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Opinion28th May 2015

A personal and a national challenge: Finding transformational teachers in India

The year that I completed my schooling, I read somewhere that: ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.’ This quote stuck with me, as I saw the truth of it in my own experience. Growing up, I had access to high-quality, inspiring teachers. I was fortunate to have received a quality of education which most of the children in India are deprived of, and it helped me become a confident and well-rounded individual.

Today, I work for Ark in India, and I’ve been given the job of recruiting teachers for the new primary school we’re about to open in South Delhi- Ark’s first in the country. I see this as a chance to encourage the kind of teaching that made such an impact on me. Ark has a great deal of experience running successful schools in the UK, but opening a new school in India presents very different challenges. If a nation is no better than its teachers, this is doubly true of a school. In a nation of more than a billion people, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers, but recruiting the right ones- the ones that would help raise the quality of the school, has proven to be a more difficult task than I imagined it to be.

The two key problems I faced were: first, how to identify teachers that are aligned with Ark’s philosophy – that every child should have the right to a quality education; and second, finding teachers that also have the skills and experience to actually make a difference in their classrooms.

Our new school in India is being set up not just to be a good school- but to be a transformative one, and for that, we’d need transformative teachers. I’ve had a chance to gain insight from a lot of individuals into the condition of teacher training institutes in India and, more generally, the profession of teachers. There are many obstacles: our system and structures in India are not providing teachers enough support to grow into skilled professionals.

One common thread that ran through all my interactions with candidates was that teaching was not their first choice. They opted for teaching either because they could not make it to the engineering/medical fields or because their parents thought it was a ‘soft’ option, which would be easier to manage after they were married (nearly all the applicants are women).

It is sad, indeed, that we have not been able to make teaching an aspirational job in India, or rather, it has ceased to be something young people aspire for. On the positive side, a lot of candidates admitted that after having joined a teaching course they realized how creative a field it is. It requires not just imparting textual knowledge to children, but shaping their very being. This change in perspective though is very much dependent on how or what education course they are pursuing. It requires a long and comprehensive teacher training course to inspire and to make the trainees see value in the profession.

I also learned that teachers face their own challenges. Many told me during their interviews that teachers in India are often burdened with multiple tasks besides actual teaching. Administrative tasks often take precedence over teaching- if their mid-day meal registers are not completed they will often be reprimanded by their immediate supervisor.

It is time we move away from viewing teaching as something which can be done by nearly anyone, and start viewing teachers as skilled professionals in India. Our new school will emphasise continuous professional development, with an emphasis on pedagogy, and not clerical work. We think this will result in an improved and motivated cadre of teachers.

We expect a lot from our teachers, but if we do not provide them with the necessary skills to succeed in a job and a conducive environment where they can focus on teaching, we will never be able to reach our goal of providing quality learning to all children.

With this in mind and the memory of my teachers from school, I take my work in finding transformative teachers very seriously. I want us all to “rise above;” the teachers I help hire, the school we are working to build, and ultimately, the country.