‘Command over content is the key to quality educators’

  • Tête-à-têtes with the policy makers and experts on training the teaching professionals

Jan 17, 2019-

The symposium under theme ‘Teachers Professional Development’ organised by the British Council Nepal brought together the policy makers, experts, researchers and teachers to discuss on different facets of teachers professional development. They put their views on wide range of issues that ranged from training design, competency of the trainers, modality of the trainings and its reflection in the classrooms. The sole motive of the event was to find solutions in improving the learning environment in the classrooms by providing proper trainings to the teachers. The participants in the programme, which included educators, experts and concerned authorities, emphasised on various different topics such as, the situation of public schools in South Asia, especially in Nepal, status of teachers’ training, and challenges in knowledge dissemination in the classrooms. Some excerpts:

 

Khag Raj Baral

Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology

Government records show that over 95 percent teachers from the public schools are trained, however, that isn’t reflected in the classrooms. Why?

We have to first evaluate the recruitment process of the teachers, which can be a tedious process for one to qualify as a teacher. It is compulsory to complete their graduation in  education before acquiring a teaching license. Those who have graduated from other streams must complete  one year of education degree to be qualified and recruited as a teacher. This is very complex and time consuming process that do not encourage many people to pursue this profession. Therefore, in majority of the cases, only the weak performers tend to take teaching as their profession. And, we cannot expect excellent results from them. Trainings alone cannot improve this situation.

Do you mean that we need to revisit the existing recruitment?

Definitely. There’s no room to get qualified human resource in the present set-up. We have seen only the poorest performer in the Secondary School Examination pursue education stream who then become teachers. Graduates from every stream should be allowed to take the competitive test to qualify as teachers if we actually want better human resource for our schools. They could be given trainings on pedagogy before being deployed in the classrooms. Command over the content  should be the important prerequisite in recruiting teachers than imposing different technicalities like teaching licence. When there were lack of graduates more than a decade ago, even grade 10 failures were recruited in teaching after providing few-months of trainings. This tradition has been continuing till today. Therefore, we are still putting a huge focus on trainings rather than amending the recruiting process. We have seen that even a brilliant student can teach his/her friends of same grade with no knowledge on pedagogy. This means, command over the subject matter is more important qualification to be a teacher.

Now that the graduates from other streams can apply for technical subjects. Hasn’t this helped in getting qualified human resource?

But they still have to acquire licence if they wish to get permanent posting. The door needs to be open for all the subjects and l the existing complexities should be removed. We have to ensure the job security first. There will be shortage of teachers very soon if we don’t take necessary steps in time.

Is changing the recruitment process only solution? Don’t you think some measures should be taken to make teaching an attractive profession?

I fully agree it is high time we take some steps to attract better human resources in classrooms. Arrangement of better perks and fast-track promotion could be a step towards this direction. The report of the High Level Education Commission has incorporated some of the provisions to make teaching as an attractive profession. In order to clear the complexities, it has recommended a Teachers Council, which is very much like medical or nursing council. This council will issue teaching qualification certificate after a test to whoever interested regardless of which subject they have graduated from. This could a positive step towards attracting competitive human resource in the teaching field.

How helpful are the symposiums like the one by British Council in improving teaching techniques of current professionals?

The takeaways from such symposiums are always important. Our ministry always welcomes the ideas that are generated after comprehensive discussions and deliberations by the experienced personalities from the respective fields.

 

Dr Khalid Mahmood

Teacher’s professional development expert from Pakistan

Why public education in our part of world is not improving? Has it anything to do with teachers’ training?

We have to look into different factors when we talk about deterioration of quality of education. We have seen the issue of job security having negative impacts in some of cases at school level. The permanent teachers aren’t enthusiastic because they going to stay in their jobs no matter how they perform with no policy in place to evaluate their performance. A system needs to be in place for teacher’s evaluation along with incentivising policy. The good performers must get incentives while there should be motivational programmes for those who fare badly.

My experience shows that teachers aren’t attracted to professional development activities and trainings. Largely the trainings have failed to internalise the context on which teachers teach in their classrooms. The trainings are held in a certain type of environment and teachers are expected to replicate them in entirely different situation in classrooms.

Do you mean the very modality of our teachers’ training is wrong?

The trainings largely have failed in engaging the teachers. Teachers are never consulted when designing these training programmes—they have no say on whether they are comfortable to take the trainings, what expectations they have and what kind of trainings they need. Hardly any trainings provided to the teachers are need based, they are rather supply driven. The goals of professional development should be set in regard to the need of the education system and not the training provider. The government agencies should have a clear policy that the trainings by any donor agencies should fit into their need. But unfortunately we happily change our priority based on the need of the funding agencies.

