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Teacher Tuesday

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)


The Times of India

Teachers from all over the world have stories to tell. Stories that are so different from each other, and yet so very similar. At the heart of the teaching and learning miracle lies the connect between the teacher and the student via the material. I have always maintained that teaching is a sort of energy transfer, where a teacher passes on the love for learning to the student. The rest is mere content.

For the past 7 weeks, thanks to UNESCO’s superb EFA team there has been a blogging revolution taking place. Each week we listen to, and talk to teachers from all over the world. Each week a different teaching challenge is observed and discussed. It has been a phenomenal ride, from the war torn Syria to the very organised Netherlands.

We explored the universal problem of teacher shortages and how a teacher from Malawi understands the issues to the challenges of bilingual teaching in the hondurasall the way to the challenges of including more girls in education in Afghanistan, especially when schools had restrictions and then on to teaching in poverty in Africa.

It is not over yet. We are yet to meet more teachers, and authors all over the world read into their stories and share what struck them most. For me, the universality of the teaching experience despite challenges has been the greatest learning. And the fact that I learn to respect Indian teachers even more – each one of these situations is  reflected in some part of India. There are areas that are strife torn and have been for decades. How do teachers manage over there? Poverty? We have both government and private schools serving extremely poor communities, educating children often with little or no resources. Bilingual teaching is a reality that desperately needs to be acknowledged by Indian examination boards and of course pedagogical processes and textbook authorities. Most classes in the younger years are de facto bilingual and the advantages are well known. Each of these challenges has a different solution in parts of the world. Some specific to the teacher, some systemic.

Sometimes solutions cannot wait for systems. And this week’s story is about one such school and teacher. She is Masammat, and she teaches in a solar floating school in Bangladesh. The school is owned and run by a philanthropic trust and is connected by internet to the rest of the world. Why is it on a boat? Because through a quarter of the year when the monsoon strikes this part of Bangladesh is flooded and children cannot reach school. Simple – if the children cannot come to school, let the school go to them.

Masammat has not received much teacher training but is an experienced teacher and gets support to improve her teaching practice. She teaches class 2, and has ten years of schooling and ten years of teaching experience. She teaches 4 hours a day – each class is 30 students and they do 3 batches a day. The school has 90 students, in three shifts. The boat travels from one village to another to give access to the students. Solar roofs, internet connectivity and monsoon resistant, this school provides education throughout the year to students who would have been left behind otherwise.

As I read her story I wonder – how do the teachers get support? How do they assess themselves and their students. In Massammat’s own words –

“All teachers attend a two-week long orientation training at the beginning of their work here. The training covers the project overview, floating school, curriculum, parents meeting and reporting guidelines. Also, there are day-long refresher training sessions every month. They cover next month’s syllabus and teaching guidelines, parents meeting agenda and extracurricular activities. At the monthly training, we discuss also about the school performance during the previous month, challenges, and required educational materials (we receive primary textbooks – grade 2 to 4 – from Upazila Education Offices of the Bangladesh Government). We also share feedback received from the parents.”

These are students in remote areas who would be left bereft of literacy if such initiatives and private schools did not exist. What is encouraging here is the public private partnership that we see – books coming from the state, the infrastructure from a trust. And the big story here is the technology that meets the gap – there is enough proof from around the world that show how technology in its various forms has helped bridge the last mile problems faced by children and communities in rural areas. Of course it can never be a complete solution to a perfect well trained and passionate teacher but in areas where teachers and teaching equipment is in short supply this goes a long way to bringing basic education to students.

One of the things I do is run a monthly online chat on education issues in India (called #EduIn) – an egalitarian discussion on issues that matter in education. The chat on technology in education had a clear outcome – technology was but a tool, it could never be a substitute for teaching. Yet, its value was immense and blended learning did improve learning outcomes. In remote areas like the place Massamat teaches at there is a more basic requirement for technology to be useful for learning – literacy. As the UNESCO report points out both adults and children need to have the skills necessary to manage information in digital environments. Massamat and her school provide just that first link in a lifelong journey into learning, skills and employability for these students.

(Footnote: India too has some great stories about technology bridging the last mile. Too many to tell here. But the journey has just begun and there are many more who will grow into being denizens, and active citizens in this digital age)

The lesson for us teachers? Time to step up and be included in the digital age, by including technology in what we do. Demand more and better from your providers by telling them what works best in your classroom. Do tell us more – what helped your students learn better?

As for Teacher Tuesday? We still have a few more weeks with great stories from around the world. Join us on twitter for the chat (#teachertuesday) or follow the blogs to learn more about teachers around the world.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
This blog was originally posted in The Times of India.
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