We Created A Teaching Code With Human Touch

Bobby Abrol, Lead – Developing Teachers, Tata Trusts, describes how the novel way of training teachers is benefitting education, especially students

Bobby Abrol has been working in the education sector for over a decade. Starting as a teacher, Abrol went on to become an expert in teacher education, curriculum development and research. Finding a gap in the training programmes available for teachers while they are working, Abrol intends to improve the learning experience for teachers everywhere and find new ways to train educators across the country.

In her current role, she is a design team member of the education portfolio at Tata Trusts. She has developed and implemented a two-month ‘Experiential Learning Pedagogy Course’ for teachers in partnership with the Central Government. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

What motivated you to start the Experiential Learning Pedagogy Course for teachers in partnership with the Central Government and how is it going right now?

It all started back in 2019, when the then CBSE Chairperson, Anita Karwal, invited Tata Trusts to discuss the idea of experiential learning, a forward-looking pedagogy, to teach in class. Accordingly, we at Tata Trusts developed a very simpler course to sensitise CBSE school teachers towards pedagogy, training educators across the country. So, this is how Tata Group started developing teachers which gave birth to the first version of this course in 2020 in partnership with the government of India. The programme was run on the Diksha platform, the centre’s platform and purely an online version of the course. Today this course is recognised as one of the most popular courses and teachers are enrolling in great numbers and earning certificates on their merits. According to our estimated statistics, this course has already benefitted nearly 3,00,000 teachers in this CBSE ecosystem. 

But the year 2020 motivated us to take this further in an advanced manner. Even though we had an amazing number of admissions, our aim was to develop a pedagogy that makes sense to a teacher by providing insightful interaction and engagement leading which CBSE connected us with the Ministry of Tribal Affair. For us, the word ‘advance’ clearly represents our motto - more interaction and more engagement and no more just an online course.

How was the programme initially planned and what are the developments over the years?

Initially, the core structure of the programme was video-based with specifically designed videos to train novice teachers. So, to give them real-life learning experiences we took honest efforts and shot videos in physical classrooms. Later, our second version was developed with webinars and other possibilities for community engagement. While the first version was purely one-sided, our second version is not restricted to this old practice and is much about interactive. 

Please explain the second version of your course in detail.

The second version included three modules and an interactive webinar after every module. The webinar is supported by the Mahatma Gandhi International School, which is our partner organisation. The faculty from the school engages with the teachers on a specific aspect of experiential learning. Then we have a help desk webinar for teachers to open up about their learning difficulties and queries. On the whole, we created a teaching code with human touch as teaching is not always one-sided and our specially designed webinars helped and gave the traditional teaching touch to the course. So, we successfully made a major difference by providing engaging interaction, as teaching is a practice-based profession that requires lots of training and learning.

How is this second version of the course different from the initial teaching practices?

I strongly feel teaching is like journaling. It’s a record of your thoughts, observations, ideas, etc. So, a one-time workshop or training while achieving a teaching degree is not enough for the teachers; they need to upgrade with time. And the recent discourse in teacher’s training also strongly suggests that a teaching professional requires training in assessment to cross some mental barriers to practise a different teaching process. It’s about implementing a new way of imparting education and our newer version is rightly doing that, we are not only teaching how to manage a classroom but also concentrating on teaching the management techniques like kids’ seating arrangements that further actively enhances kids learning. We even focus on training the pedagogues with the instruction techniques. It’s about getting the studies or learnings done from the kids. This is the large gap that we at Tata Group are trying to fill because teachers’ job is not a one-time training; it’s a continuous learning process. We label it as Continuous Professional Development (CPD), a two-month course focussing on consistent engagement on a pedagogy.

You have mentioned the help desk along with your teaching course. Do the learning teachers discuss their loopholes or difficulties on this available platform? What are the common issues that stood out, especially for you?

To begin with, teachers are not quite comfortable discussing their teaching practices or the issues related to it; they consider it personal and concentrate more on technical issues, which are important and needs improvement but discussing the personal issues is also must. The teaching technique needs more attention because nobody actually concentrated on this space and we with our webinar are addressing the same. Initially when we started teachers didn’t discuss their teaching issues; it took time for them to developed faith us. The common difficulties raised were about completing the syllabus and regarding practical-based learning.

What kind of training do you give to teachers who are under the burden of completing the heavy syllabus in two to three months?

Yes, most teaching professionals are stressed by the heavy syllabus and the allotted time for its completion. To overcome this, we train our students in interdisciplinary techniques. In simple terms, we train them to develop a big lesson plan with different subject teachers, a plan that includes continuous teaching for 3-4 days, helping in the completion of the syllabus. Further, we also make teachers understand the importance of concentrating on the actual syllabus. It’s often observed these mentors lose direction and carry the unfinished syllabus burden. Subsequently, we make sure to build confidence among our learners, so that no matter how big or short the syllabus is our trainees stand out confidently and complete their teaching in time.

Generally, everyone blames teachers if the students’ score less in examinations. How do you train your trainees to surpass such pressure?

Changing the system is more important here. Training one or two teachers with pedagogy courses is not enough; it’s important to train every teacher. Teachers trained in new teaching techniques will help to have a disciplined class as they are capable of controlling the class confidently. Moreover, to develop more educational reforms we are introducing our teaching programme with three more modules, so in all, it will be a full fledge six-module webinar for developing confident future mentors.

What has been the feedback from your alumni regarding the programme?

Our second version of the course was registered with 500 trainees, taking feedback from each and everyone is not possible, but recently when I visited the schools where our alumni teach in Tripura and Maharashtra, I personally noticed the rise in the teaching bar. Also, when I had an interaction with school kids, they highlighted learning probability lesson in maths is fun now and their teacher is a completely new mentor with interesting teaching methodologies. So, this token of appreciation is huge.

Your course focusses on experimental learning, what does it mean to learn from experience and why is the ministry interested in this initiative?

Experimental learning is associated with the child and has a connection with their life. Also, it doesn’t restrict teaching and learning to sitting at the bench and just listening to teachers; it includes how the child is physically involved in the whole teaching process. Most importantly, it is 21st-century-based learning wherein the focus is on skill-based lessons. The ministry is interested in this new teaching practice because it is developing the children for good and most of the CBSE schools had already brought it into practice.

Please explain your collaboration other than Ministry of Tribal Affairs that you are currently working with?

Currently our collaboration with Ministry of Tribal Affair also includes Tata Trust School, Mahatma Gandhi International School, Ahmedabad and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Our partners are playing a significant role in our journey. It has been a three-and-a-half years of working together. We are now concentrating to refurbish our course based on our own learning and reflection from past in order to attract more partnership from the government.

What is your personal philosophy on education and what inspired you to adapt teacher-training right after your XIIth grade exams?

Since I am into teachers training, my educational philosophy is, ‘You cannot tell a teacher what to do in class, the teacher has to get it done itself’. So basically, it needs to be done by teachers themselves for their professional development. My mother was the biggest inspiration behind me; she made me choose teacher’s training as a career, she pushed me to give an entrance exam right after my XIIth class and my journey started. I did four years of integrated teacher education course from Delhi University and this opened a broad door for all my career opportunities, further I did my PHD in teachers’ education, have also worked as a researcher and I have developed the curriculum. So, education is something I have explored a lot, tried my hands in every aspect of teaching and today I am experienced enough to quote how vast the educational field is.

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