“Are you attending the Indian Science Congress this year?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I’d attend a different type of conference this year. Perhaps one where I can learn about new teaching methods.”
“You mean like a ‘teacher’s conference’?”
“Yes! Where teachers and educators meet to exchange notes on effective teaching practices, new ideas in teaching, problems teachers face, get a chance to network and make contacts…..”
This conversation between two professors at a teachers’ lounge in a Delhi college, overheard several years ago, stuck to my memory. It resurfaced recently during a friendly but heated debate with friends and colleagues on whether undergraduate science teachers ought to attend and organize conferences on pedagogyin addition to those focussed on research in the basic sciences.
Though both types of conferences offer networking opportunities, pedagogy-focused conferences organized specifically for teachers could generate a dynamic resource base for the undergraduate teaching community.
The central theme of such conferences would be how to impart knowledge effectively to students. Since pedagogy as a science is still at a seedling stage in India, few undergraduate teachers think of how pedagogical tools can be applied to their classrooms, much less mull over advances in teaching methods.
This situation, however, must change. It is time for teachers to realize that there may be better teaching tools out there, that their particular classroom methods may be useful to other teachers, and perhaps it is time to share amongst themselves what works and what doesn’t. A teacher’s conference would be ideal for this.
Networking needs of Educators
“What students look to teachers for, nowadays, is guidance on what opportunities they can pursue, what to study, and how to gain a firm hold on their chosen career paths,” says Mythili Rao, Dean of Languages, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Jain University, “Today, students can get information on any subject they care to study about with the tap of a finger on a laptop button or a smartscreen app. Many students do not expect to be spoon-fed course-related material by their teachers, and very few of my students expect teachers to hand out notes anymore. It’s the mentorship provided by a teacher that students value.”
In this regard, teachers’ conferences, especially those organised by teachers, can help educators build mentorship skills by sharing experiences and expertise. Such meetings can also serve as a common ground for educators to engage in collaborative troubleshooting, discussions of educational policy, and innovations in teaching methods.
“I have attended several faculty induction programs for teachers of the Telangana Government Residential College for Women as a guest. These programs were also 1‑week sessions exclusively for teachers, and from the feedback I collected, most of the teachers valued the content of these programs, as well as the chance to meet their peers from sister institutions,” says Vidya Jonnalagadda, Assistant Professor at the Bhavan’s Vivekanand College, Hyderabad.
Pedagogical conferences and workshops in India
Conferences for teachers aimed at discussing pedagogical ideas in India are rare, but they do exist. There are the biennial epiSTEME conferences, organized by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), as well as the research-based pedagogical tools workshop, which is organized by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune in collaboration with the British Council of India.
Azim Premji University has been organising international conferences on the philosophy of education in January every year since 2016 with themes such as the influence of culture on school curriculum, the philosophy and practice of teaching, theory-practice divide in education, moral and political education, and nationalism in education. A conference on inclusive pedagogy organised by the Centre for Writing and Communication, Ashoka University (Sonepat) in March this year discussed a variety of subjects including pedagogy and syllabus design, disability, multilinguality, and science education.
In addition to such pedagogy-centric conferences, there are also meetings centred on education. A one-day conference in February this year at New Delhi, the Education Innovation Conference 2019, came fairly close to what an ideal teacher’s conference should look like – talks by relevant experts and innovation showcases interspersed with networking sessions over tea, snacks, and lunch. Industry experts, policymakers, and university administrators attended the conference, with a sprinkling of entrepreneurs showcasing education-based products and ideas.
Along similar lines, the 15thFICCI Higher Education Summit 2019, to be held at New Delhi in November this year promises to be a much larger gathering of policymakers and education experts from all over the world.
However, these conferences seem to be largely aimed at the senior management of schools and higher education institutions. Although teachers may attend sessions and talks, they are not ‘invited’ to give talks themselves.
Advantages of a “Teachers’ conference”
A teachers’ conference that could draw together people from different branches of the education sector could become a valuable platform for educators to engage in capacity building. Debates and dialogues in this milieu on subjects like course content, pros and cons of semester versus yearly sessions, inclusion of project modules etc. could aid both teachers and university administrators in designing or modifying educational programs.
“Bringing teachers, college administrators, university policymakers, and industry specialists together can help everyone take a holistic approach to the teaching-learning process. It provides a platform for teachers to voice their concerns and opinions, and could help policymakers adjust education road maps,” says Anupma Harshal, a teacher and independent scientist working on the Indo-US foldscope project in Mumbai. “Research-based pedagogy can provide innovative training methods for undergraduate educators, and conferences on this topic would be very welcome for teachers, yes, but they might be useful for administrators and policymakers also,” she adds.
Yet given a teacher’s busy schedule, and usually less-than-plump pockets, would the time and money spent in attending such teachers’ conferences be a worthwhile investment?
“Of course it will be! If you don’t invest time, money, and effort in keeping yourself current, how can you hope to succeed as a teacher?” exclaims Rao. “Teaching, like any other profession, requires constant work to keep skills sharp and current. Teachers and educators must accept that attending conferences is a form of capacity-building that is crucial for their careers,” she adds.
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