Many people want to join entry level jobs in bureaucracy than engage in teaching. Why isn’t teaching an attractive profession?

Except in Singapore, Turkey, Finland and few other countries, nowhere in the world teaching is a highly paid job. In Finland, for example, a majority of the youths want to pursue teaching as their career because it pays them more than any other jobs. But in many other countries including ours, the case is different. However, if we don’t limit teaching profession just to those who have education degree, we can get competent human resource. In Pakistan, couple of years ago the government called for teachers vacancy irrespective of the degree one has acquired. there was a huge number of applications from academically excellent performers from different degrees including engineering and they were subsequently recruited. This could be replicated in other countries of our region.

Additionally, if we want competent human resource to join teaching we also need to respect them. The culture of respecting teachers is gradually degrading these years.

How has the politicisation in school education hampered the teaching-learning environment?

It was a huge problem in Pakistan until a decade ago but it has improved now. Teachers aren’t allowed to engage in party politics. They can cast votes to whichever party they want but cannot carry their flags. Allowing teachers to engage in politics definitely has high costs.

In most of South Asian countries, the share of education budget is extremely low compared to the national budget. Is lack of adequate funding a problem in ensuring quality of education?

We cannot expect good outcome with inadequate input. Nepal government allocates more budget compared to its national budget than Pakistan. Earlier, Malaysians used to take pride in studying in Pakistan but now Pakistanis got to Malaysia for further studies. The current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was graduated in Pakistan. But in recent years, Malaysia has invested adequate money in education but our remains the same as it was a decade ago.

 

Nepal is just embarking in its journey towards federal set-up which already has invited tussle between different tiers of governments over jurisdiction including in education. Having worked with different layers of governments in Pakistan, what are your suggestions to minimise the complexities?

Though the federal and provincial government enjoyed authority on education from very beginning, it was only after constitution amendment in 2000 that the responsibility came to local governments. It has been 18 years since, and the tussle is still ongoing. But what I believe is that local governments should be given authority for school education and they should be empowered to handle them properly. In Nepal, the three tiers of government must demarcate their jurisdiction with due focus in authorising and supporting the local government to manage the school education.

 

Baudha Raj Niraula

Director at Centre for Education and Human Resource Development

The constitution has authorised local governments with entire authority of school education including teacher’s management. How do you think the authority that remained at the centre for ages transfers to the local?

Yes the constitution largely envisions the local government to take entire authority of school education but the education also listed it as concurrent of three tiers of governments. Though in spirit, teacher’s management and training is the constitutional authority of local governments, the cabinet while unbundling the authority has secured it to provincial levels for now. As we are currently in transition, it will take time for local authority to take charge. It is a gradually process. When we talk about teachers’ training, it goes in three levels. The universities conduct long-term trainings, mid-term trainings are conducted at provincial level while schools manage short-term trainings.

Many participants in the symposium questioned about the output of the trainings. What is the reason behind even trained teachers failing to deliver to the students?

Being a training manager and course designer, I am not appropriate person to answer this. Moreover, there hasn’t been proper research to evaluate the effectiveness of these trainings. There has to be proper research of entire cycle right from trainer production, training design, training delivery and training implementation before reaching to any conclusion. The current conception that the trainings are not effective is not fully true.

But if teachers are delivering well in classrooms, why are students’ performances degrading instead of improving?

I agree that even government reports show that the performance of students from public schools hasn’t improved and it’s below to those from private ones. Among many other factors, teachers’ trainings could be one for this pessimistic picture. What I believe is that there should be a provision in place to evaluate teachers based on the performance of their students. The benefit of the teachers should be increased if their students perform better. I think the High Level Education Commission has incorporated this issue in its recommendation.

Do you think the trainings alone will not work unless we ensure competent human resource join in teaching?

We have to broaden the ambit of recruitment—allowing graduates from other than education stream to join as teachers. The curriculum of education is not rich with content like other streams as it gives priority to teaching and ways to impart knowledge on the subject matter. It is therefore natural for the graduates from education faculty to be weak in content which ultimately reflects in the classrooms.

Do you think the lack of competent trainers for teachers too is a problem?

I don’t think our trainers are incompetent. They are academically qualified and have good exposure from the trainings not just in Nepal but abroad as well. However, I don’t claim there are no rooms for improvement.

In your view, what is more important—teacher’s commitment or the trainings they get?

I think it is the commitment that counts more than trainings. A majority of teachers in our universities don’t have trainings but they are delivering well because they are dedicated and committed to their responsibility.

So many issues have been raised on different facets of teacher’s trainings and their performance in classrooms. Will the government internalise the outcomes from the symposium?

The good findings are always welcome. The outcomes from the symposium are really important towards improving our trainings as well as performance of the teachers.

 

Dr Jovan Ilic

Country Director British Council Nepal

What is the objective of this symposium?

