Educating Teachers: Consciousness as the Basis of Personal Growth and Social Change
In a country like ours characterized by heightened inequality and diversity it is important for a teacher to be sensitive, humane and reflexive. It is important to work on critical pedagogy, sociological imagination and self-development. Here is an article—written by an eminent educationist and teacher educator—that reflects on the challenging task of educating the educators.
Dr. Jyoti Raina teaches at Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi
If schools were inclusive sites, children would learn some lessons of democracy merely by getting schooled.The ground reality is that they are not. Where is then the structural space for the ‘teacher’ to practise egalitarianism, equity and inclusion in education? The agency of the teacher, in becoming and being able to do so, is at the heart of envisioning education as liberating and emancipatory, and viewing it as an instrument for establishing a democratic, just and humane social order. The development of the teacher’s self and identity is an important component of this process.The teacher’s own consciousness is the basis of this self-development and identity formation. Personal growth and social change become possible by deepening of the multiple dimensions of this critical consciousness.
Perhaps in the fervour to raise such a critical consciousness, progressive teacher education programs are sometimes premised on the assumption that educating teachers ‘differently’ can usher in the much needed resurgence in our school education system. One of the dominant components of this alternate narrative of educating them ‘differently’ is greater knowledge, awareness and critical thinking about what is wrong with our schooling system. How young elementary school teachers can be empowered to make a difference by contributing to the emancipatory potential inherent in school education is expected to emanate from such practice of teacher education.
Dominant among the several things that are wrong with our system of school education are: it does not outreach the mental dimension; it conceptualises knowledge in absolute terms as a given; it is ignorant of as well as indifferent and unresponsive to social realities on the one hand and child nature on the other; and it doesn’t have an active space for the teacher’s agency.The schooling system functions as an oppressive instrument that perpetuates and even strengthens the existing stratified social order. The students of the teacher education programme I teach in, living even in the metropolis of Delhi, come face to face with the visibly divisive schooling structure of the city. This serves as a symbolic reflection of the unjust inegalitarianism characterising schooling in our country.There is as if a separate (read exclusive) school system attending to the educational aspirations of each section/class of society. They observe a model of school education that unequivocally lays down a hierarchy of access. The inequalities of class and to some extent even gender are perpetuated and even reinforced. The poor attend the state run schools and the wealthy the fee paying private ones, in which also hierarchies have emerged.The affluent, the middle class, the non- fee paying, those on the margin— there is almost as if a type of school for each one of them, well performing the function of exclusion! The classroom in each of these constitutes a social world of its own. With the admission of 25 % children from the so called Economically Weaker Section category, as mandated by RTE 2009, there is a smidgen of diversity in the classroom. It is another issue that the understanding to support this diversity, another dimension of teacher agency,may or may not be there.The curriculum tends to follow the tyranny of the all-pervasive textbook the learning outcomes of which are certified by a public examination system. It is further standardised by a middle class worldview of selected knowledge and social values of external discipline, rote memorisation, obedience to authority and competition. Pedagogical insensitivity is fostered as practices are couched in one size fits all assumption.
Learning to teach, as professional practice, for becoming elementary school teachers for my students consists of different kinds of actions aimed at the development of a broad repertoire of professional knowledge, sensibility, values and pedagogical sensitivity. It is designed to integrate the study of disciplinary content knowledge, child development, learning theory, foundations of education, curriculum and pedagogy, especially with reference to its social and political context. The students engage with concepts like equality, diversity,exclusion, equity, authority ,rights, democracy in education, equalisation of educational opportunity and democratic curriculum. They also study critical theory, sociology of knowledge, equity pedagogy and works of great educators among other ideas. All of this contributes to the development of their ‘teacher identity’ as a professional as also their capacity to function as agents of social change and personal transformation.
