Enabling peer learning and collaboration among teachers

Case studies from Yadgir (Karnataka), Almora (Uttarakhand) and Kivarli (Rajasthan)

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Yadgir district, located in North East Karnataka is one of the more disadvantaged districts1 in India. Almora district of Uttarakhand, situated in the Kumaon hills of the Himalayas at a height of 1800 metres above sea level is mostly comprised of small towns and villages with little access to basic facilities. Kivarli a small village of around 800 households2 is located in Abu Road block of Sirohi district of Rajasthan. 

What do these three locations have in common?

Across these sites, one comes upon initiatives where groups of motivated teachers are discovering novel ways to come together and take forward their professional development without the need for administrative orders or extrinsic motivators.

In their different ways, these locations present challenging environments for government school teachers to work in. However across these sites, one comes upon initiatives where groups of motivated teachers are discovering novel ways to come together and take forward their professional development without the need for administrative orders or extrinsic motivators.

Groups of lady teachers in Yadgir are finding ways to overcome the socio-cultural norms of a male-dominated society to be able to pursue their professional development needs. Teachers in Almora brave the challenging weather and the geography to engage ungrudgingly with and pursue professional development in their own personal time. In Kivarli, teachers have carried the entire community with them in setting up a learning resource centre.

These teachers seem to be largely motivated by a sense of professional responsibility; a sense that they need to develop themselves to be able to teach better, so that their students learn better. This belies the popular narrative of disinterested’ and truant’ teachers3 in the government education system. 

These teachers have been able to translate such motivation into practice, because of efforts that have enabled platforms for their professional development. Such platforms are in turn built on a deep understanding of the lived realities of the teachers – their circumstances and their needs.

For more than a decade and half, Azim Premji Foundation (Foundation) has been working towards improving the quality of education in the government school system. The primary focus has been on building teacher capacity, as it is the single most important variable that influences educational outcomes for students.

In the different locations that the Foundation works in, it provides multiple avenues for teachers to engage with their own professional development, including workshops, courses, seminars, residential camps, teacher forums, on-site support through school visits and so on. 

All these endeavours are part of a larger integrated strategy that provides teachers with an enhanced choice of modes for professional development. Further, it presents continuous opportunities that teachers can avail of, on their own terms.

Many of these modes include platforms and spaces that facilitate collaboration and peer learning among teachers. This approach recognises teacher isolation as a barrier to teacher development and the need to create opportunities for teachers to meet, share experiences and work collaboratively in an ongoing fashion.

It recognises the need for teachers to have access to platforms that promote trust, respect and a common sense of purpose. To provide a meaningful experience, any such forum for teacher collaboration would need to have a critical mass of teachers. Partly as a result of its efforts to ensure access to children in the remotest locations, India’s government school system is characterised by a large number of small schools and single-teacher schools4, making such platforms unsustainable within schools.

Hence, the platforms for collaboration and peer learning that the Foundation facilitates are designed to bring together teachers from across schools in a variety of locations.

One such collaborative space that the Foundation has operationalised; outside school, yet proximate to teachers’ residences, are the Teacher Learning Centres (TLCs). They are spaces that are equipped with educational resources – like books, journals, newspapers, subject-based resources such as science laboratory apparatus, mathematics kits, and computers with an internet connection – and provide teachers with opportunities to engage formally and informally with their subject as well as a variety of educational issues and perspectives. 

These opportunities are typically offered at TLCs in the form of informal discussions, workshops, short courses and so on, which the teachers access as per their own need and preference. TLCs are typically established in locations where a significant number of teachers reside.

An example of a platform for peer learning is the Voluntary Teacher Forum (VTF), which provides opportunities for groups of teachers to meet periodically, after school hours or during holidays, to share experiences, discuss challenges and learn from one another. 

The most common mode of engagement within a VTF is a peer-led discussion on an educational matter of common interest which lasts for around 2 – 3 hours. Some of the VTFs cater to specific subjects – e.g. forum of Mathematics teachers – whereas others are more generic. They are most commonly anchored within a TLC or LRC (Learning Resource Centre), the nomenclature used in Rajasthan for the same structure.

Previous studies in the Field Studies in Education series have brought out insights from the experience of initiating TLCs5 and VTFs6. The studies brought forth the need for persistent and purposive efforts to start and sustain such platforms and the need for them to be spaces that promote a culture of mutual trust and respect while genuinely addressing teachers’ professional needs.

The studies also brought out the need for such efforts to be rooted in the contexts of the teachers. While these collaboration and peer learning platforms are operational across several districts and states, there are locations where they have had to be creatively adapted to meet challenging local realities. 

The efforts at Yadgir, Almora and Kivarli present three such examples, where building upon the principles of collaboration and voluntarism, the Foundation has been able to simultaneously widen and deepen the possibilities for professional development for government school teachers. 

This compendium offers these three case studies for anyone who is interested in gaining insights that will be useful for operationalising effective teacher professional development processes in a government school system within the context of a complex environment such as India or any other similarly developing country.

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References

  1. Arunish Chawla et al. Regional Disparities in India — A Moving Frontier. Economic and Political Weekly, January 3, 2015. Volume 1. No. 1
  2. 2011 Census of India
  3. Research Group, Azim Premji Foundation, ‑Teacher Absenteeism Study – Field Studies in Education, March 2017
  4. District Information System for Education (DISE) data 2016 – 17
  5. Research Group, Azim Premji Foundation, Setting up Teacher Learning Centres; Experiences from some districts of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Rajasthan – Field Studies in Education, August 2017”
  6. Research Group, Azim Premji Foundation, Starting and Sustaining Voluntary Teacher Forums; Experience from Tonk, Rajasthan – Field Studies in Education, October 2016”

Picture for representational purpose only