India has seen a long tradition of rote memorization as the primary teaching pedagogy, the first instances of which come across in the ancient gurukuls of the Vedic period. Furthermore, the pedagogy had been teacher-based. According to this learning system, the disciples of a particular guru or teacher would stay with him to learn by memorizing the teachings. The learnings were heavily influenced by the teachers’ own extent of knowledge, their own life experience, and social norms. This system was augmented during colonial rule, where the authority of teachers in the classroom was shifted to the State-mandated curriculum and textbooks. 

Even today, most developing nations in South Asia are primarily dependent on textbook-centric curricula and pedagogies to impart knowledge. However, this preference for a textbook-centric pedagogy comes not as a choice on the part of the teachers but rather as a part of the institutional and bureaucratic system of which schools and teachers are merely the “instruments” that continue to propagate the same learning system. Teachers, themselves, have very little autonomy (especially in private schools) to make a difference in the curricular or pedagogical decisions. 

Given the colonial nature of current teaching pedagogies, it would be of little surprise to know that the alternatives of the textbook-centric method come from the critiques of the colonial education system by Gandhi and Tagore. Both thinkers had proposed a learner-based pedagogy, which today is an essential facet of the Right to Education Act (RTE). Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), and the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 are various policy measures taken to improve the accessibility to education, illustrate the importance of teaching quality and improve and maintain the same. As articulated in the RTE, these policies are formulated to understand the linkage between teaching and learning outcomes and ensure that learners have a positive educational experience free of psychological and physical stress. Similarly, the NCF 2005 emphasizes the role played by pedagogy in achieving the aims of holistic development of humans to realize the best of their potential and enable a just, peaceful and humane society. Most of India’s educational policies aim to intervene at the level of teachers and teaching itself. Some of the terms of reform espoused in these policies include “having content knowledge,” “need for excellence,” “attracting those for whom teaching is the first choice.” 

The State of Education in India Report by UNESCO for the year 2021 analyzes the circumstances of the nation’s teachers, teaching practices, and teacher training, especially following the NEP 2020. Chapter 4 of this report, dealing with teaching pedagogies within India and the possibilities of reform, points out specific concerns regarding the prevalent teaching practices. Some of the primary issues outlined in the text include:

  1. The emphasis is on rote memorization for the sole purpose of clearing the final assessment at the end of the academic year and not on making sure that the learner has grasped the concept and can apply their learning to address everyday situations.
  2. There is a lack of inclusivity in teaching, especially when it comes to physical, mental, linguistic, and sociocultural differences. To manage differences, the students are usually just put in the first row to follow the teacher better, without actually adjusting the teaching methods to adapt to the learner’s needs.
  3. Discrimination against students from underprivileged or marginalized backgrounds or ‘first-time’ learners is prevalent. Students from such backgrounds are often deemed lacking, lazy, or disruptive. Research on the experience of students from marginalized backgrounds in private school settings shows that there are many incidents of wrongfully labeling such students as “naughty,” “academically weak,” or “incapable” by the teachers due to their preconceived notions.
  4. Despite the ban on corporal punishment by the RTE, which classifies it as physical punishment, mental harassment, and discrimination, it remains in widespread use amongst teachers, especially against boys and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Teachers across the nation believe it necessary and desirable to mold their students as ‘quiet and obedient students’ who respect their teacher- an idea borrowed from the traditional notion of a guru in India.
  5. There is a lack of adequate facilities and infrastructure to promote a positive educational environment for both the teachers and the learners. This also includes a lack of autonomy for teachers in deciding their pedagogy and the school environment, making them feel underappreciated in their roles as educators.

Reinventing Educational Approaches: The Shift in Indian Teaching Pedagogy

Image: Children enjoy a storytelling class. A school in Shri Ram colony. India. No Teacher, No Class: State of Education Report for India, 2021 (p-89). 

Case studies have shown that interventions made to address these issues and for the professional development of teachers have a tremendous effect on improving the teachers’ teaching quality and, in turn, the learning outcomes for the students. According to the UNESCO Report, the National Assessment Survey (NAS) data from 2017 shows that better educational performance came from States where teachers (a) understood curricular goals, (b) had high expectations for the students, (c) had job satisfaction. This analysis brings further attention to the role the teachers’ pedagogical knowledge, beliefs, experiences, and professional identity have in shaping the learning outcomes of their students. Thus, it becomes necessary for the reforms to influence the teachers’ attitudes towards teaching, improve their pedagogies to make them more interactive and student-centric rather than just rote memorization, and make classrooms inclusive spaces for not just reading but learning. Some of the reforms that are already being carried out include improving teacher accountability through supervision of both physical and technological means, incentivizing the performance of teachers, similar to that of corporate workers, rationalizing teacher’s salaries, checking the quality of teachers at the entry point through eligibility assessments, linking performance to professional development and providing teaching plans that shift the role of teachers as the central component towards technology with the teachers taking on the role of facilitators. It has also been observed that there is a positive relationship between improved working conditions and regular evaluations and more significant effort from teachers and better learning outcomes from students. Students show better learning outcomes in schools with more supportive working conditions and better academic spirit. Allowing teachers’ participation in the teaching environment leads to better performance from the teachers. 

It is also essential to realize the role of attitudes and beliefs held towards the reforms in pedagogy by the people it is aimed towards, as it is one of the biggest challenges in implementing reform in pedagogy. An article by S. Brinkmann published in 2015 talks about the crucial role of attitude in successfully adopting and implementing learner-centric pedagogies. Studies also mention the significance of the role played by the teacher’s motivation for teaching and following through the reforms and the administrative support they receive for the same. There is a shared outlook amongst a substantial section of teachers, students, and their parents, who look at the traditional teaching methods as the best as it forces students to learn due to fear of failure. There are also examples where the schools and teachers have reformed their pedagogy on paper, but they merely continue with traditional teaching practices. There is also a lack of knowledge about enacting these reforms and maintaining them over time. Teachers and schools might also look at reforms as an additional burden they are unwilling to take, especially since Indian schools usually have a pretty large class size. Others might see it as newfangled ideas trying to usurp the well-established traditional values and practices. However, there has been constant improvement as there is a growing understanding that teaching cannot continue from merely common sense, even if the teachers have the best intentions. Proper training, continuous professional development, and effort from the teachers themselves are required to bring about successful change in pedagogy at a substantial level.

By Khushi Shukla, Research Fellow, Education, LQF

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