5 January 2009

Teachers day

Yes, I do know it's on 5th Sept., but this article is not about the day in particular, it's about the teachers in my school. 

During my last visit to the school I finally managed to procure all the things the teachers had asked for. These included items like flash cards (for teaching English) and science models. I think you can make some pretty nice flash cards that are culturally relevant (no kid in my class can relate to 'S is for Strawberry' or 'K is for Kiwi fruit') and fun to do with kids but, because of time I decided to outsource it. A book exhibition brought me closer to a wholesaler who had a library of educational aids. It was like visiting a very expensive candy shop because although the stuff was quite tasty it was hardly affordable on a large scale. There are some items that the whole class can use like flashcards, but English writing workbooks need to be given to each child and can therefore, lead to cost issues. Nevertheless I got one workbook and the teacher thinks she can just photocopy the relevant sections for the kids. 

I don't want to blog about the stuff I bought. If my readers want to know more, just message me. What was really fun was watching the teachers unwrap, unravel and play with the stuff. I didn't realize how happy this would make them and emphasized another aspect of education that isn't always in my radar - teacher satisfaction. I didn't really buy expensive products but what made the difference was (I think!) that I sought their opinion and sourced the same. Somehow this made them feel like they mattered. Sure, under SSA each teacher gets about Rs 500 a year to buy things for her class, but that's assuming she was given the whole amount and, allowed to spend it exactly as she wished. In the school I visit, all financial matters are in the hands of the Headmaster and her ethic barometer normally defines what can and cannot be purchased.  

So what can we do for the teachers which would act to incentivize them? The first and most obvious, is to increase teacher pay so that you get a pool of talented and committed teachers whom you are able to retain. But is pay the only incentive that can make this job lucrative? Based on my limited interactions I sincerely doubt that because the happiest teachers I have met are those whose students shine, not just academically but as individuals. In fact the biggest regret most teachers have is that there are just too many children and they are unable to do justice to the class because they have to service so many. The pay isn't usually the top complaint (I am basing this comment exclusively on salaried government school teachers). The second is to provide them with unlimited resources to teach. The teacher-student interaction is after all a relationship and which relationship survives just on love and fresh air? If teachers can spend as much as they need on their wards then they will be happy and this feedback loop will make the teachers happy. Third, we don't have a reward system for good teachers. Yes, there are felicitations on teacher's day with awards and such but those are for the chosen few. There has to be some system where we can reward the teachers not just for making the kids shine but for all the small things they do that go unrecognized, like walking the last 2 kms to the school when no bus operates or making a trip on the weekend at their expense to buy stuff for the classroom. Lastly, we have to create the feedback system for them so that they can participate in policy making with regard to syllabus and teaching methods. A greater stake at the local level for the teacher will go longer in producing better educated children rather than forcing a uniform school syllabus. 

I am ending my 5 month stint in India and preparing to re-join mainstream mundane of a job and a home of my own. The biggest lesson I have learnt in the whole education set up is that changing no one parameter will effect a sea change in the way our children come out of school. Its the onus of the community (you and me), the parents, teachers and school system to feel like partners in a system. Even if you are not a parent today investing in a child's education in any way is discharging your responsibility and ensuring a better future for yourself as well as the child. Everything is a loop. :) 

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