How IISc is working to improve the quality of India’s teachers

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The Talent Development Centre at the Challakere campus trains around 1500 teachers at the high school, pre-university, undergraduate and postgraduate level

According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, a survey that assesses the quality of learning among students in rural areas, only 43.3% of class VIII students can perform simple arithmetic operations like dividing a three digit by one digit.

These startling results are despite the government’s initiative to make education a fundamental right for all children aged between six and 14. Student enrollment which has been 96% and above since 2009 as recorded by ASER – has done little to address the issue. The reason behind this poor show can perhaps be attributed to a dearth of well-trained teachers employed in schools.

To improve the standard of teaching in India, from 2011, the government began screening aspiring teachers through the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET). Unfortunately, this has been undermined by the fact that aspirants have performed poorly. For example, in 2016, the TET conducted in Karnataka saw only 20% of the aspirants clearing the test. As a quick fix, several states have exempted aspirants from taking the TET, making the situation deplorable: a small section of students schooled by these teachers with inadequate knowledge, may go on to train the next inflow of students, creating a vicious circle. Other measures to strengthen the quality of teaching in the country are necessary.

IISc, for its part, has been actively involved in several outreach activities created to improve the quality of teaching at schools and colleges for 30-odd years, and has now developed a permanent training programme for teachers.

In 2011, the TDC was inaugurated, and trained its first batch of over 100 high school teachers in Science and Mathematics from Chitradurga district.

How it all began

In 2009, when IISc was celebrating its centenary year P Balaram, the Director at the time, announced the establishment of a second campus at Challakere in Chitradurga district, Karnataka. After a visit to one of the teachers’ training sessions being held at IISc, he saw the need for a permanent facility, and began contemplating developing a centre for teacher training at Challakere. That spurred the formation of the Talent Development Centre (TDC) on the second campus, according to MS Hegde, CSIR Emeritus Scientist and Convenor of the TDC.

In 2011, the TDC was inaugurated, and trained its first batch of over 100 high school teachers in Science and Mathematics from Chitradurga district.

The transformed sheep breeding farm (Photo courtesy: TDC)

 

Several IISc faculty and staff were working behind the scenes – overseeing the renovation activities, designing curriculum for the 10-day intensive training, and setting up equipment for the laboratory.

Setting up of the TDC wasn’t a cakewalk. The building that houses the Centre used to once be part of an abandoned and decrepit sheep breeding farm. The Institute acquired the property on lease from the government of Karnataka. Revamping the dilapidated property began in full swing soon after that: from designing laboratories to classrooms, a dining hall and kitchen. With the supply of electricity, water, and Internet, the Centre was ready to function. Several IISc faculty and staff were working behind the scenes – overseeing the renovation activities, designing curriculum for the 10-day intensive training, and setting up equipment for the laboratory.

The Karnataka government supported the Institute by providing 32 residential quarters that can accommodate 125 trainees.

Residential building for the trainees (Photo courtesy: TDC)

The journey so far…

A day in the life of the trainees at the TDC includes morning classes followed by experiments centred on the topics dealt with earlier. High school teachers perform over 90 experiments, spending more than 10 hours each day during their 10-day stay. Understanding science, according to Hegde, involves backing theory up with experiments. The training is aimed at arming teachers with the knowledge required to teach students in the best possible manner.

The benefits of this programme can be realised by assessing the knowledge of the teacher trainees before and after the training.

Chemistry laboratory (left) and a theory session (right) (Photo courtesy: TDC)

Training in the mathematics stream involves engaging the trainees in assignments in the classroom itself, followed by classroom lectures, says Hegde.

The benefits of this programme can be realised by assessing the knowledge of the teacher trainees before and after the training. In June 2016, for example, teachers from Haveri scored an average of 18.8 on 100 in a test prior to the training. After training, the average marks escalated to 84. Elaborating on the impact of the training, Hegde says, “Out of 1,122 teachers trained in 2016-2017, only seven have scored below 35%.”

The manner in which the trainees are graded is stringent. “They have to answer more to score a single mark and we don’t award marks in part. It’s either whole [numbers] or zero,” Hegde adds.

