To be or not to be; change is inevitable!

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Changing the attitudes and beliefs of Teachers at the threshold of the 21st-century world.

By: Sheikh Gulzar Ahmad

A lack of understanding of one’s role in the profession leads to a conflict between one’s perception and one’s practice. To avoid any disequilibrium of this kind, we need to attend to our profession aware of what society and our institutions expect of us. what the students expect of us and, most importantly, what role we expect ourselves to perform vis a vis our students, our institutions, and the society we live in.

Recently, somebody uploaded a fifty-three-second video on Facebook with an ambiguous title. It was an energizer during a capacity-building program conducted by a teacher training institute. The treatment that this video received from the Netizens was shocking. The trolls, indecent comments, and unethical and abusive language used against the facilitator and the participants in the viral video gave me goosebumps. Unfortunately, teachers are the soft targets for such unbecoming and irrational reactions on social media. There are grave concerns about this state of teachers in society at the moment in contrast to the famous quote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”.

If a teacher is trolled like this, the whole community must sit back to introspect and see why the nation builders are under fire! Why there is huge resentment against the teaching profession when they are the custodians of posterity? Why petty things are eulogized on social media platforms but teachers’ acts are demeaned?

Let us be fair enough to admit that the trolls are not at fault but the impression created by teachers has invited this all. It is their collective conscience that must reflect on the unwarranted reactions by social media users. Who are these Netizens? Are they from some alien land? No! It is a common user, a relative, friend, colleague, or a family member. Then, why do they behave in such a questionable manner? We owe a big explanation to answer this probing question. In fact, the children we teach belong to the society where we come from. Being inquisitive and curious observers, they get influenced to imitate everything happening around them. The children demonstrate at home what they imitate at school or in the playfield. The children act as mirror images of their teachers most of the time at home. They are the ambassadors of the knowledge, belief, attitudes, and skills imparted at schools and represent us inadvertently at home and in society. Perhaps this knowledge, attitude, and skills are not compatible with the belief and attitudes of the parents and other members of society. The modification of the behavior and the holistic development of the learners by teachers seem irrelevant to society and the needs of the 21st-century world. The consequences can be many but the present manifestation of trolls and indecent language has cut the lofty image of teachers to the size that they had in the past. It has sent shock waves to shake the teachers’ fraternity to reality.

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime for their students. Today, where individuals can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitized or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, the teachers need to place much greater emphasis on enabling children to become lifelong learners, to manage innovative ways of thinking and complex ways of working that computers cannot take over easily. Students need to be capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing, of positioning themselves and repositioning themselves in a fast-changing world.

These changes have profound implications for teachers, teaching, and learning as well as for the leadership of schools and education systems. In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education, today it is on outcomes. The past was about delivered wisdom, the challenge now is to foster user-generated wisdom among teachers on the frontline. In the past, teachers were often left alone in classrooms with significant prescriptions on what to teach. The current education system now sets ambitious goals/learning outcomes/performance indicators for students and teachers. The system is clear about what students should be able to do, and what content and instruction the teachers need to provide to their individual students. In the past, different students were taught in similar ways, today teachers are expected to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices. The goal of the past was standardization and conformity, today it is about being ingenious, about personalizing educational experiences; the past was curriculum-cantered, and the present is learner-centered. Teachers are being asked to personalize learning experiences to ensure that every learner has a chance to succeed and to deal with increasing cultural diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles, taking learning to the learner in ways that allow individuals to learn in the ways that are most conducive to their progress.

The kind of teaching needed today requires teachers to be high-level knowledge workers laced with the skills of information and communication technology (ICT) who constantly advance their own professional knowledge as well as that of their profession. In this digital age, the internet is full of supportive resources. When a teacher teaches the students from a collaborative perspective, the students will learn more deeply if they get the resources. It can be YouTube Video Tutorial, Digital Content, eBooks, or even printing documents. If the student receives supportive materials on how to enrich Critical thinking, Communication skills, Collaboration, and Creativity, they can lead their own future. A teacher can show the resources according to their interest. Even a teacher can’t be an expert on the topics, albeit he can easily point to the links of the supportive materials. It will ensure better learning environments and the students will be engaged with the lesson.

