How Teachers too Need to Build Merit for Career Growth
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“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
At first glance, these words by French-American historian and philosopher of education Jacques Barzun in the 1950s seem to reflect the dilemma facing India’seducation sector today. And one may further jump to the common pitch that teaching has a ‘noble purpose’ and that society needs to renew its regard or respect for teaching.
However, I would argue that our country, which has been the home to several ‘gurus’ since time immemorial, still has regard or respect for ‘teaching’ and it is too deep in our mindsets to ebb away easily.
Rather, what seems to be getting eroded is the ‘aspiration’ associated with teaching as a ‘profession’, and this is not due to an erosion of traditions, but is a simple case of ‘market failure’.
What Led to Market Failure
Let us look at the background to this market failure. What most people in education sector have started agreeing on, is that while content, pedagogy, technology can contribute to quality, the most important role is played by the teacher in the classroom.
That understanding has led to a host of initiatives to improve the quality of teachers — teachers’ training, supporting teachers through content, providing facilitating technology and so on.
While the good initiatives among these fulfil important purposes such as honing skills or introducing new pedagogical practices or even meeting mandatory requirements, a question that remains is: Why should the teacher take up this training of content or technology and improve his or her skills in classroom teaching? What is the incentive for him or her to do that?
In a 2014 survey of about 300 new teachers and 120 senior teachers/principals, a vast majority responded that, in addition to the satisfaction of seeing their students learn and grow (which is of course a natural incentive for teaching), they would be keen to see: (1) merit-based career opportunities; (2) financial rewards; (3) public recognition. Here, we are not talking about mandatory increase in teachers’ salaries or just making teachers ‘feel good’. A keyword here is ‘merit-based’. Another keyword is ‘career opportunities’, indicating a long-term view rather than instant gratification.
What Allowed this to Happen?
How about a competency certification for teachers that is rooted in high standards, therefore signalling quality that is aligned with market needs? Will this lead to opportunities for teachers? Such a market-driven certification could address three pillars of any profession – standards, opportunities and aligned professional development.
The adherence to teaching standards that promise high quality of education to a child makes certification the benchmark of excellence for the teacher. With the certification being a common currency, these opportunities can go well beyond what each individual school may be able to create – benefitting all schools in the process.
So the opportunities can range from better placements and promotions to several supplemental roles such as content creation, selection for high-quality training programs, and national or international-level recognition for great teachers and their schools. With these kinds of opportunities, a much larger population of teachers will feel motivated to improve their competencies and therefore ‘demand’ aligned professional development options (training, content, technology, etc. that are most aligned with market needs).
The Final Question
Does such a certification have to be ‘market-driven’ or could it be ‘mandated’? A mandatory model means that the certificate is no longer compelled to open up opportunities for its own survival – so it is very easy, particularly in a large and diverse country like India, for the certificate to become disconnected with the market, because it is mandated anyway.
A market-driven certification is compelled to be aligned with on-the-ground requirements and therefore has the power of creating the virtuous cycle of excellence leading to opportunities, that lead to more focus on professional development. In the long term, the increase in opportunities and greater professionalism will inspire a larger number of people with the right skills, attitude and passion to embrace teaching as a preferred profession.