Children arrive in school with enormous cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural potential. If they do not meet academically enlightened and socially sensitive teachers, the classroom experience is bound to disappoint and the consequences are likely to be felt in the long term for many of the young minds. Many may be pushed out of school or remain silent spectators throughout schooling; others may become literate but remain uneducated. Even those who may be called “educated” may not become citizens committed to the constitutional values of democracy, secularism, justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.
To understand the potential that learners bring to school, one can consider the example of language. At the level of sounds, a three-year-old child figures out the difference between the sounds /p/, /b/, and /m/ that separate otherwise identical words such as /papa/, /baba/, and /mama/. If people are not formally trained in the science of language, it will be difficult for them to spell out the differences between these sounds. But all Hindi speakers acquire these differences effortlessly. A three-year-old also “knows” that a word like /kamre/ (rooms) can be singular, as in Mohan is kamre men rahta hai (Mohan lives in this room), or plural, as in ye kamre abhi khali hain (These rooms are still vacant).
Children understand and use hundreds of similar words and novel sentences every day without explicit instruction. And the diversity of languages they bring to a classroom can be used as a resource. The case of language as a cognitive system is indeed special, but the kind of knowledge that children bring to school about their environment, space, and community is also rich and complex.
One then needs a teacher education system that prepares teachers to engage students in texts and tasks that match their cognitive potential. This is of fundamental importance at the primary and upper primary levels, where the foundations of all future knowledge are laid.
The authors of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 are aware that teacher education in the country is in dire straits and that the institutions responsible for it are “essentially selling degrees for a price” (Section 15.2). They are also aware that teacher education is vital for future generations and demands “multidisciplinary perspectives and knowledge, the formation of dispositions and values, and the development of practice under the best mentors” (Section 15.1).
Given this context, it defies all logic why politicians and bureaucrats (and indeed educationists) want to close down Delhi University’s Bachelor of Elementary Education (B El Ed) programme, a teacher education programme that ensures theoretically sound, pedagogically grounded, and socially sensitive teacher education for elementary schoolteachers. And to replace it with something called the Integrated Teacher Education Programme (ITEP). At the moment, the ITEP is not much more than a list of available courses. In a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Delhi University, many colleges have been already forced to opt for the ITEP.
The B El Ed’s detailed bilingual handbook runs into 284 pages with a comprehensive picture of each course and details of topics, readings, and advanced readings. Spread over four years (this was the university’s first four-year undergraduate degree), the B El Ed involves over 3,000 contact hours and consists of 19 theory papers divided into foundation, core, and pedagogical courses in addition to advanced liberal options in mathematics, science, and social sciences. Internal assessment, classroom observations, school internships, projects, and colloquia are integral parts of the course.
A delicate balance
The course maintains a delicate balance between theory (57 per cent) and practical work (43 per cent) and between annual examinations (70 per cent) and internal assessment (30 per cent). What is most important is the fact that in all the papers and the practicum, the potential of the learner is kept at the centre of student-teacher lectures, readings, and activities. In addition to having papers on child psychology and child development, there are papers on history, on the social and political nature of the Indian polity, and on the nature and structure of major domains of knowledge, including mathematics, science, and social sciences. The course encourages students to make their choices in the areas of storytelling, theatre, and arts and crafts and shows them the kind of network of relationships they may have with education.
It is also perhaps the only course that gives language the focus that is due to it in the domain of education. Language is constitutive of being human; it is not just a means of communication but encodes all of one’s knowledge and regulates its transmission and future growth. In some fundamental ways, language structures thought.
“The B El Ed has three core courses on language: Nature of Language, Language Acquisition, and Language across the Curriculum.”
The B El Ed has three core courses on language: Nature of Language, Language Acquisition, and Language across the Curriculum; this was a revolutionary step for its time. It became the foundation for a course titled Language, Mind and Society in the MA in Education (Elementary) programme at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
The B EL Ed programme is also unique because students are free to use Hindi or English. Some of the major readings in different domains of knowledge were made available in Hindi by the Central Institute of Education (Delhi University), the nucleus where this multidisciplinary programme was conceptualised and evolved over years. The primary purpose of this comprehensive programme is to give future teachers the confidence to question everything, including their texts, teachers, and leaders.
The programme has been running for over 28 years in eight colleges of Delhi University. Its students have become sensitive citizens of the country. It is not only that the best of schools across the country recruit them, but that these students participate in various voluntary efforts in education, particularly those that target underprivileged students.
For example, a large number of B El Ed students come year after year to the Vidya Bhawan Society in Udaipur to work as volunteers in its summer and winter camps. They leave a mark on the students there and they themselves learn a great deal from rural learners from highly disadvantaged backgrounds. They question all aspects of the programme. Some of the students who passed out in the first few batches have already made a name for themselves in the world of education.
It is difficult to name all the distinguished Indian scholars associated with the B El Ed programme. Among others, they include Krishna Kumar, Anil Sadgopal, A.K. Jalaluddin, Nargis Panchapakesan, Poonam Batra, K.V. Subbarao, Amitabha Mukherjee, and Padma Sarangapani, and such distinguished principals as Meenakshi Gopinath and Vibha Parthasarathy, who, against a variety of odds, made it possible to start the programme at Jesus and Mary College (New Delhi) in 1994.
