The need for a teacher network
There are over 5.8 million teachers across 1.25 million schools across India, teaching over 185 million students in K-8 levels (2009 & 2009c). 87% of the schools are located in rural India. (Press Information Bureau, Govt. of India, 2010).
Teacher shortages are very significant. There are 4 teachers per school in rural India (2009a) and 7.9 teachers per school in Urban India (2009b). A relatively recent phenomenon is the employment of para-teachers. Para-teachers are not regular teachers- they are employed on a contractual basis, earning a salary less than the regular primary teachers. There are over 538,000 para-teachers in India- 9.4% of the total number of teachers (Press Information Bureau, Govt. of India, 2010). The approach seems to be to improve the pupil-teacher ratio at a lower cost.
Only about 40% of the teachers claim to have received in-service training (2009a). Low income and inadequate training and resources have a detrimental impact on teacher motivation levels. Teacher absenteeism is a major concern in India, ranging from 15-42% for various states and averaging at 25% (2006).
In India, access to computers and penetration of internet on computers is still limited. At the all India level, 14% of the all schools have a computer. The percentage of primary schools with computers is 6% compared to 14% in independent upper primary schools/ sections (2009). Schools under private management are more likely to have computers compared to Government schools (2007). The incidence of use of computers by (or for training) teachers, is likely to be even lower. Sometimes, even access to basic needs such as electricity can be an issue with power outages for over 6 hours every day in rural areas.
Further, dispersed geographic locations, different languages and limited financial resources pose serious barriers. Even if the financial constraints were removed and some training was provided for the use of computers, language barriers would still limit the productivity.
Given all the constraints outlined, how can school teachers, especially in rural India gain access to information, training and resources that their peers in the developed world have, where access to computers, to the internet and portable technologies is easier and more affordable? How can these teachers connect with other teachers, with people or organizations holding interests in the education sector such as training providers, educational content creators, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and educational policy makers?
Mobile phones as an alternative to computers
There are over 45 million internet users in India (2008). Considering that India has a population of 1.1 billion, this number is rather small. On the other hand, the number of mobile subscribers is already over 400 million (2009d). Clearly, mobile as a device offers huge potential to connect people. Going forward, the growth in mobile penetration is expected to come from subscriptions in rural India.
A computer still costs at least USD 400, not including the cost of internet access (if it exists), which would be well over USD 100 per annum. On the other hand, a mobile device (with capability to connect to the internet) costs under USD 50 and the average monthly billing is under USD 4. As mobile phones with better features become affordable and given that usage charges are relatively lower compared to the developed nations, there is a case to set up a mobile based network to enable teachers by providing them access to relevant information and resources. It should be possible to even customize the information in terms of location, language and level of teaching.
What should be the scope of the Teacher Network?
· Sharing useful resources, best teaching practices
· Announce information relevant to teachers
· Support for in-service distance learning
· Platform to express views and post questions
· Recognition of special efforts/ Awards
· Enable making connections with teachers within a district and across India
How can connecting teachers help?
· Positive impact on teacher motivation
· Better access to and utilization of resources
· Bridging the gap between urban and rural India in terms of access- effectively and efficiently
· Significant improvements in their current practice
· Opportunity for continued contact rather than one time/ irregular training schedules
These would in turn have a positive impact on the quality of education the students receive and their lives.
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