Folks in Bihar have been heard saying, “Lalu ji ne charwaha vidayalaya khola aur shiksha ko maweshi ka chara bana diya, Nitish ji ne ek kadam aage badhkar saare charwaaho (uneducated) ko shikshak bana diya…(Lalu opened schools for the cow-herders and converted education into the fodder for cattle, while Nitish Kumar progressed upon it and employed all the uneducated people as teachers). Needless to go for the literal translation of the words; the invitation is here to critically engage with the issue of school education, in Bihar as well as in the whole Indian subcontinent. In spite of populist measures, that is perhaps the prerogative of those in power, there seems a ‘profound myopia’ toward the gravity of danger. In the following subsections, there is an attempt to make sense of the same with reference to some verifiable empirical evidences, based on the first-hand experience of the author.
I asked the teachers in a ‘teachers’ workshop’ (not disclosing the venue and the organizers’ name for the readers)-
What is the most important thing in school education?
The answers captured innocence as well as ignorance- some said students, some said transaction of knowledge, some other named curriculum, and still others pinpointed the power relations.
“Correct, all answers are correct; but what if I say that first and foremost is school teachers’ education!”
All the participant teachers almost nodded in unanimity and perhaps in agreement. And this is the punch-line here: we take-for-granted the issues pertaining to teachers’ education (notoriously called training program/ professional development program and god knows how many technical terms for the same). The blanket lack of critical awareness on this issue has caused us too much of damage to be recounted. It seems thateverything is fine as far as teachers’ education is concerned. With state machinery handing over the responsibilities of educating teachers (alas! The term is training) to the private player in a neo-liberal India, the imminent danger is becoming graver. Corporate companies are bidding for the educational projects, related to educating teachers, as if teachers were the most passive things on this earth. And what happens at the instances of such biddings? The following is an attempt at a rough ( and partially conjectural) recapitulation of a scene.
Discursive Mise en Scene
The Central Board of Secondary Education opens the bids for the private stake-holders in Teacher-education. The idea is to find the best trainers/educators who could orient school teachers for Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). All the private companies (corporate organization who claim to be in the business of education for no-benefit, no-loss) are bidding for the tender. The winner will get allotted (obscene) sum of money and conduct training programs for the teachers of the schools affiliated with CBSE. Objective, as it is put forth in the expression of interest’ paper, is to enable the teachers to objectively evaluate students’ holistic education (could holism be quantifiably evaluated- nobody at the CBSE to entertain this ugly question). The bidders have already made illuminating presentations with the help of extraordinary power-point slides. The presentations have highlighted all the possibly efficient models already tried and tested in the school of America and Europe. The best presentation is apparently one that has caught the audience unaware of the latest technique in teacher-training programs. Enough to suggest that approaches to school teachers of India suffers the absolute reliance on the techniques and formulas, as though teachers were robotic creatures without their autonomous faculty of critical thinking. In the age of irony the evil, arguably, becomes a source of success. This is what characterises the teacher-education programs in contemporary India and the successful business ventures of the private companies into the same.
This scene of bidding and pre-bidding presentations is a recurrent phenomenon. State governments are also opening the filed of school education for private parties (read companies), considering the private-public partnership an indispensable paradigm of thinking in the babudom of India. These are heavily funded projects. Recently the state of Gujarat invited biddings for the project on assessing teachers’ need, measurement of students’ success rate, and so on. National Council of Educational Research and training has also opened the counters to cordially encounter the private players. All goes for the public-private partnership, from influence-peddling to favoring the techno-smart educational companies. In this backdrop, it is imperative for the discerning minds to ask a simple question: what is the yardstick to judge the credibility of the private stakeholders. To complicate the simple question it could be added as to who are these private players and what is their vision (principle plus praxis). Could their credibility be judged by the annual turnover of their companies? Could they be called educators because their models of teacher-education converge with that of the international companies in the field of school education? What is the modus operandi of their business? What is the academic strength of these companies? What is the nature and scope of the educational researches sustained by these companies?
