Policies are presumed to be the outcome of comprehensive incisive analysis of the situation, expectations and aspirations of the generations ahead, and a realistic evaluation of the competence, commitment and capacity of those likely to be entrusted with its implementation. As India completes a year of the National Education Policy (NEP-2020), it realises how practically every sector had its priorities severely shaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, and education is no exception. As the tensions and pressures of institutional closures, home confinement and uncertainty about examinations and evaluation increase, the education systems both at the Centre and State level rose to the occasion. Teachers took to online teaching and learning, reviving their self-learning initiatives, shaking off reservations towards the virtual mode of learning and preparing new-age education materials. In the use of emerging communication technologies, India must have moved in last one year what usually it would have attained in not less than five years. Teacher — at the personal as well as collective level — showed considerable connect and empathy with learners who were not fortunate enough to have access to required gadgets. It also must not be forgotten that a huge number of teachers were drafted to perform — as is the usual pattern — other duties like door-to-door Corona survey, besides elections to Assemblies and panchayats. Thousands of them lost their lives on duty! At every level, India lost its teachers, intellectuals and academics to the pandemic. This loss is irreparable, but attempts must be made to repair the damage.

The NEP-2020 contains a ray of hope as it makes some bold statements on teachers, acknowledging that their education is vital in “creating a pool of school teachers that will shape the next generation”. Teacher preparation must be reshaped to a basket of activities that require “multidisciplinary perspectives and knowledge, formation of disposition and values, and development of practice under the best mentors”. It makes a very comprehensive, dynamic and encouraging assertion: “The teacher must be at the centre of fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. The new policy must help recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession by ensuring livelihood, respect, dignity and autonomy, while also instilling in the system basic methods of quality control and accountability.” This statement of intent practically covers all the requirements which, if attended to substantially in the implementation phase, could transform Indian education in its most vital and significant components: quality, creativity, character-building and personality development. As India enters the ICT-dominated phase in which blended learning is to be universally accepted and upgraded, the challenges before the teacher and the system responsible for preparing them are numerous.

The sincerity of purpose becomes clear when a reference is made at the policy level to the Justice JS Verma Committee report, constituted by the Supreme Court to look into various aspects of teacher education, including the functioning of the statutory body supposed to take all necessary steps to prevent commercialisation of teacher education (NCTE). Everyone associated with Indian education system was already familiar with the NCTE’s failure in preventing uncalled-for expansion and corruption in teacher education institutions (TEIs). The Verma Committee courageously brought it on record and it has been reproduced in NEP-2020: “A majority of standalone TEIs — over 10,000 in number — are not even attempting serious teacher education but are essentially selling degrees for a price.”

When this observation by a former Chief Justice of India made in 2012 is reproduced in 2020, one would like to mention it from personal awareness that all of these “more than 10,000 TEIs” have continued their activities without any hitch or hesitation. A total transformation in approach, work culture and ethical stringency is the prime requirement of the regulatory mechanism, and it has to be brought about at the earliest. On the professional side, the acceptance at policy level of preparing future teachers only through the four-year integrated courses by 2030 is one of major transformative indication.

India has several serious issues and concerns in education that require immediate attention. Vaccination of all learners before school opening must get priority. Over the last two-three decades, the school system has suffered greatly because of inordinate delays in teacher recruitment which is the responsibility of State Governments. It would be a tough job to set things on the right track in a short span but there is no alternative than to give every child professionally equipped teacher, in the prescribed teacher-taught ratio, and a congenial environment in which basic facilities are available. Some of the decision-makers may be more familiar with prestigious high-fee charging, astonishingly referred to as “public schools”, and may not think beyond them.

The use of ICT is welcome, necessary and, without doubt, very fruitful. Everyone would be happy when each child gets uninterrupted access to it. Knowledge and skills are necessary but these alone are not sufficient. Teachers have also to accept their role as the torch-bearers of morality, empathy, compassion and character formation. One hopes the nation trusts them and finds that “trust begets trust”.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Daily Pioneer. The original article can be found at https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/columnists/act-fast-to-reshape-teacher-preparation.html)