Published in The Kathmandu Post

Support First

Support First, Then Accountability for Teachers

Teacher training and professional development programs should be put in place before accountability

-Niranjan Kunwar

When I heard about the dismal results of the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations a few weeks ago, my first thoughts were, “How are the teachers getting away with this? What is the Ministry of Education doing to schools whose sole task is to make students pass, not fail?”

Thankfully, last week I came across an article in these pages reporting that the Ministry of Education is preparing to announce the names of “poor” and “excellent” teachers in order to make school teachers more accountable. Good, I thought. At least something is being done. If teachers aren’t made accountable for their students’ performance, how can we ensure that they are doing their jobs effectively?

A process of evaluating teachers should be an integral part of an education system. A system with such processes will send a message to schools and teachers that the government values teachers and takes education seriously. If there is no communication from the government’s part, there is no guarantee that teachers are performing well.

However, the issue of teacher accountability itself is not that straightforward. Teachers should be trained and supervised properly before they are made accountable. I wonder whether the District Education Office entrusted with the task of collecting the names of underperforming teachers has taken a holistic approach to the issue. Labeling some teachers “poor” and others “excellent” based solely on SLC results is unfair to teachers. What if some truly dedicated, brilliant teachers get a “poor” evaluation because their students happened to be irresponsible? Worse still, what if the students come from fractured households, or have family members who don’t value education?

The hope of the DEO’s simplistic approach is that “poor” teachers can be shamed into improving SLC results, but classroom education is much more complicated and nuanced than a simple poor/excellent label can possibly measure. Announcing the names of “poor” teachers may be a quick way to outsource responsibility, but training and supporting them throughout their careers is much more effective than a blame game.

I spent eight years in the classrooms of New York City. I know first hand how demanding this profession is, how challenging it is to wake up every day and face students who have different needs and inclinations. “This is an exhausting, draining job,” an education consultant told me during one weekly meeting. She had taught in the same school and was working as part of a teacher support unit. “In order to keep yourself motivated, you have to be hooked in a way that’s meaningful to you.”

In other words, there has to be a bigger reason for teachers to teach effectively. Teaching, by definition, is a form of service. Exemplary teachers find a way to engage themselves both emotionally and intellectually with their students and their jobs. They are driven by a sense of caring and ambition to light a fire in their students’ hearts and minds. Their administration has a responsibility to encourage and instill these traits. It is not an easy task. Shaming them is an awful start to accomplishing it.

One way to raise the quality of teaching in our government schools is to create a system of proper hiring and training teachers, along with attractive salaries and benefits. On top of that, teachers need regular professional development throughout their careers to “hook them” so they remain not only motivated and engaged, but also informed about the latest findings in effective teaching methods.

Days after this news article on teacher accountability, the government published its annual budget. Rs. 80.95 billion has been allocated to the education sector for the upcoming fiscal year, a whopping 15.65 percent of the total budget and a significant increase from last year.

It seems the government is well-aware of the need to improve the quality of education because part of the budget is a plan to provide skill development training to 153,314 teachers across the country this fiscal year. This is definitely an admirable step in the right direction. But I wonder whether the government has plans to not just train teachers but educate them properly before the enter the profession and continue their education once they enter the classroom. In order to raise a successful generation of Nepali youth, it is crucial to develop a body of well-rounded, educated teachers.

Many developed countries require teachers to attend Schools of Education where they learn about various teaching methods and principles. Rato Bangla Foundation and Kathmandu University have recently developed education and teacher training programs that are meeting some of the these needs of our country’s teachers. Furthermore, Rato Bangla Foundation, supported by the Ministry of Education, has created the Dailekh School Project. This Project works with government schools in Dailekh district and actively educates and supports their teachers in order to improve the level of education. It would be highly beneficial for our country if such exemplary education models could be facilitated throughout Nepal.

Some Schools of Education also provide opportunities for research. Professors and education experts visit schools and learn about what practices work and what do not. Then they share their findings with their research team and in turn transfer their knowledge and latest findings to schoolteachers through workshops and seminars.

When I was a new teacher, I was required to meet my trainer every week during the first month so that I had a platform to share the challenges and joys of the job. Later on in the year, I met with education researchers every other month to discuss best practices, learn about their classroom findings and brainstorm ideas to raise the level of student achievement.

It is important to put these models and structures in place. There needs to be a network of school leaders and support staff who visit the classrooms regularly and take notes. Teachers need to be supervised regularly by school leaders and given constructive feedback. This will give teachers an opportunity to reflect on their teaching and revise their lesson plans.

Above all, the government needs to create policies and design curricula that are meaningful to both teachers and students. Providing proper support first and then making teachers accountable will add value to this important job. It is high time we do that.

Niranjan Kunwar holds an M.S.Ed from CUNY and is the Director of Education of Edushala, and education startup based in Kathmandu.

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