Teacher-Education: Contested Category
On very many occasions the heads of these organizations/companies come bare in the shallow hammam of their vision. In personal conversations the author of this article has gathered some theoretical and practical perspectives prevalent in these companies. This section of the article is a built on it. The first shocking revelation is the belief that school teachers of India are unthinking/unreflective minds. The whole business thrives on this assumption and it reflects in the designs of the professional development programs. The content heavy programs for teachers also reveal a desperate move on the part of the teacher-educators to prove themselves superior to their soft-targets, the school teachers. By extracting servile submission from the teachers the management/administration ensure the success of these training/educating programs. Interestingly enough, teachers have learnt the strategy of switching off themselves, at the level of mind and spirit, in the face of these programs. It is a universal commonsense amongst teachers that these programs have to be somehow coped. Only the rarest of the rare would seek for a lesson worth learning through these ill-designed content-heavy programs meant primarily for the self-fulfilling prophecy of the educators. And what is the prophecy- that teachers are incapable of thinking and educators have to prove it by dispensing almost everything under the sun. What rules the intellectual horizon of the teacher-educators and their bosses is the much abused saying owed to George Bernard Shaw- those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Secondly, the administrative bosses of the organizations, mainly the privately run ones, have no engagement with school teachers. They have seldom a day in their annual calendar spared for interacting with teachers who they intend to educate. The litmus test could be the fact that none of them could be patient enough to listen to teachers. Teachers are to be governed and instructed in their pedagogic pursuits. Ironically though, they will be votaries of the idea of teachers’ empowerment and one of the organizational claim, writ large in their punch lines, would be about enabling-empowering teachers. More often than not they will mouth platitude on it, and, more often than not they will say in hush hush- those who fail to become anything in life eventually becomes a teacher. Not only the bosses, even educators who indulge in strange sorts of researches and design the training programs, know only to listen to their bosses. Let alone listening to school teachers’ voices, wafting in the thin air, they do not listen to even their own conscience. The end product is often a design of training that suits the business interest of the organizations. Any teacher-training program is primarily designed to taste palatable to the organizational heads, and then to the funding agency. School teachers, who are the real targets of these programs, are the last to be thought of. Ask any of these educators/trainers or their bosses to speak impromptu on the needs of the school teachers of contemporary India, and they will be caught unawares, except a few vomiting politically correct-fragmented ideas. Given a platform, however, they all would wax eloquent for hours, at the price of the captive audience of school teachers in the training sessions. It has certainly yielded what is famously known in the researches on education all over the world, as ‘training fatigue’. For further substantiation of the arguments, the following is a case study that emerged from an extensive participant observation in the so called non-profit making corporate organization called TeacherSITY.
TeacherSITY: a case study
TeacherSITY proclaims to be akin to a university of school teachers, as it writes on its website (see www.teachersity.org). It has been though far from any exhibit feature of a university. To put simply, as a university there could have been a regular engagement of educators with school teachers, through direct imparting of skills and lessons, or through seminar presentations, or research projects and so on so forth. Never has teacherSITY engaged itself with school teachers for a sustained length of time for either research or direct-indirect training programs (unless any program is heavily funded by a service-seeking agency). So it is not even akin to university for sure. Nor does it have any such accredition for the professional efficiency for its programs. More important is to note is the work-structure of the organization, which is corporate in design, structure, and motif. In addition to the necessary underpinnings of the accounts and human resource segments, the organization has a crucial part known as Educational Research and Design team (ERD team). It is this team often pitted against the idea of educating school teachers. As the nomenclature would suggest, the team would be conducting researches, writing papers, suggesting new trends in teachers’ educational programs, and designing programs. None of these happen as such. The team does something called research without a library, for the organization has no library. The organization does not subscribe to a single educational journal often referred to in the research writings in the world. To top it all, the organization does not grant permission to the members of the team to visit any other library in the city for the survey of available literature. And yet the team engages with research (perhaps ignorance is really a bliss). It is all by the virtue of materials available online. To nip the guesses in the bud, the organization does not subscribe to a single online journal either. It has no subscription to ERIC or JSTOR. Thus the idea of research, as exhibit in the practice, is about flipping through anything and everything available in the digitized jungle of websites, copying and pasting models thereof, and producing models for training/educating teachers in India. It is not that the members (called faculty in the ERD team) of the team do not think originally or are not creative enough. It is however not required of them to be critical, questioning, creative and imaginative. They have to go around teaching school teachers about the virtue of innovation. But they cannot innovate themselves. Everything done by the faculty members over here is under the strong unrelenting control of the management, which evaluates researchers’ with the sense of share and debenture market. The output must lead to generating revenues rather than insight: the official-instructional mantra for the faculty-researchers.