Paradoxically as they attempt to integrate this academic learning with the social reality that they encounter around them, they experience something different. This is particularly exacerbated in the field based units of study and the practicum courses.This theory–practice dialectic provokes them to interrogate their own processes of teaching- learning in relation to what they see in society,and what they study .Coupled with this inward dwelling is the fact that living in Delhi, which all of them do, belonging to a certain rather homogenous social background, they have neither travelled across the country nor have had direct experience of the inequality, injustice, poverty, backwardness and regional, social and gender imbalances that exist in Indian society. Inquiring critically they raise questions, and a major part of their education consists of understanding the socio-cultural and political contexts in which they live.Learning to think critically they seek to discover their own answers.
The first is the opportunity of being located in an undergraduate college with 17 different disciplinary departments and myriad extension interfaces. One among these extensions is the equal opportunity cell of the college. The cell organises a plethora of programs where students engage with issues in education cutting across disciplinary domain and political orientation, and ranging from the left to the right. The speakers in these programs are not teacher educators, and more often than not, they are from another discipline— political scientists, sociologists, policy analysts, social activists among others. Students come to stand at another vantage point revisiting ideas introduced in the classroom. These are critiqued and counter critiqued fostering independent thinking. One of the fundamental themes that are deliberated in detail in these programs is the education of marginalised children. The meanings and processes of compensatory education, protective discrimination, reservation, economic empowerment, social as also gender justice and emancipatory education are examined. There occurs praxis in this engagement which evolves beyond classroom teaching- learning leading to critical thinking and perspective building from multiple viewpoints in the students. The student group in this program consists not only of students of elementary education but also other disciplines, facilitating valuable interdisciplinary peer learning during various focussed group discussions.During this quest, of being and becoming a teacher, the cultivation of their sensitivities is embedded in a sustained and protracted engagement. This transcends theoretical study, classroom teaching-learning discourse, children’s observation, reflective practice, and field work; and this leads to the formation of their personal and social identities At this juncture I wish to mention two of my actions which are aimed at fostering a sensitive educational imagination in my students.
The second action that aims to deepen this emerging consciousness is a visit to an innovative centre of elementary education. These are the institutions that address the educational needs of children, belonging to the section of society, which may not necessarily be a part of mainstream schooling.They may be progressive centres of innovation in pedagogy or learning, practising grade less teaching. Some of them may be attempting to address social asymmetry by preference to lower castes or girls or minority children or others on a margin. Caste, which as a category of discrimination may not be so operational in the urban context of my students’own education, becomes an important unit of analysis in some such centres of education. Drawing upon an educational imagination they innovate creatively in areas ranging from teacher growth to developing instructional material in order to make education contextually relevant to their learners rather than fitting one shoe to each size. The students critically observe the potential inherent in education for liberation, emancipation and social transformation, as envisioned by many educators whose ideas they study about.
Both these actions ground their sensitivities in a broader social context of education (which is significantly varied from the personal context of their own lives) and in learner diversity, which they otherwise may not have much opportunity to experience during the course of their other practicum programs.This sensitivity enriches their content analysis of classroom processes not only as it occurs in these centres but also of the public school system of Delhi, where most of their practicum courses and school internship are organised. This is a discernible influence on the student teachers as they sometimes evolve rather unconventional pedagogical possibilities in their school internship.
Concomitant to this widening of social consciousness and sensitivity is the development of the self as an instrument of learning. This process of self- growth is another vital component of the development of young student’s ‘teacher identity’. Social change bereft of personal-transformation, as Gandhiji would have said, is like renunciation of material objects without renouncing the desire for them. And it is bound to be short-lived. This personal growth involves the psychological dimensions of self- reflection, self- analysis, self- criticism, self- expression and self-transformation.From stepping back in inner quiet arises self-knowledge in a new critical consciousness. This sensitive understanding of one’s own self is perhaps a prerequisite to understanding children and their psychological needs in order to facilitate their learning. The nurturance of these discriminating personal and social sensitivities is central to preparation of elementary school teachers who will be the harbingers of much needed school reform in contemporary times.