Teachers that teach!
a regional consultation last month on educational assistance, I was
immensely struck by the assertion of one participant that programmes
should aim at ‘making the classroom more joyful’. Sadly, that is not
seen by many educational administrators or trainers as important. The
result is that teachers do not focus on this sufficiently, even though
doing this would also help to make teaching an enjoyable vocation for
practitioners, and not just a job.
I was the more conscious of this for recently I read a critique of a
description I had written some time back of members of the Hela school
who had made learning at S. Thomas’ such a joy. Arisen Ahubudu for
Sinhala, and his great friends Mr Coperahewa and Jinadasa for Art and
Science respectively, had hugely enjoyed their work, and we had hugely
enjoyed both their teaching and the performances in which they engaged.
In the process we had also learned a lot. Perhaps I had not made this
clear, but I had the impression that the critique was based on the
assumption, not uncommon in Sri Lanka, that I had been rude in
describing the additional input of these memorable masters.
The absence of such teachers in many schools, or the failure to
encourage them to use their social gifts effectively, is perhaps what
leads to a situation in which ‘school-based education is often perceived
as irrelevant’, as the position paper for the consultation put it. Of
course there are other factors, such as the tuition culture which seems
almost sanctified now, and the fact that many teachers in schools give
tuition and expect their own pupils to attend their classes. But
underlying this is the assumption that education is a top down process,
and not a partnership, in which teachers and students work together
towards a common goal.
Teaching, an enjoyable vocation
That word was a key element in the discussion we had. The
organization that had brought us together has innovative vocational
training programmes in Sri Lanka and India and Nepal, which ensures
multiple ownership of its activities. On the job internships are an
essential part of the training, and we were privileged to meet four
products of their programmes, three urban Muslim girls and one boy from
a rural background, who were all now gainfully employed – two
beauticians, one tailor and one in the retail trade, for which it is now
increasingly being realized, training in soft skills and in particular
customer relations is essential. Incidentally, in a context in which
businesses are finding rapid turnovers in staff in some areas in the
North, it would make much sense to introduce this type of training
programme that develops appropriate attitudes as well as skills.
Another aspect of partnership is encouraging the students to feel a
sense of ownership of the institution. I had seen this happen through
the commitment of alumni at the Ambalangoda Centre who had donated a
computer for the use of their successors, but perhaps more importantly,
even students following courses engage in social service and other
projects that allow them to develop initiative. It need hardly be said
that an essential part of education is developing a sense of self worth,
and involvement in community service contributes to this immeasurably.
Teacher involvement in policy and administration can also be a key to
improving the impact of schools. India has grave problems with regard to
education for the children of internal migrants, with the drop out
factor being high.
Working together with State governments, NGOs now conduct on site
schools plus hostels back at the source where children can be kept and
taught while their parents engage in seasonal occupations elsewhere.
With regard to the on site schools, it was reported that, when
teachers visited the community and urged regular attendance, this had
improved, whereas earlier parents, who had had no experience of
education, had felt no reason to ensure that their children benefited
from opportunities they themselves had never had.
Though we do not have similar problems, we can certainly make greater
effort to ensure full participation in education of children whose
parents are dead or working elsewhere. Again, the key is partnership,
where the State works together with service providers, instead of trying
to provide the service itself, with the concomitant rent seeking that
often results. But of course the State must monitor such activities
carefully, and ensure adherence to norms – which is perfectly possible,
given the number of officials working in the field of child care, who
currently do not have clear job descriptions.
The Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development has recently tried
to improve this position, with details of how Children’s homes should be
supervised, and this necessarily includes ensuring a decent education.
Dynamic education system
Another innovative approach to promoting participation is the
establishment of Teacher Resource Groups, to discuss best practice and
work together to overcome problems. Another phrase that has stuck in my
mind was the diagnosis that ‘teachers are now on the periphery of the
education system’, whereas they should be central, as was the case when
we had a dynamic education system. This had developed initially through
church schools, but Olcott and Navalar made sure the benefits of such
dedication extended more widely, and Kannangara put the seal on this
through his expansion of such a system into the regions.
Sadly, with greater centralized control, not just teachers but even
Principals have become functionaries rather than participants in the
development of schools and students.
This is the more regrettable because there are many Principals, and
more teachers, who can contribute tremendously if only their energies
But in a context in which the Education Ministry has managed, because
of some sort of legal problem, to be stopped from appointing Principals
to many schools, with acting appointments being the order of the day in
several places, the idea of involvement is even more distant than our
system of relentless central control had made it.