Empowering our educators

Published in Financial Chronical, 1st January 2016; http://www.mydigitalfc.com/education/empowering-our-educators-027

Rohit Dhankar

In the beginning of his well-argued book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, Kentaro Toyama quotes Bill Gates, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Not everything that applies to business operations applies to ‘educational operations’; but in this particular case it does. There are plenty of well-researched studies that conclude that technology amplifies human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there, but do not fix the existing pedagogical problems. Our education system is deficient not only in the pedagogical but in almost every aspect of it. Unless the system is fixed, “leapfrogging technology” isn’t likely to help.

So, what should we do if we want our education system to reach good education to all children? So far in all reform attempts we have been making two grave mistakes: one, there is an underlying assumption purveyed by social theories that system creates people, so if we tweak the system through innovative structures, efficient and committed people will be formed automatically; and two, all focus has been on capacity building and attitudinal changes in teachers, the education administrators are always seen as perfect. We have to reverse these two assumptions.

We have to ward off the present onslaught of instrumentalism on education where the primary value of education is being seen in its contribution to economic development.

We must see education as formation of authentic self, characterised by autonomy, integrity and harmony. Along with intellectual capabilities, these qualities should manifest themselves as character traits of an individual creating a deep emotional investment and a dispassionate understanding of the world and oneself.

This vision of education with deep understanding and serious commitment to educational values has to inform the development of education functionaries from teachers to the education secretary. We have to re-examine our notions of teacher development. 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. The rest of the system, the officials, from top to bottom and the structure, is only to facilitate her in the actual act of educating.

The teacher, then, cannot be an object of control; but a professional engaged in an endeavour. The support to her is not to determine her judgment and action, but to empower her professionally so that judgment and action become autonomous, springing from her own understanding. For teachers to work well, their conscious reasons and judgments for action need foregrounding. Engaging with someone on reasons behind her public behaviour is respecting her as a person at equal footing.

Another vital change in our thinking and planning is the role of the educational administrators. At present, education administrators are under pressure to make decisions that suit the politician or favoured NGOs or UN agencies. The question, therefore, is: what are the capabilities which may enable a sound judgment in the face of competing solutions purveyed by various forces?

This requires instilling values that give a beleaguered officer courage of conviction to stay steadily on the best path. It needs a systemic environment that allows implementation efforts a fair chance to succeed. One can neither build teachers’ capabilities nor help them function well if the higher-ups in the system have a poor understanding of education and its functioning. Educating every child needs, at least, this initial reorientation in our approach.


7 Responses to Empowering our educators

  1. I agree with Bill Gates quote on technology, but I also think this does not apply to education as you think, because pedagogy is far more complex than business processes. According to me technology does not enhance pedagogy that already exists, but creates new pedagogy with new technology! We cannot add on resources / technology to good pedagogy, but must innovate new pedagogy with new technology.

    While I do agree completely about the status of the teacher as well as the administrative persons etc…, I think if we want to create an education system that enables “…. deep emotional investment and a dispassionate understanding of the world and oneself….” we cannot separate economic development, creating new structures in the system etc.… from the process of creating “This vision of education with deep understanding and serious commitment to educational values”. Because all of these aspects ultimately define the pedagogy in the classrooms.

    In my opinion, we have to stop seeing pedagogy as some pure ideal act/process that is all about learning-teaching methodologies and theories that can create an ideal education system, like I think you have expressed. It is a highly intricate and political process that most certainly draws on learning and teaching theories and methodologies, but is also impacted by the resources, technology, systemic changes and political processes etc.… that are part of the teacher’s professional landscape.


    • rdhankar says:

      Thanks Bindu. This little piece had a limitation of 600 words and the question given to me was something regarding leapfrogging through technology. So any things may not be very clear in it. What is being said in the piece is that technology can only ‘magnify’ somewhat what actually exists. If nothing exists nothing is magnifies; if something useless exists useless is magnified. I am very doubtful of technology inventing ‘new pedagogy’; I don’t even know what would that mean.

