Sixth Needs Assessment held at American School of Mumbai, BKC, Mumbai 11.01.2017
The participants were introduced to PMMMNMTT and the rationale of CALEM@TISS by Dr Ananya Samajdar, Programme Coordinator, CALEM. The session facilitator Prof Sharon Ravitch then welcomed the participants, stating that the purpose of today’s consultation was to soak in the wisdom of practice of the participants (school leaders and other stakeholders). She asked the participants – What kinds of knowledge and skills would they prefer in their professional development?
In response to this, it was raised that it was a challenge to make students attentive and to improve the listening skills of students. While audio-visual methods elicited greater attention from students, students were more advanced in the use of technology and there was a gap between teachers and students with respect to the use of technology.
One of the participants informed that his organization runs a network of schools which caters to students from the lower and middle strata of society, and their schools are very traditional, and adoption of technology is a far cry. There is thus a fundamental need to change the mind-set of school leaders, school teachers.
The discussion then shifted to the challenges faced in motivating teachers. The attending municipal school principal opined that some teachers, not all, need specific motivation. One of the participants, speaking from an early childhood perspective, expressed that teachers are sometimes not open even to executing the basic activity-based learning, leave alone using technologies or adopting new techniques of teaching. Teachers never seem to have enough time and scheduling is not really helping.
On the topic of teacher training, it was felt that while the intentions are the best, follow up is often lacking. Training should be very tangible, very operations-related, and telling trainees how to implement (and not just what to implement) is very important. Going from theory to practice and accountability for implementation are very important. Prof Ravitch asked about the experience of teacher support groups and learning networks in this regard. One participant, who heads an educational NGO, felt that these networks help, since they help in finding out how others solve similar problems. It was also revealed that school leaders and teachers struggle with balance – how many new things can one taken on at the same time.
It was felt by one participating NGO leader that rather than motivation of teachers, the issue is how to help children, especially those with learning difficulties? She shared that her NGO has structures for learning communities of teachers, but structures only work when leaders understand how to set them up and make them work effectively. The schools under her NGO has two periods set aside for structured mutual learning of teachers. But most schools don’t have resources in terms of time and number of teachers.
Session facilitator Prof Venkatesh drew attention of the participants to some relevant issues and asked them to reflect on these:
- Transition from teacher to principal
- Resource mobilization skills and dealing with donors
- Lack of planning and the need for strategic institutional planning
- (for govt schools) dealing with bureaucratic structures of government
One participant opined that in the journey from being a low quality school to a high quality school, to improve TLMs, large volume of resources is not really required. But many schools don’t know that they can improve their TLMs with less resources. There is a need to have adequate skills and a right mind-set to implement high level ideas. Indian schools struggle between resources and outcomes, and also lack skills to use optimally. One attending NGO leader felt that purposeful use of resources, rather than availability of resources should be the starting point. An attending school leader felt that no matter how much resources a school has, there is always a need felt for more. Therefore, one should not start and end with resources. At the same time, there is a need to tap into the resources of the local community, and there is a need for case studies and also networks that can help school leaders in this regard. Educational leaders are not like corporate leaders and they are not good at asking for financial help. One of the participants drew attention to the McKinsey Report which stated that schools are judged by 3 things (none of which include resources) : teaching with the right (21st Century) mind-set, proving the higher growth of students, and meeting needs of individual child (not treating all children identically).
The participants agreed that there is a need to leapfrog educators into the 21st Century but the preparation (especially pre-service training) for the same is highly inadequate. One participant, who heads an educational NGO, opined that teacher education is still in the 1970s mode, and teachers are unable to implement activity-based learning because of lack of conceptual clarity. There is a need to make difference to the B.Ed programme. Also, schools have become like event management companies (lot of time goes in events like sports day, annual day etc.), therefore there is little time to implement activity based learning. Teachers need to know that technology is much more than ICT. One of the attending school leaders felt that activity-based learning takes time, whereas in lecture method syllabus can be completed more quickly. Another participant stated that the CBSE, ICSE and state board curricula were all exam oriented and syllabus oriented. As a result, focus is on finishing syllabus rather than on learning and learning outcomes. This also brings in a debate on teacher workload, because of the challenges in finishing the course on time. How can such a system be refined?
One of the participants, who teaches in an elite school and also is part of an educational NGO, stated that 8th grade onwards, creativity suffers, since the board exam focus takes over. The Indian mind-set is to focus on marks. Importantly, the parents’ mind-set needs to change, and for this there is a need for resources (such as modules for sensitizing parents). There is a strong need for parent information sessions. Another participant opined that the preference for becoming only doctors or engineers needs to change. He revealed that in the rural schools run by his organization, parents often insisted on writing being taught at nursery level. There is also poor attendance of parents at parent-teacher meetings.
Prof Ravitch asked if social class was a mediating variable as far as dealing with parents’ mind-set etc. was concerned. One participant, who heads an educational NGO, revealed that there is a parallel teaching community (private tuition) that each child whether rich or poor visits. Another participant added that sometimes teachers don’t teach effectively in class, to make additional money through private tuitions. The attending municipal school principal however felt that this phenomenon does not happen in government schools. One participant argued that if there is a parallel teaching community, it means that the system is not listening to what parents want. There is a need to understand education in its social and political context. One of the attending NGO leaders said that once parents are convinced, they become the greatest advocates of progressive education.
