It was only a matter of time that the fire started by Covid-19 would consume all traditional aspects of higher education teaching-learning and reach the doorstep of faculty training forcing it to don the e-avatar. On 1st July 2020 UGC issued directions to all the Human Resource Development Centres (HRDCs) – the institutions responsible for professional development of higher education faculty in the country to hold all their professional development activities via online mode. HRDCs located in different universities across the nation have been conducting training for teachers since the last three decades and have trained lakhs of teachers in 3-4 week-long on-site training programs by focusing on effective pedagogy, updates on respective disciplines, research methodology and issues of national concern. This is the only opportunity for teachers in higher education to develop a sense of professionalism and learn the ropes of being a teacher, while roaming in the boulevards of highest learning- the universities.

Each group of 30-35 teachers which attend the periodically held programs is a picture of our diversity. Irrespective of differing gender, age groups, teaching disciplines, sartorial choices, religions, ideologies and coming from varied geographical regions and socio-cultural backgrounds, speaking different languages these teachers come together to learn on a platform solely dedicated to discuss teachers’ issues- whether these relate to their professional practice, service condition or social relevance. They listen to erudite discourses from experts but they learn more from the peers. They learn to listen respectfully, to debate and rebut in gentle ways, to cooperate and collaborate with colleagues, to offer critical comments objectively and to receive them equally stoically. They lose their smugness that comes from arrogance and by the end of their training are well rounded and balanced.

In 2018 government had initiated a very ambitious project called ARPIT (Annual Refresher Programme in Teaching), of training 13 lakh teachers on-line annually launched in 2018 and a large number of faculty has already received training in this way. This platform should be strengthened to tide over this period of crisis while HRDCs should have been reserved for providing on-site training. They could have used this hibernation to reflect upon, training and upgrading themselves, strengthening the best practices and weeding out the redundant activities in their programmes. By converting all faculty development into online activity, the UGC has reduced the extremely important and multi-pronged training and development into mere handing over the prosaic content.

Training is different from teaching in its emphatic focus on the psychomotor aspect of learning to do, attitudinal aspect of realisation of truths hidden in plain sight and the cognitive aspect of updation in the academics. Training happens in a milieu. Mentorship, hand holding, confidence building, testing the robustness of one’s ideas, colleagueship  cannot happen by sitting alone facing the device. Only ‘sheer imitation, dictation of steps to be taken, mechanical drill,’ can happen in this way, which John Dewey says, ‘may give results most quickly and yet strengthen traits fatal to reflective power.’

Teaching is a lonely activity but improving one’s teaching practices and honing pedagogical competencies can be done only in the close company of colleagues. Many things are possible through technology but because of inherent limitations, it cannot create the vibrant atmosphere crackling with a crisp counter argument.  For many of our teachers coming from drab educational traditions teaching blind compliance, training with peers is the only time to get a taste of what academics is all about and to see real people who can stimulate dull minds with their brilliance.

Whether students should be subjected to examination or not can be a matter of debate because the issue of certification and loss of precious one year is there. However, training the teachers in a hurry is not wise. It can wait. Teachers in higher education need to be prepared well to improve the quality of instruction which is critical for the society. It should not be shorn of its rich layers and reduced to a mere tick in the check box.

Dr Jayanti Dutta is faculty in Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC), Panjab University, Chandigarh. jayantiduttaroy@yahoo.co.in


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