|The Effectiveness of Teacher Resource Centre Strategy - Education Research Paper No. 34 (DFID, 1999, 257 p.)|
|CHAPTER FOUR : Teachers Centres in Andhra Pradesh, India|
2.1 Visits and methodology
Patrick Wiegand (PW) and Pankaj Jain (PJ) visited Andhra Pradesh on two occasions of two weeks each in 1997-8, after holding planning discussions earlier in Leeds. PW and PJ undertook a shared programme in September 1997 to establish common methodologies and procedures and then undertook separate visits in December 1997 (PJ) and January 1998 (PW) in order to enlarge the possible range of observations.
We held meetings with the director of DPEP and DIET staff at Hyderabad and visited project staff, TCs and schools in Warangal, Karimnagar, Kurnool and Vizianagaram districts.
The limitations of this study should be noted. Time available was too short for a thorough investigation. Our visits to schools and teachers' centres were generally accompanied by education officials and by members of the Village Education Committee. Interviewing was often more public than we would have wished and it was rarely possible to conduct interviews privately. This must have influenced our interviewees' responses but we cannot say to what degree. We worked through the medium of interpreters and could not always rely on precision in translation. We did not select the schools or centres we visited and cannot rely on the representativeness of our sample of centres, schools or teachers. Teachers had had ample notice of our visit in many instances and so the teaching we saw had presumably been specially planned. We suspected that in some cases a previously learned model lesson had been rehearsed for our benefit out of the normal teaching sequence. This may be less problematic in a teaching culture which tends to regard individual lessons as separate units, but this in itself is a factor mitigating against learning as a continuing process, building on prior knowledge.
Nevertheless, we did see, between us, all or part of some 60 lessons and spoke individually or in small groups to approximately 150 teachers.
2.2 Physical condition of schools and TCs
Of the 30 or so schools that we visited, only three had an adequate number of class-rooms to accommodate each of the primary classes independently. In other cases, either more than one class shared the same room or classes were held in the open air or on the verandha. There was no furniture in the classes and children generally sat on the bare floor, which had no matting. The physical separation between children was often of the order of only one foot and the gap between rows barely provided enough space to keep a school bag, which was usually used to support notebook or slate. In some classes, a chair and a table for the teacher was provided. Given the limitations of space, children were sometimes sent home when rain prevented lessons taking place outdoors.
Most schools did not have electric lighting or fan in the classrooms. In a few cases, there was a fan and light connection in a room used by teachers as and office but, because the electricity bill had not been paid (there were no funds for electricity in the school budget) the supply was cut off in many cases. Most schools did not have any toilet facilities, either for boys or girls (and in some cases, for teachers), and the drinking water too was not available in a large majority of schools.
Classrooms in Andhra Pradesh are generally crowded. Children usually sit on the floor and there is little space for school books. Class sizes are large and there is a shortage of classrooms. Classes that must be taught outdoors are cancelled in rainy weather.
The teachers' centres we saw were constructed from brick or concrete and roughcast rendered. The floors were stone or tile and the interior wall plaster was generally sound. Although headteachers reported other parts of the school building where the roof leaked, the rooms used for the teachers' centre were waterproof. Windows were open air, barred with shutters. Overall, the condition of the building or room used was generally satisfactory. Where a school classroom was used it was generally the largest school room and in the best condition. Only one teachers' centre we visited provided staff toilets. Of those centres that had access to electricity supply, only three were still connected. There had apparently been no provision for payment of the electricity bills. All centres had water, obtained via a borewell.
One centre reported theft of all the materials provided by APPEP. There appeared to be no contingency fond to replace materials lost or stolen.
The centres we saw provided accommodation for 25-30 teachers. Although a few centres had wooden benches, most meetings were conducted with the teachers sitting on a large mat or rug on the floor.
The teachers' centres served up to 5 schools, the most distant of which was 8km. Teachers made the journey by bus or cycle or on foot. The longest reported journey was 1.5 hours but most teachers seemed to be able to get to the centre in half to three quarters of and hour. In theory teachers are reimbursed for their travel costs although there had been discontinuity in this arrangement which appeared to account for irregularity of some meetings.
Teachers' Centres in Andhra Pradesh
Teachers' meetings are generally held in one of the better school classrooms. Some centres have benches but for most meetings teachers sit on the floor.
