A report recently released by the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) on the standard of teaching at the secondary level paints a grim picture. Titled 'The Education Watch Report 2018-19', it finds that the percentage of teachers without subject-specific training is higher for science, math and English subjects in the country's secondary schools. Even it is not encouraging enough for teachers teaching subjects like religion, accounting, Bangla, Bangladesh and global studies, biology, ICT, higher mathematics, geography and history. Fewer than half of the teachers teaching such subjects are trained. While physics and chemistry teachers top the list for lack of training with 75 per cent and 78 per cent respectively, for English and mathematics the figure is 55 per cent.
Lack of subject-specific training certainly matters but it is not the only criterion for someone becoming a great teacher. This is evident from another important finding of the report. It concerns the use of unauthorised guidebooks as the main tool for teaching in classes instead of textbooks prescribed for the purpose. It is exactly at this point, genuine teachers differ from quacks in the teaching profession. The report reveals that 37.1 per cent of teachers use guidebooks. One suspects the percentage may be even higher because not all teachers were likely to be candid enough to express their weakness.
In this connection, the inability of teachers to set question papers can shed some light on their qualification as teachers. Only 43.7 per cent teachers are reported to set question papers themselves, the rest cannot do the same. As high as 38.8 per cent teachers are used to buying question papers from sets prepared by different teachers' associations, 14.4 per cent directly from market and 10.3 per cent sought their colleagues' help to accomplish the task. Another report earlier this year revealed that the majority of teachers fail to grasp the gist of the subject and prepare multiple choice questions (MCQs). No wonder that quite a few teachers set so outlandish and outrageous questions that they had to be sacked.
Many of the textbooks are not particularly reputed for high standard or appealing to learners. Even some of the English grammar books from Britain make a strong case for prescription for young learners because those are so interestingly written accompanied with pictures that children simply love to get absorbed in the subject matter in no time. Then if whatever is produced here and handed over to students is ignored by teachers, it surely does injustice to the cause of studies.
Some qualified teachers are known to neglect class teaching in favour of group tutoring. The popular the teachers are, the greater the number of students at their coaching centres. Only the mediocre and unqualified teachers do not find enough students for private tutoring. Teachers who cannot make head and tail out of a lesson in the textbook are those who also fail to set question papers. But arguably those highly qualified teachers also are asked to set question papers and they may run the risk of divulging confidentiality of such question papers even if they are not doing so with an ulterior motive.
The problem is with the system. When the emphasis is primarily on scoring higher marks only, creativity or extracurricular activities are pushed to the back burner. Education's main job is to help realise the potential each student has in himself or herself. Students must learn how to appreciate the mathematical arguments, relations and association, philosophical reasoning and develop an aesthetic sense for art and culture. These are dark areas in today's education system.
Students with love for mathematics will be guided in a way that they can delve deep into the subject. Similarly, students with a scientific bent of mind must be provided the mental space and laboratory facilities to go from strength to strength. A teacher's job is to guide them, inspire them so that they do not chew more than they can swallow.
The reality is a large number of teachers have taken to the profession only after they have tried their luck elsewhere unsuccessfully. This sounds harsh but it is true and this is the reason why teaching is lagging behind that of many countries of comparable socio-economic background. The education system must be freed from wholesale commercialisation first and then it may be brought on to the right track for gradual reform.
The campaign against coaching and guidebooks will fall flat as long as the system is not changed for the better. Next comes another daunting task of recruiting a highly qualified corps of teachers who can take education to the next level where it can be on a par with the very best in the world. This calls for respecting the profession. Gone are the days when teachers with meagre remuneration or even no salary served educational institutions out of love. Teachers who were meritorious in student life may be available if only the job is rewarding in terms of monetary benefits and other facilities. So, far greater investment than is made now is a sine qua non.