Last year we did our first symposium which was about language of instruction. It was very easy topic to choose as everyone in Nepal was interested on it. It was about whether English as a subject is better taught or it should be medium of instruction. A vast majority of the people, mainly in the private schools, preferred English. There was huge experience sharing with diverse people from different sectors. The symposium also concluded that when a school performs better, one of the last person to be credited is the teacher but if something goes wrong, the first person to be blamed is a teacher. That triggered us to focus on teacher’s professional development this year. In Nepal, everybody finds it easy to criticise teachers, particularly those from the government schools. The main objective of this event is to treat teachers as professionals and to look for ways towards bettering their performance.

Who takes the ownership of the outcomes of this event? Will it help to design and amend government policies?

As an organiser, the British Council takes complete responsibility and ownership of the outcomes of the event. When we talk about policy, Nepal has exceptional policies in place—we have to credit Nepal government for that. But sadly it lags behind in the implementation and that is a challenge. Nepal is shifting towards entirely new setup of governance through federalism which gives a huge opportunity for implementing the policies amidst growing challenges.

As you mentioned now the local government have highest authority to manage school education but the symposium didn’t have enough participation from them. Why so?

Yes, now the decision making power is supposed to be handed over to the local government but the transition is yet to be over. To be honest, so far nobody is entirely sure who is making the decision and its budgetary planning. The transition might take years. We will increase our engagement with the local government but that is going to take some time. We have been here for around 60 years and Ministry of Education being our main partner, we believe that we will be able to have meaningful contributions to improve the quality of education.

Almost all the teachers from public schools in Nepal are trained. However, the better performers are the private schools which hardly have trained teachers. What could the reason behind it?

British Council has been conducting in-service teachers’ trainings with Nepal’s Ministry of Education for six decades. But besides training, there are a number of reasons that contribute to the teachers’ and students’ performances. It’s easy to measure the input but there are no proper tools to measure the outcome. There has to be a proper research to trace how much actually has been translated into classrooms.

When you compare private and public schools, its is an unfair comparison given the limited resources of the students studying in public schools. The parents who are better resourced, literate and tend to spend time with their children, send their wards to private schools. But, those who are in public schools have come from adversaries. We could compare when we swap the children from private to public and vice-versa.

 

Amy Lightfoot

Regional Education and English Academic Lead South Asia British Council

The quality of public school education in South Asia is pessimistic. Having watched the region closely, what do you think is the major challenge for improvement?

The biggest challenge that this region faces is the scale. The number of teachers and learners is huge and some of the countries like Nepal do have geographical constraints in reaching out to every single student. Teacher’s development is definitely another important part of this puzzle. But it’s not that if you fix teachers training, every problem will be sorted out. There is assessment system, textbooks, curriculum, motivation of the teachers, their payment and working condition. We often see teachers deployed in administrative tasks like in elections. There are multiple areas of intervention to bring about the expected changes.

Having worked in this sector through British Council, which has long been supporting in improving school education, what do you think about the present scenario?

It is easy to get negative about the situation when you read the statistics about out-of-school children, drop-outs and failures but there are also stories where teachers are doing absolutely fabulous work. There are ample examples in this region where many schools have been transformed by the teachers. I think it’s about finding these best practices and examples and learning how they made that work. We sometimes think about bringing good things from outside, but there are already good examples around us that we can learn from.

Dispute over jurisdiction in three-layers of government has started as country gradually adopts federalism. Do you think this will affect our education system?

It will certainly have an impact in short to medium term. Having said that, if teachers go to school every day and perform their duty, nothing is going to stop. That said, the transition should be managed properly to make sure the situation doesn’t deteriorate.

With entire authority to manage school education going to local level, how challenging is it going to be for the British Council to deal with many governments in the future?

The level of engagement with three tiers of government will be different and challenging. Now it’s all about finding the most effective method to work together, doing so will take some time. But we shouldn’t always focus on challenges. The good thing about federalism is if one provincial or local government performs better, others can learn from that. A good leadership has taken charge and they have authority to work which I believe is going to yield better results.

Do you think lack of adequate funding from the government is one of reasons behind poor show of the public schools?

I really cannot comment on this. But yes, the recommended spending for the education sector is six percent of the GDP, which is better than many countries. Obviously there are many challenges and funding is one of them.

Is it possible to ensure education in mother tongue in Nepal?

The best scenario is providing children with primary education in their mother tongue. Teachers need to be trained to teach in those languages and there has to be curriculum and textbooks in place. If that is not possible, then the state can opt for dominant language in that particular community—it could be in Nepali or other language. In some parts, English has been chosen as the medium of instruction though neither children nor their community has exposure to it.

Published: 17-01-2019 08:50

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment