Comparable to the role of a thermometer in diagnosing fever, an assessment of the quality of teacher education can be a status check on the schooling system. Teachers remain at the heart of the issue, and translating schooling into learning is a critical challenge. The learning crisis is evident in the fact that almost half of the children in grade 5 in rural India cannot solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem, while 67 per cent of children in grade 8 in public schools score less than 50 per cent in competency-based assessments in mathematics.
On the one hand, India is dealing with a scenario of significant teacher vacancies, which are to the tune of almost 60-70 per cent in some states. In fact, there are over one lakh single-teacher schools present across the country. But, on the other hand, there are 17,000-odd Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) that are responsible for preparing teachers through programmes such as the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed). Taking their sanctioned intake into account, at full operation, these TEIs could generate over 19 lakh freshly trained teachers every year as against the estimated annual requirement of 3 lakh teachers. To put things in perspective, currently, there are about 94 lakh teachers across all schools in India. Every year, the teacher education system could therefore be producing one-fifth of the total number of school teachers.
Apart from this glaring quantitative aspect, let us consider the quality aspect. Not only are these TEIs generating a surplus supply of teachers, they are also producing poor-quality teachers. Besides it being reflected in the dismal state of learning across schools, the pass-percentage in central teacher eligibility tests that stipulate eligibility for appointments as teachers has not exceeded 25 per cent in recent years. This begs a pertinent question — how did we get here?
The answers lie in the inadequacies of planning, regulation, policy and organisational structures. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and its four regional committees (north, south, east and west), established by statute, are responsible for teacher education in India. However, the Act assigns disproportionate power to the regional committees which grant programme affiliation while the Council has been rendered toothless. Perverted incentives, widespread corruption and commercialisation have resulted in a massive proliferation of sub-standard TEIs. The decade between 2004 and 2014 saw a five-fold increase in the number of programmes recognised by these regional committees. About 90 per cent of these institutes are privately owned and a mind-boggling majority of them are standalone institutes, running single programmes with as few as 50 students. In fact, while most of these TEIs are financially unviable, some function out of tiny rooms with duplicate addresses, and a few could even be selling degrees at a fixed price. These institutes function in isolation from the rest of the higher education system, and there is no system to assess and accredit them. Consequently, there is no systemic sieve to ensure the entry of only motivated and meritorious individuals into the teacher education space.
A more granular look reveals disparities across regions and programmes offered. Almost one-third of the TEIs are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Ghazipur, a district in UP with a population of around one lakh, has a whopping 300 TEIs. Approximately half of the total TEIs are in the northern region with Rajasthan having the second-largest number of institutes. And while there are about 17 recognised teacher education programmes, a majority of TEIs offer only B.Ed and D.El.Ed programmes. This reinforces the point of poor planning as the country is actually facing a shortage of subject-teachers in secondary schools and teacher-educators for whom a Master of Education (M.Ed) degree is a requisite (offered in less than 10 per cent of the TEIs).
Adding to the mix of challenges is an outdated teacher preparation curriculum framework that was last updated over a decade ago. Further, on the governance front, multiple agencies have oversight on teacher education.
Clearly, this establishes a compelling case for radical reforms in the sector. Any reform initiative must be built on credible data. Till date, there is no accurate real-time database of the number and details of teacher education institutes, students enrolled and programmes offered. Such data could be used to create a comprehensive plan for the sector, devising the optimal number of TEIs, their regional spread and programme-wise intake. One cannot but underscore the significance of proper planning. The teachers will concur.
Beyond optimising numbers, an accurate system of assessment and accreditation must be developed to ensure high-quality teacher education. The National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC), responsible for quality-standards in higher education, has only covered 30 per cent of all institutes since its establishment back in 1994. Given the extensive landscape of the teacher education sector alone and current capacity constraints, it is necessary that multiple accreditation agencies be empaneled. A common accreditation framework should be designed through a consultative process including all relevant stakeholders to facilitate its wider acceptability. A transparent and credible system of accreditation could form the bedrock for weeding out substandard TEIs and propelling quality improvements in the rest.
Another core determinant of quality is the curriculum which must be regularly revamped and revised to ensure that our teacher education system is aligned to global standards. Ideally, given that teacher education requires a good mix of curricular inputs and good-quality pedagogy, experts are rightly advocating for a shift towards integrated four-year subject-specific programmes to be housed in multidisciplinary colleges and universities. In the first phase, these may be initiated in select central and state universities. This could also potentially serve as an avenue for India to outsource its surplus high-quality teachers to over 70 countries that face a teacher shortage.
Finally, reforms must be driven by administrative will and executed through a well-established governance mechanism, clearly establishing ownership and accountability for set work streams across multiple agencies.
The draft National Education Policy presents a ray of hope. Its vision to restore integrity and credibility to the teacher education system needs to be translated into effective action. India is estimated to have the largest workforce within the next decade. This means that a population bulge is on the cusp of entering the higher education ecosystem now. The pressing need of the hour is to focus on providing the best quality teacher education to those who aspire to build the future of this country.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 4, 2020 under the title ‘Teaching the teacher’. Kant is CEO NITI Aayog. Iype is a young professional in NITI Aayog. Views are personal.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines