Reorienting Teacher Education for Sustainable Development#

A. N. Maheshwari


National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE)

New Delhi-110016

India is a signatory to the Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED) Rio, Brazil, 1992. An important outcome of this Conference was the adoption of the Declaration and Recommendations of the Tbilisi Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education organised by UNESCO and UNEP held in 1977. It was resolved to reorient education towards sustainable development. What is sustainable development and how it can be implemented by using the instrumentality of education was clarified by what is given in the following paragraph:

Education, including formal education, public awareness and training should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. While basic education provides the underpinning for any environmental and development education, the latter needs to be incorporated as an essential part of learning. Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing peopleís attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns. It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. To be effective, environment and development education should deal with the dynamics of both the physical/biological and socio-economic environment and human (which may include spiritual) development, should be integrated in all disciplines, and should employ formal and non-formal methods and effective means of communication.

Recognising that countries, regional and international organisation will develop their own priorities and schedules for implementation in accordance with their needs, policies and programmes, the following objectives were proposed:

  1. To strive to ensure universal access to basic education, and to achieve primary education for at least 80 percent of girls and 80 percent of boys of primary school age through formal schooling or non-formal education and to reduce the adult illiteracy rate to at least half of its 1990 level. Efforts should focus on reducing the high illiteracy levels and redressing the lack of basic education among women and should bring their literacy levels into line with those of men;
  2. To achieve environmental and development awareness in all sectors of society on a worldwide scale as soon as possible;
  3. To strive to achieve the accessibility of environmental and developmental education, linked to social education, from primary school age through adulthood to all groups of people;
  4. To promote integration of environment and development concepts, including demography, in all educational programmes, in particular the analysis of the causes of major environment and development issues in a local context, drawing on the best available scientific evidence and other appropriate sources of knowledge, and giving special emphasis to the further training of decision makers at all levels.

Although school textbooks of languages, science and social sciences, which were written after the National Policy on Education (1986/1992), contained environmental concerns, the teaching by and large has been bookish and the above objectives have remained elusive. The problem can be traced to the teacher education programmes. In a vast country like India the teacher education till very recently had remained unregulated. In order to appreciate the role of teachers in reorienting education towards sustainable development it is necessary to understand teacher education system in the country.

The pre-service teacher education programmes in India are tied up with common structure of school education. The school structure comprises of 8 years of elementary stage followed by 2 years of secondary stage and 2 years of senior secondary stage. Courses of teacher education are, therefore, offered stage-wise.

Teacher education for the elementary stage is being carried out at about 800 institutions, which offer courses of two-year duration and are open to candidates who have passed the senior secondary examination at the end of the 12th year of schooling. As the 32 states/union territories have been determining the profile of their elementary education, certificates of teacher education for the elementary stage issued by the State Departments of Education have as many as 28 different names. Some of the names of elementary teacher certificates are BTC (Basic Teaching Certificate), D.Ed (Diploma in Education), TTC (Teachers' Training Certificate), JBT (Junior Basic Training), and there are many others.

Teacher education for the secondary stage is being carried out at about 900 institutions. The course commonly called B.Ed (Bachelor of Education) is generally of one-year duration and is open to graduates. Affiliating universities, which also determine the curriculum, award the B.Ed degree. As there are more than 200 universities in the country, the course contents of teacher education programmes for the secondary teachers though appear similar but are generally different. It should, therefore, only be expected that teacher education programmes in the country have wide diversity. In such a scenario some unifying structure to teacher education could be introduced after August 1995 with the setting up of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).

In this article urgency of reorienting of teacher education for sustainable development is made out by first highlighting that the life on Earth is under threat and what can be achieved through a paradigm shift in teacher education. The common impression about teacher education is that it has remained unchanged for a very long time and is not found relevant to the citizenry now required in the national and also the global contexts. The principal concern of the humankind now is that Earth has come under threat because of the lifestyles of its six billion human inhabitants.

Plants and animals provide the food that sustains human life. The earth and all its living organisms supply all the raw materials for human activities. Through economic activities natural and physical resources are converted into products and services which have more direct and immediate utilitarian value. Invariably, fall out of human activities have been contamination of environment with heavy metals, pollution of natural resources such as lakes, rivers, subsoil water and even the air we breath. As the economic activities have been associated with development, not much attention was given to their effects on the environment, although they have caused havoc in the form of serious illness, damage and death in humans and other biological species. Many of the species that evolved during the long history of Earth have become extinct and many are on the verge of becoming extinct. It is unfortunate that in the name of development and manís selfish pursuit for improving his quality of life grave harm has been caused to the rich biodiversity of Earth. Such wanton actions of human beings are all the more disturbing because life, as is known to us, seems to exist only on the planet Earth and in none of the other planets of the star Sun. Therefore, the blame for this state of affairs is being put squarely on the reckless lifestyles of people in both developing and developed parts of the world. It is certain that unless human activities are regulated so as to ensure sustainable environment, not only interests of other species but also of generations of human beings yet unborn would get harmed. The planet Earth would become increasingly less inhabitable.

In the Brundtland Commissionís report, "Our Common Future", sustainable development has been given the definition "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations". In this context it has become imperative to reorient the thrust of education and that of teacher education towards adoption of a sustainable lifestyle. In operational terms it would require that children when they are at school might have to be made aware of the threat to their life and that of other species because of the environmental degradation, and social inequity and poverty caused by the attitude and conduct of their elders.

