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Teachers need freedom to teach

By G. Balasubramanian

Increasingly we appear to be moving towards a ‘machine-mode’ model of teaching, engaging in an exercise of ‘knowledge cloning’ in our classrooms. While many quality control systems to put in place ‘standards, benchmarks, yardsticks and other formats of standardizing tools for teaching’ have come into play, most of these appear to be not synergetic with the researches on learning based on neuro-cognitive research. The question arises: whether teachers are to be blamed? If so, to what extent? What are the drivers for articulating, managing and executing such machine-modes? Are they unavoidable or driven by commercial interests to multiply market advantages? Or, do they indeed supplement the teacher resource requirements? If so, to what extent? And in these myopic exercises, whether the vision of learning is lost or marginalized? A number of questions do arise.

Jacques Rousseau once remarked “Man if born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” That appears to be true for the teachers also in a school system. Possibly, the absence of adequate professionalism on the part of the teachers (not the professional degree) is one of the driving factors that several hundred models of teaching, or supplementing teaching has haunted the markets. The relevance of such tools is least understood, as most of them are used for showcasing a perception of quality in schools. While, as a strong advocate of technology for purposes of learning, I am in support of technological interventions, it is equally important to understand that they should not be inhibitors to imagination, intuition, fantasy, creativity and critical thinking, by sheerly promoting linearity in thinking. It is painful to see that in many cases technology is delivering what was delivered on black or white boards It is important to understand why teachers need “freedom to teach”

1. Learning is a unique process for each learner. As proverbially said “One size doesn’t fit all”, the pedagogy in the classroom has to be flexible, supportive and should be not only a learning nutrient but an emotional nutrient to the learner. A number of technological advocacies tend to describe the teaching in classrooms as ‘one size’ approach, but by themselves, they do follow the same uni-polar approach, except for intervention of colour, sound, data and a few other gimmicks. There is no significant pedagogical innovation.

2. The learnability of each learner is different in terms of time, space and other geographies. Further it is impacted by learner’s personal motivation, socio-economic compulsions and a few other inputs. Hence teachers do have to travel an extra mile to meet the specific requirements of the learner. The ‘unified theory’ of pedagogy in many technology based learning packages, might help in empowering statistics, but will not do justice to the learner needs. Adequate customization for choice-based learning has to be integral to technology enabled learning. .

3. The lesson plans devised with early models of learning systems and pedagogies, (including Bloom’s) will not adequately fit into the current multi-polar models of learning in classrooms. Even the models based on ‘design thinking’ has to incorporate a built-in flexibility to the teacher to exercise his or her freedom to open the gateways of learning, motivation, journey and growth of the learner. Such learning should provoke curiosity for further learning and research.

4. The authoritative supervisory models of evaluating and controlling the teachers performance in schools, hampers their freedom of thinking and speech. Given the fear psychosis implanted in their mind, they hesitate to travel beyond the letters of syllabi and curriculum, thus inhibiting the journey to ‘zones of proximal development’ much needed for the learner to expand one’s universe of learning. In trying to comply with or abide by the instructions, teachers tend to remain in intellectual cells rather than breathe the freedom to express.

What are the constraints that block the freedom of the teacher and how should school systems respond?

1. Minimizing pedagogical control on teachers

While the word ‘freedom’ goes hand in hand with ‘accountability’ and ‘’discipline’, it is important to understand that excessive control systems in pedagogical monitoring leads to subservience and compliance, thereby killing the latent spirit and intellectual profile of the teachers to be creative, innovative and outreaching the learners by their innovative approaches. It is important to understand that suggestive models for work will do better than instructional models especially in teaching. Every classroom has a unique environment and that also varies from time to time. Research has proved that even changing weather conditions impact the teaching-learning process. Hence, the teachers need to be contextual, apply their presence of mind, engage meaningfully and contextually. Many of such situations can neither be predicted, anticipated or pre-planned in a design made ready for implementing in the classroom. Heads of Schools need to realise that neither they, nor their subordinates engaged in supervisory work should make interventions at every point of pedagogical outreach just to demonstrate their experience, wisdom, authority or power. A number of teachers have consciously suppressed their intent to be creative, largely hurt by such dominant attitudes. This leads to teachers become less participative in the classroom and display poor sense of humour as they stand highly stressed. A re-thinking on the relationship models is necessary.

2. The concept of lesson plans need a review.

In many schools, the lesson plan become more like a statue book. Supervisions are carried out meticulously about the performance of the teacher with reference to every single letter written, typed or printed in the lesson plan. It is important to note that the lesson plan is just like a guide post which does not walk along during the journey. Holding the teachers accountable to every syllable of the lesson plan would kill not only their operability, but their intent to be better than what they were earlier. As such in many cases, teachers tend to report their obligations arising out of the lesson plans, rather than engaging in passionate teaching. With a high impact of informal learning on formal learning, the dynamics of a classroom is being highly unpredictable. While at one end, we would like the children to come with questions and engage with interactions, the constraints arising out of the lesson plan becomes an impediment to multi-dimensional pedagogy that would be appropriate to that particular period of time. Further, with several sections in schools, the lesson plan indeed becomes a good operating platform for maintaining basic uniformity, it is time we should engage with some lateral thinking to look into other models for such uniformity, instead of basing learning dynamics exclusively based on lesson plans. Newer models of lesson plans are the call of the current educational dynamics.

3. Technology has to be supportive, not a control mechanism

With a lot of technological tools available for delivering pedagogy, there are many schools where minute to minute controls is exercised in classroom content delivery, pedagogical exercises including the time and space for assessment during the learning process. Slowly, I have started feeling that there is an overdose of technology in certain areas which impinches the freedom of the teachers to teach, thus curbing their personal passion, creativity and intellect. While technology can play a significant role in many aspects of school engagement, there are certain areas where they should let the freedom of the teacher operate. Robotic deliveries might complete a given task in teaching-learning engagement, but the socio-emotional connect between the teacher and the learner, and the joy of personalized learning should not be minimised or marginalized, however advantageous these tools are. Schools who showcase technology as an exercise in modernization of the process would do well to exercise some restraint on such issues.

4. Need for extensive teacher empowerment

Reports pointing out at the inadequacies of the teachers galore in recent times stating that they are unable to meet the existing learner requirements. Many of such critics fail to understand that the most significant impact of changes in science, technology, business, Market behaviour and life styles start with the schools, with the intent of the market ‘to catch them young’. Hence there is bound to be a mis-match between the learning requirements and the teaching packages and methods, Speed of irrelevance of knowledge is an increasing challenge than its relevance.unless the teachers are continuously and professionally empowered. Using the earlier models of content and system of pedagogy for online learning, flipped classrooms and blended learning will be a mismatch. The teachers need to be exposed to innovate content designs and pedagogies through articulated traning modules to be relevant to the emerging challenges. Most of the training exercises appear to be either repacks of the earlier models or do not provide a contextual learning input to the teachers. We do not have an impactful training institution or training model (except a few individual enterprises) which do a commendable job in bringing about a transformation in the mindset. They tend to celebrate on the number of training programs conducted or the number of teachers coverd through such programs rather than the quality or impact analysis of such programs. No wonder, many teachers tend to suffer from a low ‘self-esteem’ and want to tread through safe paths by accepting the authority rather than making strides in their own learning curve. Freedom for the teachers to teach is indeed a reflection of the trust and respect any society would have on them.