IN this ‘brave new world’ of hybrid learning, we might want to reflect on a national educational ideology. Other nations have caught on to the opportunity for transformative learning, addressing challenges as they crop up. No change is ever easy. However, if we were to respond to the challenges now, we might not have to pay a hefty price later. Resisting change, being eager to go back to a brick and mortar environment and reclaiming a pre-Covid normal is not going to help us steer the course for the future that our children must conquer.
Above all else, the pandemic has shown us the dire need for capacity-building for our teachers at all levels and across income groups. The opportunities among the more privileged income groups might provide easier access to change, but the situation is certainly not without its pitfalls. For example, what digital literacy programmes do we offer teachers to bring them up to speed? There are undoubtedly some who pursue training courses and hone the relevant skills, but such self-driven teachers are few and far between. The vast majority is waiting for Godot or learning through trial and error. For the most part, teachers and students alike are motivated, eager and inspired. However, all those qualities operate in a vacuum when the necessary tools to support them are not provided by a responsible state.
What does capacity building for teachers look like in a country like ours where a Bachelor’s degree in any subject is enough to start a career as an educator? In fact, quite often — especially in remote areas — one would be hard pressed to find teachers who have completed a college degree. At the very least, early years teachers should not be given the responsibility without certification as the foundation years are arguably the most fragile ones. Many early years teachers tend to replicate what they were taught exactly as they were taught, operating in a comfort zone with the requisite level of familiarity. However, in this increasingly complex, fast-changing and technologically demanding world those methodologies are no longer relevant. Information retention and regurgitation, for example, has no place in a problem-solving, multi-tasking world.
Self-driven teachers are few and far between.
Those educators who are still comfortable in teacher-led classrooms where students listen passively would be best described as ‘trying hard to become more efficient at being obsolete’ as someone once said. Classroom subservience learnt in the early years dims a child’s ability to launch themselves in a world that offers endless possibilities of inquiry, exploration, and debate.
Nothing is taken at face value any more — not even our newspaper stories. In a post-truth era, children need to learn much more than accepting information coming from one authoritative source. They need to be taught to sift useful content from a sea of useless information coming their way fast and furiously on a daily basis. Where do we begin to teach these skills if we don’t have teacher-training programmes to help our educators prepare themselves for the challenge?
Breaking old patterns needs a concerted and committed effort. Rather than short courses focusing on a specific subject, teachers would need ongoing support as part of a multifaceted training programme that includes learning a variety of skills from classroom rules and behaviour to student-centred pedagogical approaches, from educational leadership skills to emotional well-being support. This also means collaborators from different sections — public and private partnerships for example — need to be brought together to produce a framework for standards of competence expected in classrooms at every stage.
Whilst teachers have been trying hard to get on to the digital bandwagon, use of technology and digital literacy for the purpose of education are two vastly different phenomena. Use of technology feeds digital literacy but is certainly not sufficient by itself. Digital literacy in education is not analogous to buying a mobile phone and learning to use it by poring over the manual. It is in fact, a step-by-step learning curve where acquired skills are applied, reflected on and outcomes recorded. Clearly stated expectations and goals, school inspections and yearly exams that check teacher competence may regulate some of the ‘trial-and-error’ approaches being used in the vast majority of our schools. Formal training that includes curriculum implementation strategies, ways to support social and cognitive development of students, using digital resource material and consistently helping teachers upgrade their academic skills are some of the urgent requirements. Unless we address this burning need, the education system may singularly fail to feed our economic growth, especially if our young generation is unable to meet the demand for global skills.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2021