2.3 Teachers' centre resources
The teachers' centre are generally open when the school is open, i.e. usually 6 days per week. As all school times are roughly the same it would not be convenient for a teacher from another school to visit and look at or borrow materials at a centre and there is no mechanism whereby travel cost can be reimbursed other than for the official teachers' meetings. One school kept a log of teacher-made items borrowed. We saw no evidence of any teacher books available for borrowing. Materials are ordered by the secretary and/or assistant secretary with in most cases the approval of the teachers. As and illustration of how far the money might go, an A2 sheet of card costs approx. 2Rs and a similar sized sheet of thermacol (polystyrene) costs about 4Rs. There are no catalogues to order from and materials are either bought in the nearest town (cheaper but with added transport costs) or locally (expensive). The sums involved are small and there is not an established culture of ordering supplies.
We saw no books other than sets of school books which were either used by the teachers' centre school (although we observed very few lessons where texts were actually in use) or which were awaiting collection by nearby schools. There were no books for teachers, method or higher level texts. Each teachers' centre meeting room had a plain blackboard in reasonable condition. We saw the beginnings of some useful wall decoration, for example, telegu letters on a boundary wall, some maps of India or the locality. In a few classrooms there were improving slogans on the wall. One centre had a colour television and VCR. Most materials held at the teachers' centres were made by teachers at their meetings.
Exhibit 3 illustrates a typical range of materials produced. These appear to be characterised by their sameness. Many were modelled on content derived from a seminal training course. The lack of variety was perhaps disappointing in that we were relatively quickly able to predict what we would find in schools and centres and reflects the prescriptive nature of the curriculum. For example, every school we visited had a teacher-made polystyrene heart and lungs visual aid.
Teacher-produced materials include wallcharts, polystyrene models and a few interactive displays.
Only one school had any artwork on display simply for its aesthetic appeal. This was in the form of cut-out friezes from tissue paper. Some Teachers' Centres had commercially made wallcharts. Some medical charts were also observed but these were usually pitched at a level a considerable way beyond the capacity of the children to understand the text. Occasional world maps were to be seen and a very large number of pictures of India's national heroes. 'Low cost. No cost' materials formed one of the most pervasive elements of teachers' centre culture. This slogan was much in evidence at meetings and in discussions with teachers and the materials we saw reflected this philosophy. For example neoprene tubing was used to represent blood vessels in biological models and rubber offcuts from sandals were used in various ways to produce number aids.
There was quite a lot of evidence of classroom learning materials using natural materials. Tamarind seeds, sweet corn kernels, pebbles, etc. were used to trace the outline shapes of letters and numbers. Modelling clay was made from local soil. Some tactile charts showing materials for clothes had been constructed and fruits and vegetables were used for sorting and classifying. The teachers centre room also served as a store for children's work. This deteriorates rapidly in the hot damp climate. Gestetner duplicators had been supplied in some cases but these appeared to have received very little use. In many cases centres still had the original paper allocation, often by now in a poor condition.
Use of natural materials in the classroom.
Natural materials are used for sorting and classifying. Seeds and pebbles are used for tracing the outline of letters in telegu.
2.4 Teachers' centre meetings
The basic principle of teacher training under APPEP is: 'that in-service training is a continuous or ongoing process, rather than a single intervention or a series of one-off interventions. The end-point is the establishment of teachers' centres at which they discuss problems, seek solutions, learn from each other and from resource persons such as Mandal Education Officers, Strong teachers (MRPs), staff from DIETs etc.' (Gopal Krishnan, Teacher training strategy paper)
Under both APPEP and DPEP, it was conceived that each TC would hold six meetings every year. Our review suggested that till 1994, such meetings were held regularly. It has been reported that due to administrative difficulties, the channelization of annual grant of Rs. 2000 was disrupted during the last two years of APPEP in 1995-96. Due to budgetary constraints, it was also difficult for the Government to process the claims of teachers for expenses incurred to attend TC meetings. As a result, TC meetings were not held regularly in 1995-96, but have been resumed in 1997 with the resumption of support under DPEP. Most teachers travelled by bus and on foot. The furthest journey was 8km and the longest 1.5 hours.
