Teachers and Teaching....!!!

Professor P Balram, Director Indian Institute of Science:
“Teachers and mentors are remembered fondly on ‘Teachers Day’, which is observed on 5September. Everybody remembers a favorite or influential teacher, especially as they grow older.Teachers are a diverse community. While primary and secondary school teachers deal with children in their formative years, high school teachers wrestle with the problems of groups of adolescents, in the difficult years when childhood recedes and adulthood beckons. The early undergraduate classes are almost an extension of high school; although college brings with it a sudden loosening of the constraints that sometimes seem so restrictive for teenagers on the verge of a transition. Teachers are to be found all the way up to the level of research degrees. PhD’s are earned under ‘guides’ and‘supervisors’, who must really act as mentors and teachers. By this stage the relationships are more nearly equal,with experienced students transforming into valuable colleagues in research for their supervisors. Teaching is traditionally a term reserved for those who lecture, explain and inform in the confines of a classroom. For teachers,the blackboard and chalk were their traditional instruments; their only other requirement was a sheaf of well-thumbed notes or a prodigious memory, from which facts could be recalled at will. Times have changed in institutions of higher education, where visual aids and computers have invaded classrooms.‘Power-point’ allows instructors to project in rapid fashion reams of information, while the Internet provides an inexhaustible and valuable resource,after class, if used wisely. In the electronic age even teachers may need to change, as they move into a position where they must guide students to learn. In schools little has changed and hundreds of thousands of classrooms across India might well be described in Goldsmith’s vivid verse, penned in the 18th century.............Teaching has never been a financially rewarding profession. In a highly globalized and commercialized world, teaching careers are unattractive and few young and bright college graduates will opt to become teachers. At all levels, from school to the university, there is a growing shortage of trained, committed and enthusiastic teachers. The dramatic expansion of the higher education system, especially in the areas of science and engineering, has suddenly highlighted the great demand for faculty. It has been easy to create IISERs and IITs by decree; it appears harder to recruit faculty who will be both researchers and teachers. As the demand for increasing India’s scientific productivity grows, so too will the demand for scientists in national laboratories where there is no teaching....”
That indeed sets the ball rolling. Very often it is believed, that teaching is either to make illiterate literate only. Or just passing some information in a packaged form, that entitles a person to get a job and earn a livelihood. To become prosperous (successful?) in life. So quite often a teacher follows a curriculum prescribed by the authorities responsible for education. For example Professor Krishna Kumar, a former Director of the apex body for school education in India, NCERT, wrote in a book entitled “What is worth teaching” wrote.
“In our country we do not normally think of curriculum as a 'problem' – in the sense that it involves imperfect choices and decisions made on the basis of defensible, and therefore challenge-able, perceptions. We have an educational culture that is firmly dug into the rock of 'received' knowledge.In such a culture, nobody asks why a certain body of information happens to be equated with education. Under our very different climate and historical circumstance, the influential American curriculum theorist, Tyler, would have been happy to find such a large number of people who are used to accepting the validity of one particular structuring of educational knowledge. Another thing that would have made him happier in India than in this own country is the ease with which dissociation between curriculum and the child's immediate sociocultural and physical milieu is accepted, and the zeal with which 'principles' for curriculum designing, teacher training,and so on, are demanded and applied. My concern is not with 'principles' but rather with the problem of curriculum. Inherent in this declaration is the assumption that there are no principles for developing a curriculum. In the dialogue of education, my agenda is to dispel the notion that there are certain time-honored, proven rules capable of guiding us when we want to prepare a curriculum for Children's education.The position I wish to support is the opposite one – that there is no escape from reflecting on the conditions obtaining in our society and culture if we want to give worthwhile education to our children.The problem of curriculum is related to our perception of what kind of society and people we are,and to our vision of the kind of society we want to be. By taking shelter in the 'received' perspective and the 'principles of curriculum development' that it offers, we merely shun our responsibility and allow ourselves to be governed by choices made long ago or elsewhere under very different circumstances. …...
”I have thought quite a bit about education of science. Very often it is believed, that all that needs Tobe taught in science, is just the age old concepts of physics, chemistry, biology. I do not think so. I wrote:“We have discussed for quite some time about Information. I believe that the education today is highly information centric. Teaching in universities etc. is often construed to be just communicating information to the students by the teachers. But, is that indeed the sole purpose of education?I believe that might have been the case several decades ago, when the channels for information were very limited, the lectures delivered by a teacher and the textbooks. But is that true today?Today, a student gets information through several media besides them, say the electronic media! So,the role of education cannot just be getting/giving information, it must be analyzing and filtering various information that one is exposed to using information one can find otherwise. Education is not just to collect information, rather it is the ability to analyses information intelligently. But somehow the dominant educationalists in our country appears to be of the view that it is enough if students assimilate information, that is included in a course curriculum, passed on to them through the teachers and books, and then evaluating them on this count mainly! I think inclusion of problem solving does not suffice for good education! Problem solving at best encourages one to imbibe the relations between the various components of the curriculum, it does not, most often, encourage out of the box thinking. It does not encourage to seek information from varied other sources. Problem solving, as you have pointed out, has been an important component of science education, hence most text books of science include this component, but then there has been a proliferation of help-books, that give the solutions of those problems as there are websites; students then have the tendency to study their contents and feel satisfied if they can master a particular kind of problems.This becomes very apparent in the tutorial classes for those seeking admission to IIT's or Medical colleges. I remember a conversation with a friend who is a faculty member of IIT-K about the students of IIT, she said the students can answer only such questions that are similar to problems asked in the previous entrance examinations, try asking different kind of questions, you find that most often they are incapable of handling them.....”
Rakesh Mohan Hallen

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