uninhibited growth of curiosity and thinking. As a facilitator, the teacher must push the child to think beyond textbooks and question existing beliefs and understanding. This leads to greater knowledge and deeper understanding of issues and subjects. It is critical for a teacher to encourage her students become independent learners.

It is one thing to understand the above thoughts and another to understand the manifestation of it, and yet another to quantify the problem arising from it and providing a solution. Pratham has been able to do this successfully. Through its ASER Survey, Pratham has been able to quantify the problem in the education sector. According to the latest ASER report, in 2012, less than 50% of std. 5 children can read a std. 2 level text and similarly, only about 30% of std. 5 children can do a simple division problem. The lack of conceptual understanding of letters and mathematical operations has led to such a situation. These students then later drop out of the schooling system when they are unable to progress further. Pratham’s interventions have focused on teaching children how to learn basic concepts. This is done by evolving certain minimum requirements to ensure a child is able to learn. For example, in the primary grades, this minimum requirement is to learn how to read and do basic arithmetic. In higher grades, this minimum is to learn the basic concepts of science, math, language, etc. through the foundation course.

Hence, there is an immediate need to reform our education system. Focusing on teaching to learn is of utmost importance. This will ensure that a child, later an adult, is able to cope with the learning environment throughout one's life and career. The education system needs to equip a person for a lifetime rather than just 15 or 16 years of systematic education, which ends up being the case now. 


A graduate of St Stephen’s College in New Delhi, Boban Paul Varghese has been working with Pratham for two years. He heads the Program Review & Management team which reviews and supports state teams to enhance implementation efficiency. Boban enjoys playing football, traveling, photography and cooking Keralite food.

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TES India
HI, This article is fantastic. I agree that children need to receive an education that is tailored to their needs and learning abilities. Everyone is different as you say. I believe that teachers in India need better training. teaching professionals need access to lesson plans and teaching resources that cater to all levels in education and that they can apply to their classrooms. TES India is a network that provides free help and inspiration for teachers in India. Currently, the network features more than 500.000 free high-quality teaching resources and opportunities for education professionals in India to connect and share through our vast digital community. Above all, TES India is a space where teachers can inspire and encourage each other through their work. I am confiden
24 June 2013


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