We are globally under rapid transformation, and the challenges to individuals and societies are imposed by globalization and modernization, and to address these issues sustainable development goals (SDGs) are widely acknowledged. The most challenging dilemma for teachers in the 21st century is that routine, rule-based, knowledge, which is easiest to teach and test, is also easiest to digitize, automate and outsource. The issue of 21st-century skills is the focus on the development of competencies instead of encouraging the rot memory. Take literacy as an example. In the past, literacy was mainly about learning to read, a set of technical skills that individuals would acquire once for a lifetime to process an established body of coded knowledge. In the 21st century, literacy is about reading for learning, the capacity and motivation to identify, understand, predict, interpret, create and communicate knowledge, using written materials associated with varying situations in continuously changing contexts. In the past, it was sufficient to direct students to a textbook, question answer bank, or a guide to finding the answer to a question, and they could generally rely on what they found to be true. Today, literacy is about curiosity and self-direction, managing non-linear information structures, building one’s mental representation and evaluation of information as one finds one’s way through hypertext on the Internet, dealing with ambiguity, developing healthy scepticism, an inquiring mindset, and interpreting and resolving conflicting pieces of information.

Let’s take another example of numeracy. Traditionally mathematics is often taught in an abstract mathematical world, using formalism first, removed from authentic contexts, and discouraging to the students that do not see its relevance – for example, students are taught the techniques of arithmetic, then given lots of arithmetic computations to complete; or they are shown how to solve particular types of equations, then given lots of similar equations to solve. In contrast, in the 21st century, students need to have an understanding of the fundamental concepts of mathematics, they need to be able to translate a new situation or problem they face into a form that exposes the relevance of mathematics, makes the problem accommodating to mathematical treatment, identify and use the relevant mathematical knowledge to solve the problem, and then evaluate the solution in the original problem context.

Similarly, the conventional approach of schools to problems was to break these down into manageable bits and pieces and then teach students the techniques to solve them. But today individuals create value by synthesizing the disparate bits. This is about open-mindedness and making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, which requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in different fields. What counts today is the versatility in adopting new skills to progressively widen the scope of situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationships, and assuming new roles.

In the light of this paradigm shift, SDGs, the draft national education policy DNEP-2019, Nep-2020, and NIPUN Bharat Mission suggest some watershed to make the teachers compatible with the environment in and outside of the school.

The policy guidelines say that in collaboration with parents and other key local stakeholders, teachers will now be involved in the governance of schools and school complexes, including as members of school management committees (SMCs) and school complex management committees (SCMCs). To prevent the large amounts of time spent currently by teachers on non-teaching activities, teachers will not be allowed any longer to conduct government work that is not directly related to teaching (except for rare events that do not interfere with their class work); in particular, teachers will not be involved in electioneering, cooking of midday meals, and other strenuous administrative tasks, so that they may fully concentrate on their teaching-learning duties. To help ensure that schools have positive learning environments, the role expectations of principals and teachers will explicitly include developing a caring and inclusive culture at their schools, for more effective learning for all, and for the benefit of all in their communities.

Finally, teachers will be given more autonomy in choosing finer aspects of curriculum and pedagogy, so that they may teach in the manner that they find most effective for the students in their classrooms and communities. Teachers will be recognized for novel approaches to teaching that improve learning outcomes in their classrooms.

To be a part are not to be; change is inevitable. The shift to competency development, understanding the skills of 21st-century world needs, shift from what to teach by the teachers to what the students do in the classrooms and shift from accumulating and transferring information to the application, analysis, and evaluation of knowledge require our teachers to drastically change their attitudes and beliefs as suggested by the NEP-2020.

The trolls and indecent remarks will shift to praise, love and compliments if we embrace the change as great teachers are not made in training institutes, great teachers are made in classrooms when they are cornered, questioned, and tested by students. The way teachers face these challenges with patience, efficiency, and dignity defines their greatness.

Let’s conclude with this beautiful quote, ‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.’

(The writer is Divisional Nodal Officer, NIPUN Bharat Mission, SCERT-KD)

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