The attendance of Government primary teachers at TC meetings has been fairly regular. The teachers of recognized private primary school are also required to attend TC meetings, but their attendance is rare and representational, mostly to satisfy the MEO, who has inspectorial power over them. Attendance at TC meeting is officially mandated for Government teachers, with the school formally closed on the day of TC meeting. An absence from these meetings has to be, therefore, officially recorded. We however noted some cases of absence, and also an administrative arrangement that could contribute to teachers' absence. The dates of TC meetings are typically decided by the MEO, who informs the TC secretary about it. Since the TC secretary has limited support and there are no telephone/telecommunication links with the schools, the information about the TC meeting date sometime does not reach all the schools. This contributes to teachers' absence from TC meetings. Still, the attendance at TC meetings was in the range of around 90%.
Our review also revealed that record of TC meetings were regularly maintained. The minutes of TC meetings suggested that the laid down schedule of day long TC meeting, comprising of model lessons, material display, lesson plan preparation and teaching material preparation, was followed.
Exhibit illustrates a model lesson at a teachers' centre meeting. This was probably the best lesson we observed, the only one with any spark of originality. It used local materials, had its starting point in the local environment, made use of group work and activity based learning.
'The Coconut tree'. A Teachers' Centre model lesson.
The children sang a song they knew about going to the forest and collecting coconuts. Then the teacher took the children outside and asked them to identify about a dozen different plants and trees (each at different stages of growth and including a dead stump). The last was a coconut tree. How high did they think it was? A boy climbed the tree with one end of a tape and they measured its height. Back in the classroom teacher and children read about the characteristics of coconut trees such as where they grow and what they are used for. Complex words from the textbook in Telegu were then compared with their simple, everyday counterparts by matching cards.
The teacher's key question was: 'What can we do with the coconut tree?' In groups children used parts of the tree to: make mats (using the green leaves), rope (using the fibres), sweepers (using dead leaves) and food (by collecting milk and grating the flesh with a grinder). The teacher then expanded on each of these by questioning children about the properties of each of the products, e.g. children described the rope they had made and its properties and uses (it was strong and could be used to tie a bucket to get water from the well). Learning was consolidated by completing a structured summary sheet after which they were required to produce some independent free writing.
After the demonstration lessons, teachers were invited to stand up and give their evaluation of the lesson they had observed. Notes were also written by teachers on the lesson and these were collected by the secretary. No structure was provided for observations and there was no clear indication of what happened to the reports or how the information they contained could be used by participants. The observations made by teachers were generally bland ('the lesson was enjoyable'). In many of our discussions with teachers, few teachers could go beyond a concrete level of lesson analysis that (e.g.) the lesson used no cost/low cost materials.
Teachers views about the usefulness of the centre meetings were generally positive. When asked, they all said they found the meetings helpful although very few could give an example of something they had learned at the meeting that they hadn't hitherto known. Those that did provide an example referred only to the topic in a general way. This may have been because they were too shy or anxious to tell us what they really thought about the meetings or that they are unused to critical reflection. At the end of one meeting some of the women teachers eventually became confident enough to state vigorously that they thought the APPEP principles required too much work and that they only rarely taught in this way. Nevertheless, motivation at meetings appeared generally high. At two separate TC meetings one teacher sang a song about DPEP he had composed and the others joined in the choruses.
Teachers could only say that the TC was of help in a very general way. We found few examples of teachers independently developing principles derived from the TC meetings although several examples of individual lessons replicated or illustrations copied. Teachers' views about the centres were generally positive. When asked, all the teachers we spoke to said they found the meetings helpful although very few could give an example of something they had learned at a recent meeting that they hadn't hitherto known. This may have been because they were too shy or anxious to tell us what they really thought about the meetings or that they are unused to critical reflection.
TC meetings appeared not to have been effective at the level of planning in a time frame longer than one lesson. We found no examples of school staffs working together outside of TC meetings to create materials appropriate to their own situation. It seems to us that mechanisms enabling schools to become self sustaining centres of innovative practice are under-considered.
The role of those providing support to participating teachers needs further consideration. The assistant secretary is elected by the group and in many cases seems more professionally knowledgeable, committed or at least better placed to conduct the meeting than the secretary who is the head (i.e. simply the longest serving teacher) of the host school. MEOs and BRCs showed little sign of active intervention or guidance at the meetings we attended. We suspect that without skilled intervention TC meetings are unlikely to develop professional skill further. We identify an important role for BRCs and MEOs as catalysts to professional development. They need fully to understand the project principles and have a deeper level of understanding than the teachers. Their access to a small discretionary sum to pump prime good local initiatives may be a helpful strategy but this could be set with other difficulties.