A trainee from Raichur district, Hemavati, says she finds the training well-planned and useful. “As this [programme] is mainly practically oriented, we don’t miss out anything important,” she adds.

Apart from high school teachers, this programme is extended to training pre-university, undergraduate and postgraduate teachers. Some of the equipment in the laboratory, such as an apparatus to measure thermal expansion, was built from scratch by Hegde and team.

The centre is also focussed on creating a hotbed for research. To help postgraduate teachers, Raghavendra, a Research Associate who also teaches at the Centre, is standardising facilities for experiments on cloning, which allows production of organisms [microorganisms] that are genetically identical. Several PhD students from IISc are also working at the centre.

Despite their efforts, there is one cause for concern: the lack of facilities for trainees who are accompanied by their toddlers (the current batch saw around five female participants attend with their children) and have to juggle the training programme and tending to them. “They show immense dedication and interest,” says Hegde with a smile.

Recognition of TDC

Hegde points out that in the seventh year of the programme he met the Additional Chief Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education, Ajay Seth. Looking at the performance reports, Hegde describes Seth as being “stunned”. The Centre evaluated the inspectors of subjects, appointed by the government to train high school teachers every year: they scored less than the regular teachers did. Acting on this, Seth issued orders to all the Deputy Directors of Public Instruction in Karnataka, that 120 teachers should be sent to the TDC for training. And from then on, government officials have been keen on this programme.

This programme received a further boost on 18 February 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited IISc. He was shown a presentation on the progress of IISc: two slides on TDC caught his attention and he expressed interest in the programme. This is how the government decided to include TDC under the Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching, a scheme aimed at boosting teacher training in the country. IISc is the first centre under this mission.

Apart from the Department of Science and Technology and the Karnataka government, TDC has also received funding from the Ministry of Human Resource Development from 31 March 2015.

What is in store for TDC?

The current facility is a temporary one. By March 2019, it will shift to the new 1,500-acre campus which is not far from the current campus. Construction of a training centre with large classrooms, an auditorium, and a cafeteria is underway. Hostels that are coming up can accommodate 200 teachers at a given time.

The proposed building on the new campus (Photo courtesy: TDC)

In addition to TDC, the facility in Challakere is also creating a Skill Development Centre with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited: people will be trained in various engineering disciplines that can uplift the manufacturing sector. The facility is expected to begin functioning by March 2019.

But development could have its accompanying ill effects. A recent controversy provides a cautionary tale by, highlighting the negative impact of human interference at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Since 2010, the campus recorded the death of 517 wild animals including spotted deer and jackals due to poor solid waste management, and the lack of facilities to support wildlife.

Talking about the challenges the TDC is facing, Hegde rues, “Currently trainers are employed on a contract basis.” It is imperative to hire trainers on a permanent basis, without which the future of the TDC cannot be imagined, he says.

The first step towards conservation is surveying the flora and fauna of the area before treading the path towards development. Far from human inhabitation, the flora and fauna at IISc’s second campus was surveyed by a team from Centre for Ecological Sciences which revealed that the campus is home to the blackbuck, Indian fox, black-naped hare and several birds. BN Raghunandan, Chairman, TDC says, “Twenty-five percent of the land will be untouched based on [the] master-plan [that was] proposed.” Talking about the challenges the TDC is facing, Hegde rues, “Currently trainers are employed on a contract basis.” It is imperative to hire trainers on a permanent basis, without which the future of the TDC cannot be imagined, he says.

He suggests that the Institute hire assistant professors, associate professors and professors from the Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology streams. Underlining the need to have faculty who can actively carry out research, Hegde adds, “Teaching requires innovation and the way to innovation is through research. Trainers without research experience might not be good at the job.”

“The TDC has had a successful run so far, and the performance reports of trainees indicate a positive impact. Currently, there are no provisions to measure the long-term impact of the programme. As for future plans, Hegde adds, “We are training about 1500-1600 teachers each year. The aim is to increase this number to 2800,” he says.

 

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