What are the necessary and sufficient capabilities for teacher educators? [PART 1]

Rohit Dhankar

[I started writing this article as a short piece on the qualifications for teacher educators, but then realised that the issue requires a more detailed discussion. As a result this article became rather long and complex, and I suspect very abstract. I am not even sure whether it is fit for a blog conversation, but since have embarked upon it so am posting. Remaining parts of it will come as and when I have time.]


My earlier posts on the issue of required qualifications for teacher educators have attracted some comments and rejoinders. I am glade to note that these comments refrain from angry outbursts and derogatory comments on opponents. And rely on relatively more reasoned arguments. The comments have raised some important issues that cannot be dealt with individual responses; therefore, this post, next in the series.

Some of the important concerns can be identified and listed as follows:

1. That M.Ed. is being devalues by allowing non-M.Ed. candidates to teach in TEIs, even if they have some exposure to education in their M.Phil. and P.Hd.
2. That education as a discipline is being diluted.
3. Why M.Ed. is thought to be not necessary when in other disciplines, say Mathematics, M.Sc./M.A. in mathematics is thought to be necessary to teach mathematics at undergraduate level?
4. One repeated equation seem to be ‘what is the harm if teacher educator do their M.Ed.?’

It seems to me that the arguments from both positions (one, that M.Ed. should be necessary, two that the necessity is not needed) is getting lost in snippets. So I am trying to present it here in a slightly more connected manner.

Right or wrong, it seems to me that all interlocutors are using a host of unstated assumptions and that the argument cannot be resolved rationally unless we bring those hidden assumptions to the light and examine them. [That is, if we want a rational resolution of the argument. However, if we believe that there cannot be any rational grounds for such decisions and answers to such questions are and should be DETERMNED PURELY by political and social forces; rest of this article will be considered useless. Those who believe in this later thesis, will find this post boring, and therefore, I recommend that they discontinue reading it right here.]

The hidden assumptions that I alluded to in the paragraph above fall under the following themes:

a) Nature of education studies; that is, is it a discipline like mathematics or a field of study similar, say, to Engineering?
b) What does it mean for teaching and teacher education to be a profession?
c) What are the implications of b) and c) above for teacher education curriculum?
d) Appropriate institutional imagination for TEIs

Unless we have at the least tentative answers to these questions we cannot resolve the issue of required qualifications for teacher educators on any rational grounds. Of course, we can have a political kusti and make our decision on the basis of its outcomes; but that would have zero academic worth to my mind.

In this article, first I will try to deal very briefly with these four questions; and then come to the necessary and sufficient qualifications for faculty teaching in TEIs. It is obvious that all of these four questions require a full length paper to do justice to them. But an article for a blog post cannot afford it, nor can I, because of lack of time. So will provide some brief hints only. Each of these questions is important and is influenced by assumed answers to all others. Therefore, what I write below will often look like unsupported assertions; but a patient reader is likely to find supporting argument somewhere down the line if shows some indulgence in continuing to read.


In this debate ‘education’ is being referred to as a ‘discipline’ as well as as a ‘field of enquiry or study or practice’. Mostly it is being referred to as a ‘discipline’. But a discipline requires: ONE, a very clearly defined domain of study/enquiry (in rest of this article I will use ‘study’ to include ‘enquiry’ and ‘practice’); TWO, a coherent theory or set of theories which closely align with each other in terms of their epistemology; THREE, independence of epistemic (concerning with knowledge) judgment in the light of their own theory or theories; and FOUR, a reasonably wide spread practice of teaching/learning and knowledge creation. Often a body of practitioners is mentioned separately; but that is included in the condition four; otherwise how one is to obtain practice. These, to my mind, are the most important conditions from academic point of view. There are also some institutional and social conditions; but they do not alone create a discipline. Therefore: FIVE, institutional structures to support the discipline’s study and practice.

These conditions collectively define a tradition of study as a discipline. Meeting one or two of them may not be enough. In this sense, then, education is not a discipline like mathematics, physics, sociology or history. It does not have a coherent set of theories unified by an epistemological perspective; in spite of having a more or less well-defined domain. It has to borrow from other disciplines for its epistemic judgments; examples: philosophy, psychology, sociology, history.

Therefore, perhaps it will be more profitable to consider ‘education’ as a ‘field of study’ unified by its domain and concerns and not by its epistemology and theories. We must note that even a field of study requires to be ‘intellectually coherent’, but the condition of ‘intellectual coherence’ can be met even without a stricter ‘epistemic coherence’. But it seems here I must explain what I mean by intellectual and epistemic coherence.

I define, (these are not standard definitions), intellectual coherence of a body of knowledge on the basis of; 1. Relevance to its domain and concerns; and 2. The knowledge claims made in it are all judged by general criteria of accepting a claim as knowledge. What I mean by general criteria for knowledge is seen with suspicion these days and is considered an old fashioned view that is, in the eyes of some, is already countered and disposed of. I think they arrive at this judgment rather in a hurry; and the good (or evil, depending on where you stand) old criteria might be far from dead. To state them, then: one, knowledge claims are expressions of beliefs; to qualify as knowledge they have to be ‘true’ in the sense of being coherent with already accepted knowledge and basic assumptions in the field of study (or discipline); and three, should be publicly justified or supported with evidence.

