Empowering our educators

January 1, 2016

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.