The Union government’s new plan for teacher training has been criticised by educationists who are wary of the emphasis the Centre is placing on it. The plan proposes to combine a regular bachelor’s degree in a general discipline and the postgraduate Bachelor of Education programme in a four-year undergraduate course. Announced last year, the integrated plan will allow students straight out of school to enrol for it, with the same framework being used to train teachers for all school classes – junior and senior.

Thus far, training for elementary (till Class 8) and secondary (from Class 9) teaching has been delivered by separate programmes and institutions. This includes the BEd, a two-year postgraduate programme for teaching higher classes. In the government’s view, the integrated programme – at one point, intended to replace all others – would streamline the process. It even featured in the 2018 budget speech.

Educationists have, however, cautioned against treating this integrated programme as the only or even the primary way of recruiting people to teaching. For instance, Padma Sarangapani of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who led a team that drafted the first framework for the integrated programme, has grave misgivings about the emphasis being laid on it and considers it “misguided”.

The misgivings are over the fact that students of the integrated programme must decide they want to teach right after leaving school themselves. And students who want to be “subject teachers” in the higher classes must decide they want to teach a subject before even studying that subject in detail themselves.

“People who decide to be teachers must be mature individuals,” said Sarangapani. “You should have your undergraduate degree in science and then decide to be a science teacher. The pathways to teaching should be very open and diverse. After graduating in a subject, you are in a much better position to know you are passionate about it and want to teach it.”

Despite the questions, the plan was alive and well at least till November 20 when the National Council for Teacher Education, the government regulator for teacher education, issued a set of norms and standards for the new four-year integrated programme. It invited applications from institutions interested in running it and planned a workshop to introduce them to the programme on December 7. But the entire process has now been put on hold, pending “further consultation” with the Minister for Human Resource Development, Prakash Javadekar, said an official involved in the process but not authorised to speak to the media. He said that Javadekar has reservations about the land and infrastructure norms set for the programme.

The old and the new

The integrated programme is not the first four-year combination of a BA or BSc with a BEd in India. Four Regional Institutes of Education – constituted by the National Council for Educational Research and Training – in Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar and Mysore, have run a four-year integrated programme for about four decades. Private institutions in some states have offered these courses as well.

The National Council for Teacher Education had set standards for them in 2014, including a curriculum framework for the BEd part of the programmes. Plus, some universities, including Ambedkar University, Delhi, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, had had designed integrated programmes of their own before the November 20 regulations of the National Council for Teacher Education arrived.

But the earlier set of integrated programmes and the new programme differ in several respects. The existing BA-BEd or BSc-BEd programmes train teachers only for secondary classes or Class 9 and beyond. The proposed one allows for two programmes – one for pre-primary and primary (nursery to Class 5) and another for upper-primary to secondary (Class 6 and above).

Atul Mathur from the Rishi Valley Education Centre, who was part of the team that drafted the first cut of the curriculum for the new integrated programme, said that it gives equal importance to pre-primary, primary and secondary teaching. (The first draft of the curriculum was prepared with the support of Tata Trusts – the philanthropic branch of Tata Sons – and was ready in April. It has undergone several revisions since.) But this may not translate into teaching talent being distributed equally. Sarangapani pointed out that students with the highest marks will pick secondary school teaching simply because these teachers are paid the highest salaries.

The Regional Institutes are affiliated to state universities. For the Bachelor of Arts or Sciences component of the integrated programme they offer, they teach the existing syllabus of the universities. “It [the course] amounts to three years of an undergraduate degree and one year of BEd,” said an educationist with Delhi University. The new programme, however, merges teaching of the discipline with teaching of pedagogy specific to it. For instance, it will teach science as well as how to teach science and it is not clear how it will relate to full-fledged undergraduate programmes in sciences, arts and humanities that the institution already offers.

However, the ministry official said that the curriculum will include enough discipline-related content – or credits – to meet the University Grants Commission’s requirements for grant of a degree in that discipline.

He also argued that new regulations make the programme “more practicable”. They permit the appointment of part-time teachers for subjects such as fine arts and physical education. For the “liberal discipline and pedagogy” part, they allow candidates with a postgraduate degree in the discipline and a BEd to teach. Earlier, such candidates required a Master’s degree in education or an MEd.

The official said that the new land norms specified in the November 20 regulations had halted the process. The course can be run only in “composite institutions” offering both undergraduate programmes in general disciplines and diplomas or degrees in education. For recognition, the regulations require existing institutions to “increase the land area” by 500 sq m of which 400 sq m must be built-up. The regulations permit the sharing of both staff and infrastructure with other departments.

“We thought this was the bare minimum required to run an education institution,” said the official. “But the minister probably thought it could have been easier than what was prescribed. There may be institutions in places like Mumbai and Delhi that are already running some programmes that are finding it difficult to find land.”

Other misgivings

The new regulations have been issued without a curriculum framework. A “suggestive curriculum” will be shared as part of the recognition process, said the official. As a teacher from Ambedkar University pointed out, institutions were expected to sign up for the new programme without a clear idea of how it is structured and what relationship it would have to the general discipline component.

Further, the qualifications required for the staff are not appropriate for the levels they will train teachers for. For instance, the Delhi University academic pointed out that the faculty for the pre-primary and primary level programme are required to possess BEd degrees even though “BEd does not prepare you for primary or pre-primary teaching”.

The National Council for Teacher Education has specified qualifications also for faculty members teaching general disciplines and the “suggested curriculum” includes recommendations for these disciplines as well. These, Sarangapani believes, ought to have been left to the university departments to figure out and teach. “The science department should teach the science courses and the education department, the education ones,” she said. “Universities must decide how to do this, set eligibility conditions for faculty and frame their own curricula otherwise you will have a second-class version of maths, physics and the rest, which is taught to education students.”