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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Content enrichment for teachers

A funny thing happened just last month in May. It was so funny that many who heard about it cried. The State Council for Educational Research (SCERT) of Maharashtra arranged a workshop for state teachers from April 25 to May 5 in Pune, called ‘content enrichment programme’. The Council found that many students of class 7 cannot read or write properly and that students generally suffer badly in Class 8 with English and Mathematics and therefore with all subjects.

The teachers were given the same exercise books that they normally correct after the students solve them. Out of 1.25 lakh teachers for classes 1 to 7 across the state, only 10 per cent could answer all the questions in the English and Maths exercise books which were­ the same lessons they taught their students. And the Council got its answers about the poor performance of school students.

The teachers instead of hiding their faces in shame or even hanging themselves from the nearest fans, were loud in their excuses which ranged from: “we needed more time” to “the classrooms were dirty and benches broken” and “we did not get proper food and water”.

Even funnier: The Council discovered that the teachers had difficulty solving questions from Class 3 onwards.

There were some really good teachers in my 16-year brush with academics from primary to post-graduation, and some mediocre ones. In all fairness, though there were a couple of teachers who were generally hated, every one of them knew their job. Even one Hindi teacher who’s feral looks with thin white face, spiky black hair, thin red mouth and pointed teeth earned her the name of Bhookha Bhediya. There was much celebration when she re-located to Australia.

Education those days was holistic. Teachers linked the subjects they taught with life outside the classroom, whether it was English, Mathematics, Sciences, History, Geography or Moral Science. Sports too was given great importance, both individual sports and team events. Team spirit was a big thing in the 70s, if you snitched on your peers, the teachers showed their contempt for the snitch even while they dispensed punishment on the transgressors.

Another peculiar trait among the teachers of my school and college that I remember was how they were especially tough with the well-heeled children of famous parents. Unlike today if the stories I hear are true. Years ago a teacher who slapped a CM’s son was sent on indefinite leave.

I had ventured a suggestion a while back in this column, that teachers too should be tested in the subjects they taught on an annual basis. The 17-and-a-half people who read this column did hail it as an excellent idea, though some relatives of teachers said asking them to quit if they did not get 90 percent and above in their subject was a little too harsh.

Maharashtra is not a backward state, if 90 percent of their teachers cannot pass a simple test in subjects they teach, then this country faces a very, very, serious situation. Someone please tell the Minister of Education to read this. Or better still, please read it aloud to him.

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