Unless every one accepts wholeheartedly the necessity of living in harmony with all forms of life and adopts a lifestyle that will leave the world a better place than what one inherited, the beautiful process of evolution of life on Earth will receive an adverse setback. This can be brought about through the process of teaching-learning of the conventional school subjects such as languages, science and social sciences. Introduction of a separate school subject of environmental studies may not be required. Only teachers have to adopt pedagogy of learning through thinking. It is a process of learning in which learners construct their own knowledge by asking questions, problem solving and taking decisions based on their own judgement. Learning of topics such as the natural world, effects of human activities on environment and trends in population growth etc. should not be allowed to get reduced to mere bookish knowledge for passing tests. Instead through understanding, children may be helped in internalising the concern for adoption of a sustainable lifestyle.

In Chapter IV A of the Constitution of India, Article 51A gives the Fundamental Duties of citizens. One of the Fundamental Duties is "to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wild life and to have compassion for living creatures". Fortunately, in the school curricula although environmental science has not been made a separate school subject, yet its concerns permeate appropriately at all stages of school curriculum. School textbooks of languages, science and social science contain environment concepts. The NCERT study on Environment in School Curriculum has shown that environmental concerns have been introduced sequentially from local to global in its textbooks of the primary and upper-primary stages. Also, the Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research, Pune has confirmed the NCERT findings. This institute took up a research study on status of infusion of environment concepts in school curricula, a part of the India Environment Management Capacity Building Project. A content analysis of the science textbooks of standards 1 to 10 of the Maharashtra State has been carried out. From the matrix that has been constructed it comes out clearly that by and large textbooks contain prominent environment related concerns. A detailed scrutiny of these textbooks has brought out that treatment of concepts can be improved by contextualising the learning materials and by using the everyday use vocabulary instead of unfamiliar scientific and technical terms and by improving illustrations.

Where we lose out is that in spite of the constitutional concern, in reality, the teaching-learning tends to be mechanical. Reasons for it are not hard to understand. Only a few teachers know in letter and spirit what is expected of them to teach how to teach that. The end result is that instead of ensuring learning through thinking their pupils memorise questions and answers.

This state of affairs can be attributed to mismatch between what is learnt by would-be teachers at the stage preceding their teacher education and what is expected as prerequisite by the teacher education curriculum, which gets compounded because of inadequacies in their teachers who prepare them for the teaching profession.

It has already been mentioned that although school curricula have undergone several changes during the past 25 years, the curricula of teacher education have remained practically static. Also, teacher educators have seldom been given in-service support and they have remained insulated in their own world. This isolation is perhaps because there are few programmes directly addressed to preparing professionals for stage specific teacher education. Many persons end up becoming teacher educators more because of their circumstances and rarely because they exercised a prior option for entering into the career of teacher education.

How can this impasse be broken? To achieve it, concerted efforts may have to be made at several levels of formal education. The first step will be to identify profiles of teachers for different stages of school education for achieving the curriculum objectives effectively. Also, if teachers have to assume their changed role of facilitators and promoters of learning through thinking, responsibility of assessment of their students will have to be shifted from the system of common public examinations to making it the direct concern of the teacher. This is necessary for breaking away from the mindset that the principal objective of teaching is to coach students for performing well in public examinations and entrance tests for admission to professional courses. It is a common knowledge that all such assessments generally test speed of recalling facts and answering questions as per the pattern known to examinees in advance.

Let us assume that this radical shift in schooling process will take place, though gradually. The changed role of teachers will determine the stage specific profiles of teachers. The next step will be to design suitable curricula for teacher education courses for preparing teachers as per the identified profiles. The logical implication of such a bold step on teacher education will be that curricula of teacher education programmes will now be determined by the requirement of the changed concerns of schooling. It should not cause surprise if the desired content and process of teacher education are found not to resemble much with what is familiar to most of us.

After taking care of these steps pertaining to curriculum renovation, the next challenge will be to prepare a cadre of professionals who can take care of the new curricula of teacher education. It will be crucial that all the steps described above are inter-linked by agencies that generally work in isolation. The universities will be expected to give a fresh look to their M.Ed programme and give it a professional status. Different M.Ed courses for preparing teacher educators for different stages of school education will have to be designed and offered by the universities and their affiliated colleges. These courses could be M.Ed (elementary) for preparing teacher educators for elementary teacher education institutions, M.Ed (secondary) for preparing teacher educators for secondary teacher education institutions and M.Ed (physical education) for preparing teacher educators for institutions engaged in preparation of physical education teachers, etc.

The programme outlined above may take some time in coming into place. We cannot wait until this happens. Strategies for supporting 4.6 million teachers who are in service have to be worked out. Also, there are about 30,000 teacher educators in the country who are involved in pre-service education of teachers. They will have to be given support for reorienting pre-service education for preparing such teachers as will be able to make their pupils appreciate the concern of sustainable development and influence their lifestyle.

Is the inertia of the system so daunting that it will deter attempts for changing it? Initiatives that can overcome the inertia and that can influence the school system in the right direction have to be found. A possible way out perhaps lies in using the advanced information and communication technologies in all facets of school education. By electronic packaging of learning resources for offline access and using online networks it may be possible to reach out to even to those teachers who have remained unreached so far. This is where experts have to come in. They may take up projects for developing software for self-learning of environment concepts. Software will have to be prepared for each school stage and made available in regional languages.

The NCTE is going to launch a major initiative called "Teacher Support". The backbone of this project is the appreciation that what we want the entire school system to do are already being carried out by a vast number of gifted teachers. The NCTE has planned to tap good classroom practices and make them available to teachers and teacher educators.

I will like to close this article with the hope that fires of talent which are simmering in the length and breadth of our country as they occasionally become visible in the form of creative performances of our students and teachers now need to be stoked by the vast pool of talent in our teachers. The glow of knowledge will show the direction for using the resources of our planet in providing a better quality of life to each person and at the same time leaving the world in a better condition than ever before.