2.5 Tracer activities in schools
2.5.1 Providing teacher generated learning activities
At the time of our visits, teachers were grappling with the classroom implications of the Minimum Learning Levels (MLLs). These are primarily expressed in terms of subject content whereas the APPEP 'principles' are characteristics of pedagogy. In theory the two should (and could) mesh together in a complementary way. In practice we found they were perceived as two separate peaks to be scaled. Of the two, the MLLs appeared to be seen as the higher priority. Consequently we were aware of a pre-occupation with content, transmitted in a rather routine and traditional way. This effect was compounded by the definition of MLLs as outline statements which were not greatly added to by teachers. For example we observed a number of lessons dealing with tools people use and local services (such as the post office). The lesson typically consisted of teachers asking children to say what tools were used by several common occupations and perhaps sort or match cards with tools and occupations. It seemed unbelievable to us that the children concerned did not already know which tools matched each occupation and thus the lesson became self-serving rather than deepening the children's understanding of the world. In relation to the Post Office, children might for example have placed first and second class letters, aerograms, telegrams, phone calls, etc. on a graph showing axes representing time and cost in order to determine the nature of the relationship between these two variables and how it could be represented graphically. Instead they simply learned that there were a number of possibilities of communication. In many cases the lessons appeared designed for the teacher's benefit (e.g. smooth organisation, simple steps, tasks that don't involve interruptive questioning) rather than the children's. Again, this characteristic of much education is not confined to the situation in AP.
A notable exception was the use made by teachers in a group of schools meeting at a TC of masks (Exhibit 6).
Using masks in teaching and learning.
S.P. Renukabai, a teacher at Penchikalupadu primary school, near Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, India, had a brilliant idea. If she made masks from cardboard and string the children in her class could use them to perform short plays about animals. Writing the plays themselves would teach the children more about the habits of the animals, what they ate, how they lived and how people use them. S.P. Renukabai's school is a Teachers' Centre. On one day every month a group of 25 teachers from 6 primary schools come to share their ideas and develop classroom materials. S.P. Renukabai taught a model lesson for the other teachers in which the children used masks. Soon all the schools in the cluster had taken up the idea, adapting it to suit their needs.
2.5.2 Promoting learning by doing, discovering and experimenting
Most teaching we observed relied heavily on a formula consisting of teacher talk with recall questions and an oral 'complete the gaps' technique. We had the impression that teaching was pitched at too low a level and that the function of many lessons was to supply definitions of in some way codify knowledge and understanding the children already possessed.
Some lessons contained pseudo or quasi activity. This was often in the form of demonstration to others. For example in a lesson on the senses the teacher demonstrated tasting salt and sugar, smelling naphthalene balls, feeling knocking and pinching etc.
These simple experiments might easily have been adapted for the children to undertake themselves and could be regarded as a lost opportunity for interactive learning. In another lesson, children observed the effect of water pressure on jets of water issuing from a tin pierced with several holes at different heights. The teacher conducted the experiment, there was no questioning or problem solving required by the children. They observed passively and made a copy of a drawing of the experiment.
We saw some evidence of practical work but only one instance of practical work taking place (that described in the coconut tree lesson above). Several children in some classes had made models outside school and brought these in to class. One child for example, the son of a carpenter, had made at home wooden examples of the tools described in a recent lesson.
Tools and materials available for practical work were very limited.
Feedback was generally positive and generous but we suspected that only the most able children were questioned in our presence and perhaps as a rule. In all cases the children were extremely attentive and in many cases showed boundless patience with their teachers.
2.5.3 Developing individual group and whole class work
The basic approach to teaching was almost universally whole class yet groups were established for at least part of the lesson for approximately half of the lessons we observed. A common pattern however was for the teacher to arrange children in heterogeneous groups in order to complete a question or exercise provided on a sheet of card. In most instances, the child who received the card completed the answer or recorded what was required whilst the other children observed. There was no or little interaction. When challenged with the observation that this method of teaching was more expensive (the cost of the card) and involved less intellectual processing by the class (only the group representatives did the work) the teachers almost all responded that these were APPEP principles, without showing any evidence of understanding the underlying rationale for group activity.
We saw much evidence of group work and yet in most cases the activities would have been more effective if the class had been organised for whole class teaching.
