At a Ministerial Forum that mulled over ICTs in education in all the South Asian countries, my ears perked up to a conversation in the corner. It was a man who works in the rural education sector in the south of India, and he said a bit loud, “These people here don’t know the ground reality. It is in an organisation like Intel’s interest to hold these conferences but how do you expect ICTs to work in small villages?”
The Ministerial Forum has education ministers from all over South Asia talking about UNESCO’s mandate of education for all. Held at the lavish ballroom hall at the Oberoi hotel in New Delhi, it had the regular swish set of educators, Corporate social responsibility workers and the ubiquitous NGOs. To top the ‘intellectuality’ of the gathering they had Shashi Tharoor as their guest speaker for the day.
Among all the jargon of ICTs, education, scalability, models, Master Plans, policy, what stuck out was the absence of teachers. How come no teachers were attending this conference, while the overwhelming aspect that came out, was the need to educate the teachers more than the students. Yes sure, the children are the future of tomorrow and so forth, but how do you actually make these future stars if the people who teach them are a generation behind and lack the knowledge?
I was confronted with this fact even more in the project I came to handle with the Government of Rajasthan. The IVRS system, which is a telephone helpline for government school teachers in Rajasthan, helps teachers with answers to difficult questions. What was interesting how inane and basic the question were in the beginning (Who is the prime minister and what does RBI stand for!) Though the questions transformed into more complex ones like being on pedagogy and teaching, the realisation that how untrained our teachers are was daunting. There is a need to teach the teachers, to help them become teachers in the real sense, if they are to nurture the stars of tomorrow.
And that’s in the hands of the government. So, while it was very good for the Planning Commission to slash the budget for education from 6000 crore in 2011 to less than half of it, on the pretext that inefficient use by states led to only 1650 crore being used; the Planning Commission should step up and make comprehensive teacher training programmes too.It is time the government takes up the cause of the teachers as well; for shining, smiling children look good in adverts, those sour, tired-with-life teachers need a lift and a renewed will to teach.