20 July 2012

Too many cooks spoil the broth

We have all heard the saying "Too many cooks spoil the broth". What happens if many of them are not cooks at all? I think that this is the situation in our K-12 textbook industry in general in our country today.

Whatever be the teaching situation, digitally driven or conventional, it is proven beyond doubt that quality education cannot be imparted unless our K-12 systems consist of well qualified and appropriately trained teachers. This fact is endorsed by numerous research studies and reported in policy documents such as this one.  As we can easily see, though this document is US based, its implications are global. Let us apply some concepts in the document to our scenario in India.

  1. The document is drafted by a team of 6 professionals among whom one is retired. Assuming that this person is not a retired teacher, at least the remaining 4 are practising physics teachers which comes to nearly 70%. This is unlike what we have in India, where such documents are drafted by teams consisting of more retired or serving University professors or physicists than school physics teachers. For example, out of 35 members of the National Steering Committte involved in drafting the National Curriculum Framework, only 5 are practising teachers which means that actual teachers involved were only nearly 14%. If some of these 5 principals are `non-teaching' principals (as it is with many school systems), the per centage is even lower. (I don't think that any school principal can function effectively without being a teacher). Presence of University faculty involved in policy issues in the US is far more meaningful (than in our country) as University professors many of whom would have worked as school teachers for many years collaborate with school teachers constructively unlike in our country where their counterparts have no experience of teaching physics in school classrooms at all.    
   2. `Classroom climate' mentioned in the paper is usually far from practically possible in our physics classrooms because of lack of adequate time to prepare their lessons (often due to administrative workload) even if we assume that physics teachers are given a few free periods while in school. (I had the pleasure of adapting such a `Classroom example' when teaching abroad and not in India until the time I became a school principal and had the freedom to innovate like for example when my Std 9 students used to fiddle around with improvised simple pendulums in a school in 1998, Std 8 students worked on `total internal reflection of light' in a school in 1997 or when my students watched classical dance forms and understood the physics behind them. However, some school managements to whom I reported, weren't interested in innovations.

    3. In `Role of a Physics Teacher' `Teacher Self-Preparation', the document lists the following tasks:
  • Set the goals in terms of conceptual and process outcomes
  • Decide what students will do in the classroom to achieve these goals
  • Decide how to assess whether the goals are achieved, including the roles of both formative and summative assessments
  • Maintain a positive outlook and be flexible
  • Prepare subject material: sequencing and correlating to standards
  • Prepare lab apparatus and equipment
All these tasks are possible by developing offering appropriate teacher development programs and teaching resources. This warrants a drastic improvement in K-12 Curriculum, Teacher development and Assessment of pupil learning.

    4. In `Teacher-Student Interaction' the document lists the following (I have omitted the last few as they are not relevant to the topic discussed in this post):

• Establish a learning community consisting of the teacher and the students.
Recognize and celebrate diversity in students.
Design or select varied instructional strategies to accommodate different learning styles.
• Establish and implement a consistent classroom management plan.
Listen to student ideas and be prepared to address them.
Guide students to view the place of physics in the wider scientific world.
Encourage and support students in discovering concepts independently when possible.

Highlighted ones are in general not very possible considering the overloaded curriculum and large classes. The latter can be sorted out by opening more classrooms, recruiting more teachers and offeriing effective school based teacher development programs considering the local context.

  5. The document doesn't specify minimum qualifications needed to be a qualified teacher. I think that this sends a message that a teacher's ability to effectively deliver quality education is more important than academic qualifications.   

We can see that the situation in many schools in our country can be improved by (i) involving more practising teachers in policy issues, (ii) replacing our textbook (and digital) contents by reducing quantity and making them more quality oriented (It is a well known fact that the contents taught in our Standards 11 and 12 are taught more or less duing the first year of Bachelor Degree Programs in US Universities) and (iii) toning up our teacher development programmes to suit current contexts.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.