Vision for Teacher Education for a New India

A.N. Maheshwari


National Council for Teacher Education

New Delhi

Presented at the Conference " A New Education for a New India: Integral Education" organised by the Gnostic Centre, New Delhi, from

2nd to 5th November 2000


It is indeed a privilege to share with the participants of the Conference, "New Education for a New India," – a vision for teacher education.

The participants of this Conference among others are teachers, teacher educators and student teachers. As the Chairperson of the National Council for Teacher Education, I am proud to represent all the teachers, teacher educators and student teachers who are attending this conference.

Before I proceed with my vision for teacher education for a new India, it would be appropriate to share first the complexity of teacher education in the country, and the challenge of providing quality school education to the children. India is the second most populated nation in the world. Recently, its population crossed the one billion mark. Every sixth person in the world is an Indian. There are about 300 million children in the school age group. The challenge is to enable them through education for living effectively in a world, which is getting increasingly fragmented between developing and developed countries and is advantageous to those who are literate and are able to cope with life style dominated by advances in science and technology. Recent developments in communication and information technologies have shrunk the planet Earth both in space and time. The world is now a global village. In principle, each person can contact in real time any other person in the world through the Internet. Through satellite communication important events that are taking place on this planet are reaching our homes each day. Therefore, education has to be contextual and at the same time has to have a global perspective as the children would grow up not only into citizens of this country but at the same time will belong to a global society.

The nature of the global society has changed with the information explosion. The world has entered the information age. Rapid changes in science and technology are taking place in the world. Therefore, what would be the nature of the world of work in future has become unpredictable. The children, those who are going to enter the school now, will remain a part of the learning system for at least for the next 12 years, i.e. till the year 2012 and as adults may have to contribute to the world of work for another 35 years. As changes in science and technology are frequent and unpredictable it is not possible to envisage what the nature of occupations will be in the year 2013 and what to say of 2050. We, therefore, cannot anticipate today skills and abilities that children would need for living effectively for their full span of adult life and vocational skills learnt for present occupations will get out of date before long. Therefore, the vocational situation that prevailed during most of the 20th century will not hold now. It would now be necessary that the young persons be prepared right from the beginning as life long learners. Children of today when they grow up will have to continually update themselves with the new technologies and the changing nature of occupations. It is in such a context the emphasis of learning at the school level will require a shift from teacher-centred to being learner-centred. The principal task of teachers will be to enable children with the ability of learning how to learn. For learning how to learn, it would be necessary that teachers recognise the autonomy of learners and reorganise teaching-learning around using human brain for developing thinking skills rather than using the brain for storing information.

The availability of inexpensive devices for storing information has made the use of human brain as a memory device redundant, for now information can be stored at near zero cost and devices that cost as little as fifty rupees can store more than 500,000 pages of information. It may be appreciated that devices such as computers, which have microprocessors for their brains, do not have the ability to think that a human brain has. So the thrust of learning will have to be now on developing in children the ability to think and for making them problem solvers and creative thinkers. The teacher’s role will also shift from that of a person who controls learning in children by pouring information in their brains to that of a person who facilitates their learning by making them think. Each child is endowed with the capacity to construct his/her knowledge. Therefore, pedagogy, which recognises the diversity of learning styles of children and that children have the capacity to construct their knowledge, may have to be learnt by student-teachers in their pre-service courses.

In the visual presentation that we saw yesterday we were reminded of the three principles of true teaching envisaged by Sri Aurobindo in 1909. I recall what you already know. Sri Aurobindo's principles of teaching continue to be missing from the teacher education curricula.

"The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind; he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages them in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him; he shows to him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within, he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface".

"The second principle of teaching is that the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape designed by the parent and teacher is barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is the child who must be induced to expand in accordance in his own nature".