In order to make sure that the programme stood on solid ground, senior faculty members of different Delhi University departments taught many courses for a few years. This again was a first of its kind and established university teachers’ involvement with colleges and with elementary education. Accomplishing this at a moment when university teachers hardly participated in college and school education was no mean achievement.
The course has since been run by highly competent college faculty, but the ties with university teachers are maintained as they are invited for interactions with students on a regular basis.
“The B El Ed graduates are ‘what an Indian university should be proud of: questioning, reflective, sensitive, with a high level of professional commitment’.”Prof. Deepak NayyarFormer VC, Delhi University
While writing a foreward to the 2001 Handbook of B El Ed, the then Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, Prof. Deepak Nayyar, pointed out that school education had remained a lesser realm for universities and that the B El Ed course prepared collectively by several different faculties of the university was a welcome step that any university should be proud of.
Nayyar also said that B El Ed graduates were “what an Indian university should be proud of: questioning, reflective, sensitive with a high level of professional commitment. The B El Ed programme and its faculty have provided a unique framework and considerable practical exposure to enable these young enquiring minds to develop into self-confident professionals.”
- It defies all logic why politicians and bureaucrats want to close down Delhi University’s excellent Bachelor of Elementary Education programme.
- They want to replace it with the Integrated Teacher Education Programme (ITEP), which at them moment, is not much more than a list of available courses.
- The ITEP appears to be similar to the old BA, BEd system in which students did a normal graduate degree that had nothing to do with education and then did a one-year bachelor’s degree in education. Introducing the ITEP seems like a retrograde step.
Upendra Baxi, who was Vice Chancellor before Nayyar, said that this programme was “Delhi University’s distinctive contribution towards the progressive realisation of the human right of education for all”. Krishna Kumar said that in the B El Ed “an attempt has been made to place emphasis on themes and concerns normally left out in programmes of teacher education. Basic knowledge on India’s economy and politics, child-parent relationship in different segments of society, and patterns of interpersonal communication are some themes of this kind.” He also said that such a programme would help teachers to adjust the system to the needs of the students. “This,” he said, “will constitute a radical change from the prevailing situation in which teachers are required to adjust to the needs of the system.”
Anil Sadgopal pointed out that the programme placed elementary education squarely in the knowledge system of the university. According to him, it ensured “the making of a teacher who will have the potential to contribute to transformation (rather than maintenance of status quo) of school education” because, in addition to knowledge of various disciplines, the course helps teachers develop a critical understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy.
Opposition to the closure of the B El Ed programme has come from newspapers, journals, and social media at both the national and international levels.
On May 25, the world-renowned scholars of education Edward Vickers (UNESCO Chair on Education for Peace, Social Justice and Global Citizenship), Henry Giroux (McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest, Ontario, Canada), Chaise LaDousa (Professor, Department of Anthropology, Hamilton College, New York), Paul Morris (Professor of Comparative Education, UCL Institute of Education, London), Christopher Winch (Professor of Educational Philosophy and Policy, King’s College London), and Ken Zeichner (Emeritus Professor, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington, Seattle) wrote to Prof. Yogesh Singh, Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, saying: “We are writing to express our alarm at plans to abolish Delhi University’s impressive Bachelor’s Program in Elementary Education (B. El. Ed.) and replace it with a uniform Integrated Teacher Education Program (ITEP). We ask that these plans urgently be reconsidered.”
Traditionally, the State and Central governments have minimised the role played by teacher education in the effort to improve the quality of education in schools. The international scholars mentioned above noted: “Elementary schoolteachers mostly receive only rudimentary, sub-degree-level training. This is typically provided in stand-alone diploma-awarding institutions…, or in low-status university B. Ed. programs segregated from the academic mainstream. The result is a teaching workforce mostly deprived of the knowledge, skills and autonomy that teachers need.”
Whatever be one’s critique of NEP 2020, in its rhetoric it is certainly aware of the dire need to focus on the quality of teacher education. In paragraph 15.2, it quotes the Justice J.S. Verma Commission (2012) report:
“… that a majority of stand-alone teaching institutes—over 10,000 in number—are not even attempting serious teacher education, but are essentially selling degrees for a price. The regulatory efforts so far have neither been able to curb the corruption rampant in the system, nor enforce basic standards for quality, and, in fact, have had the negative effect of curbing the growth of excellence and innovation in the sector. The sector and its regulatory system are therefore in urgent need of revitalisation through radical action, in order to raise standards and restore integrity, credibility, efficacy, and high quality to the teacher education system.”
Why would anyone then even dream of closing down a professional teacher education programme that has demonstrated its efficacy for several decades and is the envy of all other States in the country and abroad. If the government is really interested in achieving quality education in the country, it should make whatever modifications may be necessary within the overall architecture of the B El Ed.
Compared with the B El Ed programme, the ITEP, the above-mentioned scholars said, “represents a significant dumbing down”. It appears to be a retrograde step, as it reminds one of the old BA, BEd system in which students did a normal graduate degree that had nothing to do with education and then did a one-year bachelor’s degree in education.
Given that the B El Ed is a fully functional and demonstrably successful programme, the university and the government should, if anything, be trying to replicate it in colleges across the country, not shut it down.
Rama Kant Agnihotri retired from Delhi University and is currently Professor Emeritus, Vidya Bhawan Society, Udaipur. He thanks Poonam Batra and Suneeta Mishra for their inputs.