Criteria number 2 for intellectual coherence defined in this manner is applicable to all propositional knowledge, and therefore, all human knowledge is coherent in this week sense of coherence. Criteria number 1 (relevance) is specific to a field of study or a discipline, and is more important in defining intellectual coherence. That opens up the possibility of some knowledge being excluded simply because in spite of its veracity it may not be a concern of the field of study or discipline. For example ‘smoking is harmful’ is not a concern of physics, and therefore, in spite of its truth no undergraduate student of physics is taught this. Similarly; string theory may be accepted ‘truth’ in physics but no one teaches it to B.Ed. students who do not opt for science education as their specialisation; because it is not seen as relevant.

Epistemic coherence is a little stricter, as I understand it. But first let us note that even intellectual coherence has to be coherent epistemologically; and that is ensured through the criteria number 2 above. To understand epistemic coherence, then, let’s take mathematics as an example. In justification of mathematical knowledge one requires a deductive proof based on axioms, definitions and proven theorems. A weaker justification can be achieved through demonstration in specific cases; but that also has the character of deductive proof. And something supported by demonstration is not taken as true in the whole range of the domain; only in the range that is clearly indicated by cases of demonstration. Empirical evidence is considered good enough for a hypothesis to further investigate through deductive methods but not a justification. Now all modern mathematical knowledge accepts these epistemic strictures; and therefore, mathematics could be deemed as having a coherent epistemological perspective.

If one takes science, say physics, as an example; this kind of abstract deductive justification alone is not considered enough. Any scientific theory which might have the mathematical abstract justification can be accepted only as a hypothesis; till there is some empirical evidence that it explains or predicts behaviour of nature. This again produces epistemically coherent perspective in physics.

One might accuse me of taking very specific examples of disciplines and may argue that social science disciplines like, say, sociology and economic, do not follow such strict criteria for epistemic coherence. I do not have enough understanding of sociology and economics to forcefully argue the case here. But it seems to me that in spite of using a variety of justificatory criteria (ranging from mathematical to empirical and interpretative) they have spelled out theoretical positions that adjudicate specific importance to the repertoire of criteria they use. The real justification finally depends on the unifying character of social (and economic, as the case may be) theories which claim to study the whole range of social phenomena. And therefore, in spite of having a somewhat different kind of epistemic coherence; they do have one defined for themselves. (However, I would like opinion of some sociologist or philosopher of social on this issue. And meanwhile continue in building my argument on these lines.)

Education does not have a single approache to its epistemology, and may have to use all of them; without having a unifying theory. That however, does not mean that there is nothing unifying in education. Its domain and concern which emerge out of intentionally teaching people (children, adolescents and adults, all included) create reasonably robust unifying principles, and intellectual coherence, which must leave room open to draw from stricter disciplinary epistemological coherences. We must also note that if education deliberately tries to create its own strict epistemic coherence and shuns other contributing disciplines it will become too emaciated to deal with the wide range of issues necessary for its endeavours. Therefore, attempts to craft a narrow ‘discipline’ out of overall education studies will harm it, rather than help it grow; as some people claim.

In the light of the above discussion it is better and more profitable to see education as a ‘multidisciplinary field of study’ rather than as a ‘single discipline’.

Education is often compared with medicine and engineering as a multidisciplinary field of study. This parallel helps in making a point regarding contribution of different disciplines; but also has its limitations. I see three very significant and obvious differences between education and engineering in spite of both being rightly considered multidisciplinary fields of study. One, education has to take responsibility of teaching itself; which engineering need not to. Engineering can leave significant parts of this job to education, while education cannot. This makes it necessary for education to develop a perspective on all human knowledge. Two, nature of contribution of other core disciplines to education is very different from the nature of contribution to engineering from its own core disciplines. Let’s consider the case of ‘philosophy of education’, which is one of the core sub-disciplines of education and that of mathematics in engineering. The mathematics in engineering is basically “mathematics for engineering”, to be used as a tool. It may not define the central purpose and nature of engineering. While philosophy of education is not “for” but “of”. It contributes to defining central purposes and character of education. Philosophy of education and sociology of education, among others, are constitutive sub-disciplines of education while mathematics and physics are more of ‘tool’ disciplines of engineering. We should note that the core sub-disciplines of education have a character that allows them to become “of” disciplines; that is, history OF education, psychology OF education; etc. while mathematics and physics cannot become “mathematics OF engineering” or “physics OF engineering”. The third difference is that education cannot ignore the study of its own impact on the society; while engineering may afford to leave it to other disciplines. In the view of the first and third differences listed here education is a self-encompassing disciplines; while engineering is not necessarily so.

Now, if we take this view of education studies then it would have a very significant influence on the remaining four (including the issue of qualifications) questions and that influence needs to be worked out carefully.

[But my time is up today, so the rest of the questions have to wait.]
Continues …..

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