Back to school — Republica

Teacher training in Nepal
We all remember our teachers from school. Some more than others. We recall fondly those who inspired us every step of the way and with vestigial trepidation those who sent a chill down our spine every time we failed to submit an assignment on time. But although the fear instilled by the latter breed of cane-wielding teachers make them hard to forget, they would also have scarred many of us for life, so much so that the word teacher is stripped of all its positive connotations. But in due course, we also learn that the people who were quick on the cane were never teachers in true sense of the term. For real teachers inspire their students to achieve great things through their forceful words and deeds. Their strength is the fervor they have for the teaching profession and the zeal to see their students succeed in their lives. It is the achievement of these real teachers that the World Teachers’ Day celebrates every October 5.   

But the tragedy is that truly inspirational teachers are rare in the Nepali education system, even more so in the public education system. No wonder. Thirty percent of our secondary school teachers don’t have the basic training for the job. There are other structural mitigating factors at play as well. It is hard to tend to student needs in crowded classrooms. Nepal has an average of one teacher for 42 students at the basic level (1-8 grade), one for 60 students at the lower secondary level (9-10 grade) and one for 31 students at the higher secondary level (grade 11-12). Ideally, the teacher student ratio should be under 1:20 for optimal classroom outcomes. Better gender mix of teachers would also help. Although there is a provision for at least 33 percent female teachers, women constitute only 14 percent schoolteachers in Nepal. Good lady teachers who are role models for their students, it is safe to assume, will inspire more women to take up the noble profession.
The government authorities blame teachers for the failure of community schools —there are more than 8,000 of them in Nepal—to achieve good results. The teachers criticize the government for its reluctance to address even their genuine grievances. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The government has made umpteen promises to teachers, but failed to act on most of them; many teachers, in the absence of proper monitoring and a workable system of reward and punishment, are more involved in political activities than teaching. A good teacher can inspire her student for life. The good news is that good teaching skills can be learned. A 2007 study of the world’s best school systems concluded that all high-performing systems such as Finland, Japan, Singapore and Korea had made the quality of teaching their top priority, with comparatively less focus on structural issues. Similarly, the top two priorities for raising school standards were found to be getting the right people to become teachers and developing them into effective instructors. Research also shows that pupils taught by those rated as the best teachers would learn twice as fast as average, and vice-versa. Structural improvements are desirable, no doubt. But primarily, the focus has to be on right training for teachers.


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