Friday March 22, 2019

Robust teacher training programs need of hour

0
//

By Harshmeet Singh

With the advent of technology in the last couple of decades, the methods involved in education have evolved drastically. The chalks and blackboards have now been replaced by projectors and computer screens and the classes have turned into smart classes. With almost everything inside the classroom undergoing a change, there is one thing that has remained stationary – teacher.

Though many believe that technology has suppressed the role of teacher inside the classroom, there is little debate over the fact that teachers have managed to hold on their own and continue to be the biggest factor responsible for the child’s learning. A teacher’s job goes much beyond delivering lessons.

A computer, however advanced it may be, can never act as a motivator or role model to the kids the same way as a teacher does. Yet, due to our affinity towards technology, we are spending millions to bring the latest technology into the classroom while neglecting the biggest source of child’s learning – teacher. High-quality teacher training programs are virtually non-existent in India.

Shakuntala Arora, who has been teaching in a MCD school in Delhi for the past 20 years, tells NewsGram, “There are hardly any teacher training sessions from the government’s side. At best, a few teachers get called to attend sessions on physical training for students. But the teachers take it more as a vacation from the school rather than as a chance to learn anything new. It is so because there is no follow up from the teachers. On papers, there is everything. But hardly anything translates on the ground.”

The role of the teacher inside the classroom has undergone many changes in the past few years. The classrooms are now student-centric with the teachers required to act as facilitators. Rather than acting as the source of content, the teachers are now required to impart thinking and analytical skills to the kids. Such changes have further increased the need for teaching learning to equip the teachers with the adequate skills. Realizing the potential of the idea, many private teacher training institutes have mushroomed in cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai but only a few of them actually fulfill the mandated norms.

The National Policy on Education (1986) vouched for a large scale training scheme in the teachers’ training and recommended the formation of DIET (District Institute of Education and Training). Apart from DIET, NCTE was also established keeping in line with the NPE.

The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is the body overlooking all the private and public teacher training institutes in the country. Though the NCTE played an active role for many years by monitoring such institutes, its authority has faded away in the last few years, resulting into a surge in teacher education institutes across the country that run without any infrastructure or expertise. Many aspiring teachers enroll into these institutes to get a certificate which can be used as an add-on in the CV.

A number of such institutes sign an agreement with schools and send their ‘aspiring teachers’ to these schools to gain hands-on experience. The schools, in turn, use them as a free work force and assign them administrative work rather than making them teach inside the classrooms. With both sides getting what they want, neither is making any efforts to actual train the teachers for challenges inside the classroom.

With so much debate on how to improve our education system, we might have overlooked the most basic piece of the puzzle – the teachers. Improving the skills of our teachers would have a directly proportionate impact on the overall education scenario in the country.

Next Story

More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

0
Africa
Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

Also Read: E-Commerce Policy: Centre To Regulate Cross-Border Flow Of Data

“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)