      I wonder if I really saw pedagogy as something pure or ideal here. Wonder why you think that? Pedagogy not even the focus of this article. It is more about vision or ideals of education, space for teacher and preparing the administrator.

      The political etc. influence argument I always find intriguing. Who on earth can argue that the political landscape does not influence all our actions, and therefore, pedagogy as well? So that much is a truism. The real question that the pedagogical influence theorists don’t answer is: are they describing the scenario as it is or are they recommending something on the basis of political influence? Let’s take a simple example: right or wrong in the basis of the idea of ZPD one can say—mostly children should be given problems just above their level of development which they can figure out with their friends help. Or an epistemology guided (or misguided :)) person can say when you are teaching history in 8th standard children should also be given some exposure of how history if constructed.

      Now suppose someone: say these are recommendations purely from psychology and epistemology, pedagogy is also a complex question it is effected by economic and political scenario. Ok, it does. So, do you simply inform me of that fact or would you like to advance any recommendation like the two above, which emerges from the economic and political influence? I would like to know answer to that question. Otherwise the political influence issue is important in constructing ideals of education (like independent thinking in a democracy) but may not have much to say in the way of pedagogical recommendations. Yes, in explaining why teachers can not follow a certain pedagogy political influence may be useful, but that does not say anything about what ought to be done. Only what is being done.


      • As always your articles make me think and think aloud….. Thanks Rohit for the prompt reply.

        Why pedagogy ? It is because your article started with operations (that I read as business processes) and to me that is action. Second you talked about the central role of the teacher. Of course all this in the backdrop of technology, my pet subject:-) Together action/process+ teacher in education to me is pedagogy, the ‘doing’. With this in my mind I read the rest of your article and interpreted everything else in relation to pedagogy.

        Why do I think that you are talking about ideals ? I am not at all against ideals I think they are necessary and they influence pedagogy. As do cognition , psychology, domain knowledge and combinations of it also as your rightly say are the starting point. My problems began when you said the the system has to see the teacher as the ónly’ actor doing education …… I feel sorry for this poor teacher. Because even an expert teacher with all the educational ideals in place is never going to achieve the ideals you have expressed because she/he is influenced and impacted by the system, resources, tools etc…, systemic reforms, assessment, (read development) and curriculum, policy (read the political processes) that determine the final action !

        Why new pedagogy ? Because the way teachers reorganize and restructure subject matter is intricately influenced by the technology (not limited to digital technology) they use and the ways these technologies enable representation (include communication) of subject matter (content) , hence new technology = new pedagogy !


  2. Rajesh Kumar says:

    Difficult to disagree with what you are saying, but it calls for a complete change of mindset and the system, as we call it. There should first be a teacher, and this what you say too, who knows what she is doing and why. And certainly many hows as well. Teachers at individual level, school level – and maybe later at even larger level – come together and decide what kind of system and support they require to achieve what they want to achieve. It all comes to an alternative system where teachers run the show and the system.
    At present it is the system that knows what is to be done and why, if they know. They are the ones who tell the teacher what is to be done. And no one knows how to do it. In such a scenario a muddle of ideas do emerge and technology breeding a new a pedagogy is such an idea from the muddle.
    Do you really believe it is possible? Or am i misreading you?


  3. Anonymous says:

    Rajesh ji, I no where said technology will generate new pedagogy. I am saying it is misplaced hope. technology may ‘magnify’ the impact of some practices and ideas which are already there. I have very little hope it proved otherwise that it is bringing some kind of नया सवेरा, चाहे आप मेंढक कूद (leap frog) करें या गिलहरी कूद.


    • Rajesh Kumar says:

      Sorry! The questions at the end should have come after the first paragraph.


      • Anonymous says:

        I am hardly a ‘possibility’ person. All I can say if if you consider it impossible then you have only two choices:

        1. change your vision or and expectations from education. or
        2. live with ‘unrealisable’ dreams regarding education.

        choice is yours.


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