Teachers - Changing roles and future trends
I had the pleasure of attending parts of the K12 Conference hosted by Ashoka University on 5 and 6 June 2020. One of the sessions was on the evolving role of teachers in the digital age. This was an informative session on what schools (high-end private schools) are doing to cope with the Covid-19 induced paradigm shift. To those who want to access the discussion it is available on Ashoka University’s YouTube page or click here. This piece is going to address the current thinking and reality of private schools in India regarding the shift in the operations of education. Some of the ideas are from the discussions at the conference, while the critique and suggestions are my own. One consensus that the group had was that school teaching is going to change in a world which includes Covid-19. The shift was going to be from offline classrooms to online classrooms in the dire times and move to a blend of online and offline classes in the long run. I think that the blended model is probably going to be the future of school education majorly because it will lower costs for schools. Can we even imagine a blended model of learning for a government school? As a lot of eminent educationists have pointed out, school is more than education in government schools. It is a crèche, it is a place where the students get their midday meals, it is the place where they are safe from predators. I strongly feel that a blended model in government schools is highly improbable. But more on this later. I want to focus on the role of the teacher in private schools in this post is – be it affordable private schools or elite private schools. Elite private schools like Global Indian International School (GIIS) and Delhi Public School (DPS), Bangalore-Mysore region have started working out the core competencies teachers need to train for to make the blended classroom a reality. Essentially this means that in the long term, blended learning will need teachers to be technologically savvy for the online part of student interaction. And when students come to school – say for two days a week – the teachers will need to switch to being mentors to facilitate social emotional learning (SEL). Remember students come in batches, maybe twice a week, but a teacher needs to take care of all batches and needs to be in school every day. This is going to be a tough ask for an already overburdened set of professionals with limited financial compensation. What does this mean for teachers? Will the curriculum of a B. Ed. degree change (almost all school teachers need this degree in India to qualify to teach)? It has been extremely difficult to change the curriculum to inculcate 21st century ideas in the most B. Ed. courses. Hopefully, a paradigm shifting pandemic may do the trick!
In private group schools*, the digital learning opens possibilities of getting expert teachers from one city to tutor students from a different city. Penetration into tier-2 and tier-3 cities may become easier and cheaper for group schools. This would be a major coup for the schools and the teachers. The schools will have the best teachers in each subject everywhere. And if the teachers need to teach 5-6 hours a day, then they would have to be relieved of administrative responsibilities. The reality in affordable private schools (APS) is different. The schools are barely able to maintain enough liquidity to function. On one hand, they need to show parents that the school is adding value by offering online classes, so that parents continue to pay fees. On the other hand, they need to equip teachers at no or exceptionally low cost to enable the online value-add that is key to incoming cash flow. In such a scenario, teachers are expected to learn technology, make new types of presentations, modify lesson plans and worksheets; with no guarantee of their personal future or that of the school. This, compounded with the demographic that APS cater to, exacerbates the uncertainty for teachers. So, teachers in APSs will have to learn everything that an elite private school teacher learns, but at lower pay, with inferior infrastructure and with the certainty of their jobs always lasting one fee cycle at a time. In wake of the new uncertain reality for schools and teachers, will teachers be more inclined to freelance gigs with multiple schools? Schools will want to hire teachers on contract for every fee cycle. This could give rise to the freelance professional teacher (FPT). The financial logic of this is straightforward. It is not cost effective or logistically easy for a teacher to travel from one city to another to teach students for a short period of time. However, if a teacher can digitally attend to students within the school timetable, and a school in Mumbai gets the best mathematics teacher in the country, who happens to reside in Bangalore, nothing like it. This will benefit schools; it would be a cakewalk for group schools. And it would benefit the entrepreneurial teacher. This will also mean that talent in teaching, expertise in pedagogy will not be enough for teachers. They will need to build a brand for their teaching. This should be a personal choice. The flip-side of this proposition is that it may strain an already strained system. Talented teachers will become FPTs, which means that the teachers in the government schools will be less talented, having fewer resources or at least less driven. These teachers who already had to deal with 40-60 students in the class may have to deal with more students. They will have to learn new techniques. And most importantly the gap in the quality of education between private and government schools will imminently widen. Maybe I am over-reacting. The idea may be a non-starter as majority of the teachers want to teach, like to teach, and will want to spend time either teaching or thinking about teaching. Alternatively, I may be over-reacting, and this could be the next paradigm shift in education where FPTs are available for even the government school student in the remotest part of the country. Salman Khan (Khan Academy), Byju Ravindran (Byju’s) and Nandan Nilekani (Infosys) are all bullish about this. *Group schools are when more than one school has a common owner or at least a common academic team with a standard curriculum (e.g. EuroSchool).
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