Teacher professional development has occupied centre stage in the discourse on school improvement for the past many years, both in India and globally. Though there is broad agreement on what constitutes effective teacher professional development processes, there is little consensus on how to operationalise them within the Indian context, especially given the characteristic features of the country’s vast government school system.
Azim Premji Foundation has been working towards improving equity and quality in the government school system for over fifteen years. Facilitating teacher professional development has been at the core of this work.
Working with teachers over these many years, one of the many lessons for the Foundation has been that teachers need conducive autonomous spaces — in the physical and symbolic sense — to engage with each other, with other experts, and with professionally relevant materials and resources, to be able to learn and develop professionally.
With this in mind, the Foundation has set up resource centres called Teacher Learning Centres (TLCs) in the geographies that it works in. TLCs are increasingly becoming a key element of the Foundation’s strategy of working with teachers.
This paper, the first among a series of papers on understanding the working of TLCs, documents the insights gathered from the Foundation’s experience in setting up and starting TLCs in some selected districts. In particular, it focuses on the groundwork and efforts required to set up a TLC.
- It is important to set up TLCs in locations that are convenient for teachers to access—in this particular context, it amounts to setting up TLCs close to where large number of teachers reside.
- The facilities should also be conducive for the kind of engagements that are envisaged within the centre; these should be spaces where teachers like to come and spend time.
- Having appropriate resources and materials in the TLC is important; these include curricular resources that are directly relevant to the teachers’ practice, as well as others.
- It is not sufficient for the TLC to be a resource centre; it needs to be a platform where teachers can access a range of high-quality, relevant professional development opportunities.
- This requires that competent ‘resource persons’ are available at the TLC to facilitate such opportunities
- Whether it be in the case of location, facility, resources or professional development opportunities, it is important to consider contextual considerations while visualising such a centre.
- As TLCs are envisaged as platforms where teachers can choose professional development opportunities that suit them in terms of content and process, encouraging voluntary participation is fundamental.
- Such a concept is working against the existing cultural currents of top-down, one-size-fits-all teacher professional development processes; this means that awareness creation as well as continuous mobilisation of teachers is very important, even past the early stages of a TLC.
- Creating and sustaining an environment of equality and respect makes teachers feel valued and respected and helps to build ownership; this needs to be purposively built into all processes in the TLC.
It is widely agreed that ‘teachers and teacher capacity’ is the single most important factor contributing towards quality educational outcomes. In the last few decades, teacher professional development has occupied considerable mind space in the discourse on improving the quality of education globally, including India.
Right from the Indian Education (Kothari) Commission 1964, which recommended two to three months in-service training every five years for every teacher, to an explicit mention of the need for emphasis on in-service education in every successive National Policy of Education (NPE), there has been an increasing stress on the importance of improving teacher preparation and continuing teacher professional development.
However, professional development opportunities for teachers continue to be limited. Most training programs are very top-down and hierarchical in their approach, not always relevant to teacher needs; teachers have little say in their own professional development. There are few spaces for teachers to share experiences, collaborate with, and learn from each other.
The whole approach to teachers’ professional needs, continues to be determined, planned, implemented and monitored extrinsically, compromising on the concept of the teacher as a professional and with little or no basis for the design of the interventions.
The NCFTE 2009 also lays down several fundamental principles such as continuity, voluntarism, interactivity, teacher autonomy, and relevance to the classroom for designing effective professional development engagements with teachers.
While a vast body of knowledge and research is available and there is a consensus on the broad principles of what constitutes effective professional development for teachers, there is no considered understanding on how these principles can be operationalised, especially in the context of the Indian government school system.
A plethora of single-teacher schools, geographically dispersed schools, lack of a substantial peer group within schools due to a limited number of teachers in schools, a paucity of resources for teaching and teacher development, and overworked teachers are some of the defining conditions of this context.
There have been several attempts to address such contextual characteristics. For example, teacher resource centres that could cater to teachers distributed across schools, in the form of Cluster and Block Resource Centres (CRCs and BRCs), were set up under the aegis of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Indian government programme aimed at universalisation of elementary education.
The two major aims of these centres were to provide
(a) in-service teacher training opportunities and
(b) academic support for schools.
However, for a variety of reasons, such as lack of resources, inadequate preparation of resource coordinators and a very top-down approach among others, CRCs and BRCs have not been very successful in achieving their objectives so far.
Outside India, teacher resource centres emerged as one of the strategies for school improvement in the 1960s, out of a similar attempt to address problems of isolation, access to, and lack of resources and support faced by isolated rural schools.
The rationale was that clustering of schools and the creation of teacher resource centres would enable sharing and pooling of resources, allow schools and teachers to network and collaborate, and thereby improve classroom practice.
Teacher resource centres were envisaged as having a teacher network facilitating exchange and sharing, a facilitator or resource person to provide support for classroom practice and professional development and a physical structure that houses books resources and relevant materials.
However, depending upon the context and needs in different situations, such centres have been conceptualised differently in terms of their objectives and implementation. The issues and challenges associated with these different implementations have varied.
There is little consensus in the literature on the various aspects of teacher resource centres and their effectiveness.
Azim Premji Foundation (Foundation) has been working towards improving equity and quality of the government school system in India, with particular emphasis on building teacher capacity, because at the core of its work is a belief in the centrality of the teacher and teacher capacity in providing quality education.
Enabling platforms and processes that are true to fundamental principles of effective teacher professional development and simultaneously address the specific contextual characteristics of the Indian government school system is key to such work.
This includes setting up teacher resource centres called Teacher Learning Centres (TLCs). TLCs are an important element within the Foundation’s overall, integrated approach to teacher professional development.
Because of the variety, depth, and scale of the Foundation’s work, it is uniquely placed to be able to add to a contextual body of knowledge and understanding, focussing on the ‘how’ of teacher professional development.
To this end, the research group at the Foundation seeks to critically analyse and document the experiences with various forms and methods of teacher professional development and make them available to other practitioners working in similar complex contexts. This paper focusses on the Foundation’s experience of setting up and sustaining TLCs.
This is the first among a series of papers planned around TLCs.
As the Foundation continues to set up TLCs in its various districts across different states, and many more TLCs reach a greater stage of maturity, it accumulates first-hand experience and insights.
This will facilitate a deeper understanding of teacher perceptions and their experiences of TLCs: what makes for a vibrant TLC, what is it that makes teachers visit and sustain their interest, what benefits they derive from the TLC, how they connect it to their practice, and so on.
This study, which focuses primarily on the Foundation’s experience in setting up TLCs, paves the way for further studies that explore some of the above-mentioned aspects in the near future.