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Informed teachers key to successful learning

Teachers need to figure out what the problems and breakdown points are for students who are not performing adequately.


As a parent and a mainstream educator who later also trained to become a practitioner of special education, I was particularly pleased when I saw the film Taare Zameen Par. This film succeeded in showing that a model based on rote-learning and drilling of facts and skills may work for some students, yet leave behind many more.

The film is thought provoking in more ways than one. Unfortunately, an educational system that does not adequately invest in sophisticated and knowledgeable teacher training imposes a disturbing toll – on students. There is ample evidence universally that the key to better schools and successful learning is better teachers. Teachers clearly have a profound impact on student learning. Teachers need to be trained to reach diverse learners. For the most vulnerable students, well prepared and strong teachers are a must. In other words, teachers need to be skilled to reach ‘all’ learners, including those who may be perceived as ‘slow’ but whose capacity to absorb knowledge and keenness of mind may well be high – just that these students have physical needs.

I believe that our current teacher training programmes are weak. These programmes are out of touch with established practical knowledge and with the rapidly developing field of neuroscience of learning. This is the reason that teachers frequently end up blaming students for their own lack of skills. If we want teachers who can meet the challenges of reaching a diverse student body, we must start with strong teacher education programmes that equip teachers to help all learners.

Human diversity and cognitive complexity suggest that we cannot achieve leaning through a standardised approach to learning. Students will end up with uneven achievement if teachers assume a single – and routine – pace and mode of learning. Students who start at different points of knowledge absorption and learn in different ways are needlessly humiliated.

Of course, if all students pursued an identical path to understanding, learning could easily be achieved by designing the perfect curriculum. But alas, our individual differences do not allow a uniform approach for successful learning.

John Dewey, legendary American educator, noted that the better prepared teachers are, the more their practice becomes differentiated in response to individual students, rather than routinised. Teachers need to figure out what the problems and breakdown points are for students who are not performing adequately. The innovative teacher should be able to adapt materials and teaching strategies.

Preparing teachers who learn for teaching, as well as learn from teaching is a key challenge for teacher education today. India demands no less of its teachers if our nation is to develop more productive citizens for tomorrow.

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