With the means of designing and researching, the team produces proposals to various government agencies for funding. Only the bosses have to decide as to which funding is more lucrative. Spending the energy of the team for the so called researching and writing toward a not so lucrative project is an imprudent sin for the company. It is once in a while that a member of the team would design a program to engage with school teachers that does not aim at the financial lucre. Any such program would be instantly dumped by the head of the organization. Also, that the latter would discourage involvement of hard-core academics in their research, design and program. It would like to find alliance with those who have clear interest in the status quo of the business. An unrelenting influence-peddling, persuasion and coercion go in the process of clicking a deal. Yes, it is a deal in crude business terms which earn more than just an opportunity to engage with the teachers.
It was with this nature and scope of the organization that TeacherSITY conducted school teachers’ conference in collaboration with National Council for educational research and training and central board of secondary education in November 2010. The stated objective behind the conference, as mentioned in the concept note published on the website and on the conference brochure, was to accord the due respect to the intellectual ability of school teachers. To some extent it met the objective in having school teachers presenting their reflective papers. But the question is whether it was to be heard by the private stakeholders. It happened to be a ritualistic lip service to be a tool in the window dressing. Evidence was the fact that the organizers were keener about the numbers of teachers participating, and paying Rs. 1000 each as registration fee than about meeting the set/expressed idealistic objectives. Each teacher participating in the conference heaped abuses on the organizers (data of those teachers could be used to find evidences). And in spite of the defeated purposes, the orgnizers congratulated each other because their purpose was not defeated: the purpose of generating money and huge number of attending teachers. The number is truly an aphrodisiac for a Nero: the numbers of victims of the massive fire in the Rome, and the numbers of school teachers humiliated by educational system (public and private agencies involved).
Conclusion: For a Beginning
At last, getting back to the opening remark, if Bihar is setting all kinds of wrong trends in the selection of school teachers, it is also likely to set worse trends in teacher-education. For, Bihar is in India, and it is just another state lured by the illusive promises of neo-libreal thinking. Yes, Bihar is likely to be host to the likes of TeacherSITY, and many such stakeholders with dubious credentials. There are many more to be observed critically. One could randomly name organizations like I discover I or Educomp or such educational enterprises. They have been sources of anxiety among those who do not see everything fine with the taken-for-granted dyad of private and public organizations. These organizations can not encourage researches and rethinking on the approaches to teacher-education due to their structural reasons. Put simply, teachers’ empowerment is a mere hollow slogan for them to be shouted in front of a funding agency. On the other hand the conventional Universities, where researches, reflections, and rethinking could be possible, have been already noted as remote from the issues of school education. At this critical juncture, when the inevitableness of public-private partnership is foregone conclusion, there is an imperative to have a critically watchful body of academia and civil society. We really need a systemic regulation of the educational projects, clearly defined yardstick to determine who could be a stakeholder in the educational activities and who ought not be allowed to venture, and a vision on the part of the public agencies such as NCERT, CBSE, KVS, and JNVS among others to be open to public auditing of the various projects. More so, in a country of burgeoning numbers of school teachers, it is necessary to ensure that they are not herded to every tom, dick and harry masquerading as teacher-educators.
The author has done an extensive participant observation at this organization, located at Said-ul-Ajab, in Delhi, in the period of May 2010 to February 2011.