Every time I look back and think of when I was a child, there are always certain instances that keep coming back to me. A lot of these memories involve my school and teachers. In fact, my decision to take up economics after school was because my professor in school inspired me. She made the subject all too real and relevant by making it about the chaiwallah (tea-seller) outside the school, pushing us to think outside the box and see beyond just the theory.
We often underplay the impact teachers have on children, especially in their formative years. Many students carry what their teachers have told them for the rest of their lives.
India has over 40 lakh primary and middle school teachers that are in a position to directly influence 13.5 crore young minds. Why this matters is because a student in the class 10 today (who is 16 years old), will be eligible to vote in the next elections in 2019. Not only will their vote decide what government comes to power and what policies get implemented for the entire country, the student as a citizen is also an asset who will determine the course the country takes.
In such a scenario, it is imperative that the young people in our country learn how to be empathetic, think critically and be problem solvers, to be able to make the right decision for themselves and the country at large.
All of this is possible only if they have the right mentors to guide them. And while myriad problems plague the education sector, there are visible signs of change. Unsurprisingly, it is because of teachers being the change makers, equipping their students for the world of tomorrow.
At Muni International School, a private school in Uttam Nagar in Delhi, teachers have created a space where their students can apply and practise agency. Each student is made responsible for a 1 km radius around their house. This means that they will be accountable for whatever goes on in their allocated community. It may be something as small as littering or a water tank leaking, to children dropping out of school or any crime. The idea behind this is that every alert citizen can play a role in society and contribute towards its functioning by becoming an agent of change.
In Pune, Avasara Academy is a girls’ school set up to create women role models in communities across India. Through their leadership, entrepreneurship and Indian studies courses, each student is required to carry out a project in her basti. As a part of this project, through a process of interviews, she needs to identify a problem that is troubling people the most and work towards solving it. For example, a few girls realised that following superstitions blindly was a major challenge in their community. These girls came up with a dynamic presentation to bust those myths and superstitions in their basti and helped their community shed these harmful beliefs.
If one was to scale what these teachers are doing, it becomes evident that the students who walk out of their schools will be active participants in our democracy and become change makers in their own right. Even as institutions begin to fail us, it is these change makers who will take things into their own hands and determine the future. An example of this is the Right to Information Act that came into force in 2005 after mass mobilisation by civil society groups.
Today, it is possibly the most powerful tool in the hands of the people to hold their government accountable. Even a movement such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan relies on the people to make it a success. And only when the students today, who would be adults and decision makers of tomorrow, have that inherent instinct to lead change, will these programs become successful.
Given the scale of the education challenge in countries like India, the governments today needs to realise the critical role teachers play and how as allies, both can take on the enormous task of nation building.
There have been some measures taken to start this journey. For example, the Delhi government has recently developed a Mentor-Teacher Program to build capacity amongst their teachers. Ashoka India partnered with the Department of Education and SCERT for national level exposure trips for these mentor-teachers which involved visiting seven academic institutions doing exemplary work across Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Through such visits, interactions and exposure to new teaching methodologies, the aim was to expose these mentor-teachers to the best practices which can be passed on to other teachers.
Not just that, the National Council for Teacher Training (NCTE) has also started two flagship initiatives ‘TeachR’ for prospective teachers and the ‘National Teacher Platform’ (NTP). TeachR is India’s first accreditation framework for certifying and ranking Teacher Education Institutions (TEI). Its focus is to move away from regulatory compliances and focus towards learning outcomes and the inputs needed. NTP, on the other hand, aims to arm ‘our teachers, our heroes’ with both curated and user rated resources that they can use to teach each topic, in each subject, in each grade and in each school.
In his budget speech this year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had indicated that the education sector needs to take a reform path. With teachers being the foot soldiers of this sector, it is crucial that we invest in them as change makers because what they teach today, will determine how the next generation thinks tomorrow.