In recent years innovation in technology has compressed the world into a pocket-sized edition with everything at our finger tips. Several publishing houses have undergone a paradigm shift, offering a tsunami of e-books on every topic. Given our digital accessibility, the question arises, why would we want to burden our children with big trolley bags, full of books, when all the information is already available at the click of a mouse? Also with modern pedagogical practices such as flipped classrooms and project-based learning, a single textbook is barely sufficient to prepare students with the relevant skill-sets to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.
All this means that our schools should be gravitating towards the 21st century education, one that is embedded with science and technology. Here the teacher becomes the initiator of the education process, facilitating the creative assimilation of knowledge. But that is not the case in all places.
Today the very foundation of the teaching profession is being questioned due to two significant trends. The first is the lowering of the quality of education. A combination of demographic, social and economic factors have led to accelerating growth in the school population. It has been estimated that globally 69 million new teachers are needed to provide quality universal primary and secondary education by 2030, the deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the UN General Assembly. This has led to a massive recruitment of teaching staff. In many countries, this recruitment has been carried out with very limited resources and qualified candidates have not always been available. As a result, the quality of education has deteriorated and the standing of teachers has gone down.
Hard to retain talent
An additional element contributing to the crisis is the low salaries paid to teachers. In several countries, teachers’ pay is over fifty per cent less than that of other professions requiring a similar level of training. Clearly, this makes it difficult to attract and retain the best qualified and most motivated talent.
Owing to a lack of adequate resources in some countries, the working conditions of teachers are also difficult. Crowded classrooms that are ill-equipped and shortage of teaching materials is often the case in developing countries. Deterioration in the quality of education is thus inevitable, with all the harmful effects on pupils.
Secondly, at the turn of the new millennium, IT and education reform agendas were adopted in the industrialised world for a much needed paradigm shift “from a largely textbook based, teacher-centred approach” to a more “interactive and learner-centred” approach. These reform agendas were all concerned with the adoption and use of IT in schools to increase learning opportunities and student motivation.
Change in educational culture
However stringent curriculum requirements, 40 minute lessons and examination pressures gave little time to try out new ideas. The teachers often felt burdened by the ‘overfilled’ curriculum and believed that there must be a national imperative to change the curriculum before they could be expected to explore and adopt new ways of working. Most of them felt that their priority was to ensure that their students attained the academic level required to gain a good passing grade in the existing examination system. The current examination system also encouraged rote learning from Grade 1 to 4 in primary school.
Educational institutions need to invest hugely in curriculum mapping that addresses the need of today’s student and create an outcome driven curriculum where teacher and learner standards are in place. Only then can we do away with textbooks from the Asian classrooms.
There was a general agreement that unless the examination system was changed, teachers would be under considerable pressure from external agencies — the community, parents and students as well as internal agencies — the principal and management to focus on helping students achieve good examination results. These findings suggest that a shift to learner centred approaches to teaching and learning is dependent not on the introduction of IT but on changing the curriculum and the exam-oriented educational culture that still exists in many Asian schools.
Studies into successful IT adoption in schools tell us that teachers need considerable additional support to make significant changes in their roles and pedagogic work practices and that IT by itself plays a very minor role in transforming teachers and teaching approaches in schools.
Change is a dynamic process and needs to be handled with care. Modern education, with its focus on learning rather than teaching, is definitely a step in the right direction, but the repertoire of change needs to be well planned. Textbook driven education needs to change, but the process must be gradual. Teachers need a standardised curriculum that ensures minimum levels of learning for each grade level. Teachers also need quality professional development programmes to gear them for activity and inquiry based teaching-learning strategies. Educational institutions need to invest hugely in curriculum mapping that addresses the need of today’s student and create an outcome driven curriculum where teacher and learner standards are in place. Only then can we do away with textbooks from the Asian classrooms.
It will take huge courage to cut through the morass of complexity and the deadwood accumulated over the last 70 years. If the schools have to move in the direction of textbook-free classrooms, the following measures need to be followed:
* Curriculum mapping and learning standards to be defined without any ambiguity
* Clear visibility on teacher and learner standards
* Core competencies and skill sets of teachers to be identified
* Complete shift in pedagogy and methodology
* Integration of ICT in teaching and learning
Till the objective of textbook-free classrooms is fully achieved, teachers, I am afraid, will continue to depend on textbooks.
— Dr Farooq Wasil is a noted educationist and author. He is the global head, low-cost schools, GEMS Education, Dubai.