The participants agreed that it is matter of concern that the most talented and the highest achievers don’t want to become teachers because of the low pay. Also parents and other stakeholders should be educated about what education is (something that goes far beyond grades). One of the attending school leaders felt that the teacher’s position should be kept at the highest level and student mind-set has to be studied. Policy makers should create teaching professionals in a certain way, combining appreciation with checks and balances.
One of the attending principals drew attention to the Navodaya Vidyalaya residential model, which was yielding wonderful results in moulding students academically and as human beings, where there are no private tuitions since teachers are like the parents. He said that otherwise content oriented teaching is not happening; what is happening is like eating and vomiting. Activity based teaching is the need of the hour. One of the school leaders revealed that Saturday for her school was a no bag day, activity based learning day at their school, and there was full student attendance on that day.
It was felt that the poor salary of teachers was one reason why the best don’t want to become teachers and teachers are often demotivated. There is also a gender-bias (male teachers are rare) and therefore boys lack role model to become teachers. The lack of uniform teacher-student ratio was stated as a problem by the participants.
Prof Ravitch then asked the participants – what formats/resources/materials do they need to deal with the above mentioned problems? She stressed the need for examples to delve into the operational aspects. To this, participants responded that there was a need for videos on parent education, and for opening teacher minds. The sessions need to be made interesting for parents, including educative games for instance.
It was felt that the school leaders struggle with the legal systems of the concerned states. It came through that many principals do not even know the local language and rely on middlemen to deal with the administration, and wrong practices start. Schools are therefore unable to break the cycle of corruption.
The participants also expressed the need for a corpus of engaging materials (relevant to the Indian context) on integrating creativity, civic values, innovation such as case studies, documentaries of successful school models etc.
Drawing on Prof Venkatesh’s observations earlier on, one of the participants drew attention to the leadership void; the transition from teacher to principal is difficult. Often the best teacher is made principal, but there are supplementary skills that need to be learnt. Principals as institutional leaders are often lacking in budgeting, managerial and administrative skills (this is true of mainstream schools in India).
The attending municipal school principal revealed that a lot of government work cuts into the time of the municipal school leaders.
The participants raised the need for common tools to assess teachers and principals on their strengths and weaknesses. One of the attending NGO leaders revealed the school model followed by the schools under her organization, where the principal handled the academic aspect and the social worker looked into the administrative part; this was consistent with the Linda Lambert leadership capacity model, and this distributed leadership model was also followed by schools such as American School of Bombay. Prof Venkatesh also opined that principals often held on to powers and responsibilities, not knowing how to delegate and create multiple leadership positions.
The school leader of the school hosting the needs assessment asked – Why aren’t Indian schools talking to each other? Organizations such as TISS, he felt, should lead and coordinate the professional development of teachers and school leaders. Prof Venkatesh expressed the need for a cohort of leaders to emerge, to share experiences over the next one year, and explore how mutual learnings can be made to happen.
The final part of the needs assessment session was concerned with obtaining participant inputs on their preferred delivery mechanisms for the proposed leadership development programmes. The participants expressed preference for methods such as case studies and documentaries. The facilitators drew attention to the school buddy programme, under the delivery mechanism ‘mentoring’. Since ASB is expected to pilot the proposed school buddy programme, Ms Fiona Reynolds, deputy school leader of ASB asked the participants for suggestions on the contours of the school buddy programme. One of the attending school leaders opined that the method should depend on the content, since there is no one method.
It emerged through the discussion that for the middle grade level, lot of conceptual learning has to happen, and the focus has to be on how to make the abstract concrete; schools like ASB can thus guide on how to teach abstract content. It also came through that innovative approaches to Teaching and learning are also relevant for the primary and pre-primary and not just the middle school level.
The participants also expressed the need for model lesson plans as reference frameworks, since teachers often struggle with lesson planning.
The participants felt that exposure visits are a good idea, since seeing is believing, and immersion programmes (if broken into smaller, manageable chunks) are also a good idea. The participants also felt that teachers should form networks such as WhatsApp groups and share videos etc. It was also suggested that ASB teachers can go to other schools and run sessions there, to show that their ideas can work not just in well-resourced contexts as ASB but in other contexts as well.
One of the participants added that there was a need for attention on communication with students and parents (not just on language/what is said but also softer aspects such as dress and body language).
The attending municipal school principal said the Audio visual materials help, but the teachers lack training in technology and are constrained to use these materials. Teachers are less confident about using technology than students.
In response to Prof Ravitch’s question on constraints to technology adoption in rural contexts, the participants talked about challenges such as interrupted electric supply (which is why mobile phones should be better utilized as vehicles of technology).
The attending municipal school principal talked about the need for school exchange programmes, and Prof Venkatesh concluded the session, stating the need to link higher performing schools to aspirational schools.
The needs assessment session was followed by a 45 minute -session on holistic child development by Ms Laura Hoffman, clinical social worker and Prof Sharon Ravitch, in which participants raised questions related to behavioural and mental health issues faced by children and the challenges teachers encounter in dealing with these, and the facilitators revealed insights and possible ways of dealing with these. The interactive talk yielded valuable insights on the systematic approach followed by clinical social work, the gendered nature of vulnerability, the special need for support (special educators and counsellors) at pre-primary and primary school level, problems arising from the extensive and inappropriate use of technology and social media by children, and the need to allow children to express themselves in multiple ways, not necessarily through language.