Although group (leader) s reported the results of 'group work', in plenary session we saw no instances of reformulation of problems, revisiting tasks at greater depth or levels of understanding. Progression from simple one word completion exercise to answering in sentences was however well established in the ordering of group tasks.
Some teachers involved individual pupils in the lesson in a way similar to 'contestants' in a game show. For example, one boy sorted number chips in ascending order as the others watched. Although limited in the amount of interactivity it involves, this seemed a fairly effective strategy.
Understanding was often consolidated by the teacher writing definitions and examples on the board which the children copied into their notebooks. For example, 'In ascending order, numbers get bigger.. '.etc.
The whole class teaching we observed was sometimes extremely effective with teachers maintaining the attention of children for long periods of time with few materials or aids other than their own voice and a blackboard. We saw many teachers working with large classes with few resources. As resource provision will not significantly increase in the foreseeable future it seems to us that more could be done to build on the skills that teachers already have under present circumstances, as well as to develop new skills for resource-based teaching.
A substantial issue for many teachers is the failure to have a satisfactory strategy for dealing with multigrade classes. The only way of dealing with the situation for many teachers is to teach one class whilst the children in the other sit passively to one side of the room.
2.5.4 Providing for individual differences
Questions were targeted at individual children but it was difficult to assess whether the questions were consciously adapted to pupil differences. There were records kept of children's attainment. These were generally based on test performance in each subject and recorded on a sheet which was sent termly to parents. The testing however was coarse grained. Few or no records were kept of children's individual progress or learning difficulties. Teachers were able to identify skilled learners but not characterise the nature of individual's learning difficulties. As the children receive no systematic eye or hearing tests it seemed likely to us that there would be several children in each class who may have (at least minor) visual or hearing impairments that had not been recognised.
We saw no explicit instances of differentiated activities for children of different levels of ability or experience.
2.5.5 Using the local environment
Although there was use of local materials in many classes as substitutes for apparatus (for example beans and seeds used as counters), we found very few instances indeed of the materials being displayed for their own scientific investigation. There were no nature tables, collections of rocks or seeds, berries, leaves, fruits, minibeasts, etc. We found the typical explanation that these materials rapidly decay in the hot and wet climate unconvincing.
2.5.6 Creating an interesting classroom by displaying children's work and organising it effectively
Children's work was generally displayed in the TC room in TC schools and in non TC schools one room was often used as a repository for children's work and other illustrative material as well as small supplies of equipment including maths apparatus and science equipment. There were displays of teacher made charts and posters in some classrooms as well as children's work but in almost every case these were placed at a height well above the children. They were generally mounted on strings and difficult to see or read.
Common examples of displays included polystyrene models of vital organs and body parts, transport, mathematical aids such as number lines, number chips, painted stones and animals. There were some examples of commercially produced 'moral story picture charts', wall maps of India and the world, anatomical diagrams, drawings of national heroes and former heads of state. Only a very few schools had display in every classroom. In some cases the rationale for the means of illustration appeared to have been lost. For example, the visual potential of thermocol had been demonstrated by DIET staff as capable of being shaped to give a 3D representation of human organs (kidneys, lungs, etc.). Several teachers had created displays, however, in which the outline only of the organs had been cut, giving right angled edges to the 3D shape. This seemed at best to underutilise the medium's potential and, at worst, create a misleading impression of the true shape of the subject matter.
Children's work where displayed was sometimes bundled together making it difficult or impossible to see. There were in any case few opportunities for children to spend time in or out of scheduled time to look at these materials. We saw almost no instances of interactive materials. For example, there were several maps of India and the locality but no available lengths of string that could act as a scale and be used to answer questions such as 'Is it farther from X to Y or from X to Z?' Almost none of the displays were labelled interrogatively (e.g. 'How many legs does a beetle have?') and their potential was thus limited to passive illustration. Where there was potential for interactivity (e.g. an advent calendar type of chart and a rotating letter wheel for constructing words) these appeared only to have been used in an illustrative way by the teachers who had made them and not by the children for their independent use.
Display of work.
Display and storage or work varied from the ordered to chaotic. Much display was placed at a level too high for children to read.
The class-rooms typically had a black-board set at a height that was suited for teacher's writing on it in a standing posture. Given that the children sat on the floor, they had to continually keep the chin up/look up to see what was written on the board. There are apparently no regular eye sight tests and we did not see children using spectacles. There are likely therefore to be children who cannot adequately read text written on the board.