These two principles are more relevant now, as children of today have to live in the information age. These principles recognise the autonomy of learner and that learner has the capacity to learn on his own and can construct his own knowledge. We may have to remould teacher education for preparing such teachers as can prepare life long learners. I remind you that now each person has to adjust to the changing nature of the world of work, which would take place because of new developments in science and technology that cannot be anticipated today.

The changed scenario of teaching- learning that I have described will entail radical changes in teacher education. The teacher education programmes that are followed throughout the length and breath of the country have remained static both in form and content for over 100 years. The pedagogy which was introduced in the later part of the 19th century, relevant to the society then, has continued in its unchanged form not only throughout the 20th century but even today teacher educators follow the same nineteenth century teacher education curriculum, which obviously is no longer relevant. Our student teachers themselves have to be helped in becoming life long learners, and are to be enabled with the ability of learning how to learn. Only such teachers as who know learning how to learn when they will enter teaching profession will be able to recognise diversity of learning needs of children and provide them an environment for their own growth as autonomous learners.

I share next my other concern for changing teaching-learning in schools and the professional programme of teacher education. This is to do with the nature of information. Information is received by human beings through five senses – the sense of seeing, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Information as any one of us receives it is value neutral. As a physicist, I can analyse that information of seeing is carried by Electro-Magnetic waves, which consist of vibrations of electric and magnetic fields. These vibrations when received by our eyes are transmitted as signals to the brain. The response of brain to information that is received by it is determined by its sub-conscious mind. A person may feel happy, threatened or worried by what he sees. A piece of rope when perceived as a snake can cause feeling of fear and a snake when perceived as a piece of rope gives the feeling of dealing with a harmless object.

Similarly, when information is received as voice, it comes in the form of physical changes in the medium that carries the sound waves, which generally is air. It comprises of condensation and rarefaction of density of the medium. The audio information through the eardrums reaches the brain. When an audio information reaches the brain response of a listener to that information is also determined by its sub-conscious mind. A listener may perceive it as music and get a feeling of happiness, or may perceive it as noise and become aggressive or get emotionally disturbed. Different types of reactions to an information have nothing to do with its nature. Information can either be an electromagnetic wave or an acoustic wave or even some molecules that may reach the nose. Information does not carry emotions. It is a common reaction to blame the information for the way an individual reacts to it.

It is possible to change the quality of response to an information by raising the level of sub-conscious mind to a level of higher consciousness. It would, therefore, be important that teachers help children in the development of their consciousness, so that children are able to raise the level of their consciousness from a lower plain to a higher plain and maintain their mental equilibrium in reacting to the information that they receive. The integral education of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is a programme for raising the level of consciousness of a child.

You would appreciate that for helping a child in obtaining most out of life emphasis of teaching-learning at school needs to be shifted from bookish learning to learning experiences for holistic development of mind, body intellect and emotions. In other words the new thrust of schooling process will have to be on helping each child to raise its level of consciousness and for use of mental faculties for both intellectual and emotional growth. So the challenge of teacher education will be to prepare such teachers as can take care of the holistic education of children. This would require a total shift of the teacher education curriculum from its present rigid structure of theoretical foundation courses and courses for learning of pedagogy of teaching various school subjects. It has to be now on preparing teachers who can have a comprehensive view of their role as true gurus who can develop each child’s body, mind, intellect and emotions.

These thoughts take me back once again to the opening paragraph of Sri Aurobindo’s prophetic article, the Human Mind, which he had written in giving vision to a national system of education. Sri Aurobindo had envisaged that teacher’s role would be more subtle and challenging than that of an artist or a sculptor. A teacher, unlike an artist or a sculptor who gives shape only to dead materials like wood or stone, works with an infinitely subtle and sensitive person of a child.

Therefore, summing up, I would say that teacher education if it has to respond to the challenge of building a new India, its curriculum and process of transaction may have to undergo a paradigm shift. The new teacher will recognise the autonomy of the learner, follow the principles of true teaching as laid down by Sri Aurobindo, and use the concept of integral education for raising the consciousness level of the child from lower plains to higher plains.