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[Published in Deccan Herald on 18th August 2015]

Rohit Dhankar

The public education system is being written off by the governments and the society in general. In spite of excellent pockets in the system, the general impression being deliberately created is of a failure. One of the oft mentioned factors for this is lack of teacher motivation. Functioning of teachers and their motivation is a complex issue and depends on many factors. I am talking here of only one of them, which seems to be necessary, but is not sufficient in itself.

The teacher is seen as the most powerless employee in the education system, which wants to treat her like a bonded labourer. This is done by taking away all decisions from her, including that of school timetable, curriculum, textbooks, teaching methodology, assessment or promotion of children to the next grade.

All these decisions are made above her level in the system. She is only meant to implement them. However, when the issue of non-learning of the children comes up, she alone is held responsible. What can be more unfair than holding someone responsible for the decisions made by others and forced on her?

The list of government actions and schemes that hurt the teachers’ self-respect and destroyed her respect for her own work is rather long. It runs through para-teachers, to collapsed teacher education, to the present day penchant for PPP (private-public-partnership). In a nutshell, the society led by the governments is doing its best to demotivate the teachers.

Almost all attempts to motivate teachers in the last two decades have seen them as objects of manipulation. Their personhood and capability for self-directed action is always discounted; or worst, attacked. The methods of motivating used are moralising lectures. Some governments want teachers to go through Vipashyana or Jivan Vidya kind of courses. These semi-spiritual and moralising methods do nothing more than increase hypocrisy and cynicism.

Motivation is seen as a “psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal”. This purely psychological understanding of motivation considers people completely governed by their unconscious mind. Hardly more than organisms determined by their physiology, psychological make-up and social surroundings; almost completely devoid of self-hood; exactly like rats in a laboratory.

This captures but the lesser important aspect of motivation. The really important part is “the reasons for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behaviour of a person.” For teachers to work well, their ‘conscious reasons and judgments’ for acting the way they do need to be foregrounded. Engaging with someone on reasons behind her public behaviour is respecting her as a person at equal footing.

Much more attention, therefore, needs to be given to conscious reasons rather than ‘subconscious factors’ determining behaviour. This is not to deny the influence of other factors but to bring them under the light of conscious thinking of the person herself so that she can analyse and influence them, rather than being determined by them.

The first change required, therefore, is not in the teachers but in the mindset of the society and controllers of the education system. The system has to see the teacher as the only actor who is ‘doing’ education; the classroom as the ultimate karma bhoomi of education. She, then, is not the lowest rung employee of the system, but the ultimate doer. Rest of the system is only to facilitate and is subservient to her. The officials, from top to bottom and the structure, are nothing more than helpers of the teachers who are engaged in the actual act of educating.

The teacher, then, cannot be an object of control; but a professional engaged in an endeavour to be facilitated and supported. The support is not to determine her judgment and action, but to empower her professionally so that judgment and action become increasingly autonomous and springing from her own understanding.

A summer farce

This demands capability development, the most important action to revive education system. The farce that goes on every summer in the name of in-service training needs to be replaced by a differently conceptualised in-service teacher education programme that is continuous, coherent and builds on the gains year after year.

Such a programme has to go beyond the ad nauseam repeated tricks of ‘classroom management’ and ‘communication skills’. Narrow skills are fit only for bonded labourers, not autonomous educators with independent minds who fashion their own ways of engagement. That would require an intellectual perspective, a pedagogical understanding and knowledge base. Without an intellectual perspective, pedagogical understanding and knowledge base can neither be developed, nor seen as worth-while. Therefore, such perspective on education, its place in society and its nature, is the necessary first step.

It helps the teacher develop a world view in which worthwhileness of education is properly understood, which, in turn, develops a self-perception as an educator and helps her see the centrality of her action in any civilised society. This has to be a programme of developing critically examined intellectual convictions, not moralising hypocrisy.

Pedagogy emerges from understanding the child and the need to educate her in the light of perspective on education. It does not mean fragmented tricks of the trade, but a coherent vision that start from where the child is to put her on the path of rational investigation and increasing social consciousness.

Knowledge base in this scheme of things goes much beyond subject knowledge. It also includes an understanding of what knowledge happens to be, how it is gained, examined, critiqued and modified or discarded. We as a society can arrest the increasing disillusionment with public education system, but for that we require a radical change in our perception of education and particularly of the desired teacher.

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