A time for change


back to issue

THE history of teacher education in India is tied up with the history of how and why a modern education system for the masses was established and for what purpose. Early efforts were sporadic and initiated by different entities – the church, missionaries, British officials of the Company, interested individuals – and with varying motivations. Although concern for the education of the local population soon started becoming evident, it was only with the Charter Act of 1813 that the Company agreed to take on this responsibility and allocated funds for it. It was the Despatch of 1854 that was finally responsible for prescribing an educational policy for India and although Indians had little say in either the policy or its implementation, the broad structures that evolved out of it served to define the educational system through the period of British rule and, in broad outline, continue to the present times.

Education for the masses and popular systems of modern schooling in Europe and England emerged largely in response to social problems arising out of the industrial revolution and the ensuing large scale migration of populations to centres of industrialization. A system of formal schools for all classes of children took shape during the 19th century and by the end of the century much deliberation and attention was being given to making these institutions both efficient and effective. The focus in this period was largely on elementary education with the purpose of educating children in the three Rs, along with socializing them into a ‘civilized’ way of living.

Given the nature and requirements of these schools, the early models of the monitorial and pupil-teacher systems were considered both appropriate and efficient for a large mass of teachers that were needed to cater to this increasing population of students. These subsequently gave way to the ‘normal’ school (then prevalent in Europe) which institutionalized teacher training and allowed the trainees to move out of the confined environs of the elementary school.

Throughout this period the more important sites for education, knowledge generation and intellectual activity were the universities and these had a much longer history. Access to these institutions, however, was limited to a different class of students. They were taught in the more exclusive ‘public schools’ in England, the lycee in France or the Gymnasium in Germany. The aims and means of education in these schools were distinct from those of the mass school system and teachers for these schools were not required to go through special training. The possession of a Bachelor’s degree from a university or its equivalent rather than a teaching certificate was considered sufficient qualification for teaching in these schools – with a higher status and invariably higher pay.


The concern for education of Indians took several forms and the debates around it are fairly well-known and documented in the several histories of Indian education.1 Macaulay’s Minute of 1835, recommending that educational policy in India be oriented to the spread of western learning through the medium of English set the agenda for the course that education would take in this country. Given this context and the objective of educating a populace that was considered to be largely ignorant, attention to the supply of teachers and their training became an associated and immediate concern.

The earliest teacher training programmes were, therefore, aimed at elementary school teachers. The skills needed for the task, given the very basic objectives, were of a highly limited nature. The evolution of teacher education basically paralleled the developments in Britain and soon monitorial and pupil-teacher systems were introduced in several parts of the country. These gave way to normal schools and by 1882 there were 106 normal schools in different parts of India and two training colleges for teachers. By the end of the 19th century training colleges became more prevalent and subsequently began to be affiliated to universities for the purpose of licensing.


When India gained independence and a new Constitution was put into place, education figured prominently in the discourse on development that the newly formed nation was aspiring to. Education was to be the instrument for scientific advancement, technological development and social change. Although social development featured prominently in every important policy document, in actual terms it was scientific and technological aspirations leading eventually to economic development that occupied planners and policy-makers for the next several decades. The commitment to universal primary education figured prominently in the Constitution of independent India, but the real focus of planning and concern in the early years was on higher education, especially in the scientific and technological areas.

Although the merits of this kind of thinking cannot altogether be discounted, it is apparent that those who would benefit most from it would be the already better-off classes of the population. It is also this early direction of educational policy and planning that was responsible for the two-tier system of private and public schooling that characterizes the Indian school system and is largely responsible for both the state of schooling and teacher education today.

The setting up of the Education Commission, 1964-66, was the first major engagement with school education in independent India.2 The mandate of the commission was to advise the government on the national pattern of education at all stages and in all its aspects. This is a crucial document in the history of education in modern India and its several recommendations were premised on the ideals of building a democratic, egalitarian, secular and forward looking society as envisaged in the Constitution.

It emphasized the important role of education in social transformation and nation building. The focus, however, was on ‘development’ and investment in education leading to human capital formation, which in turn would contribute to economic growth. Teacher education was addressed through a thrust on ‘quality’, and although several suggestions were made these did not get translated into any kind of action. Fortunately recommendations on the status of teachers had better success in getting translated into policy.

Twenty years later, the National Policy on Education, 1986 and its 1992 modification reiterated this commitment to quality in schools and in teacher education.3 As a result of this policy and its recommendations, the 1990s witnessed the creation of a number of institutions such as the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET), the Institutes of Advanced Studies in Education (IASE) and Colleges of Teacher Education (CTE). It also led to the institutionalization of the NCTE as a statutory body.


Let us now look at the state of schooling and teacher education. More than sixty years after independence, the goal of universal primary education has not been achieved. Although enrolment figures have improved considerably, dropout rates even at the primary level remain alarmingly high and at the secondary or high school level the picture gets worse. The promise of education for promoting social and economic equality remains largely unfulfilled, whether it is because of the inability of large groups of populations to access education or the inability to access the advantages that it is expected to provide.

The access of the socially and economically privileged groups to education and to the privileges associated with it has continued from colonial times. In present day India it has acquired a different shape – that of a two-tier system where the elites are creating more and more exclusive school systems for their children, while the underprivileged are relegated to an increasingly inadequate and low quality system of government schools.

The state of schooling and the education in our schools is closely linked to the education and training that teachers receive. This training and education is confined to the institutions of education and the many colleges of education all over the country. The university departments of education continue to set the standards for teacher education and training, and colleges are affiliated to universities for granting degrees and certification.


Although a B.Ed degree is an essential qualification for teaching in any recognized school, it is only a formality for elite schools and rarely a defining factor in the appointment of teachers in these institutions. Here the background of the teacher in terms of class, facility with English, or the schools and colleges they may have attended are equally important. Although these schools can be criticized on a variety of educational indicators, there is no denying the fact that many of them have been quite successful in meeting their sole objective – to prepare children for a highly competitive higher education sector.

The B.Ed degree is a critical part of the training of a teacher for government and government aided schools. Given that in the present hierarchy of jobs, school teaching figures low on the agenda of successful university students, the standards for entrance into the B.Ed courses are by and large lower than for a number of university disciplines. This puts a larger responsibility on the training institutions to make up for any deficiencies that students may bring to the B.Ed course, within the brief period of one year..


To understand this better it will be useful to elaborate the courses and their structure. The system of teacher education and the institutions within which it functions are dominated by the one year B.Ed course which trains the large majority of teachers in the country. Although the earliest teacher training courses were aimed at training elementary school teachers, the focus shifted to the secondary levels as soon as the awarding of degrees and certification was taken over by the university system. The ‘normal’ schools, which were among the earliest institutions for training teachers, gave way to colleges of education affiliated to universities, followed by the establishment of Departments of Education in the universities themselves.

This model of teacher education linked to the universities was a major boost to the discipline and recognition of the status of education as a university discipline. There were several objectives for this move – the earliest amongst these was to have an academic body to certify the training and to monitor its quality. There was also a genuine effort to provide teachers with a wider and more liberal education for their own personal growth, as also a more rigorous training in the disciplines that they were expected to teach in the school. The link with universities, however, changed the status of the discipline, allowing education a platform for theorizing, research and defining the practice.

As the links to universities became broader, the focus of training shifted to secondary education since lower levels of teaching were perceived to make minimal demands. The rationale for this seems self-evident and I will elaborate. The expertise required of the teacher is of two kinds: the first, disciplinary and subject knowledge in conformity with the school curriculum and second, the skills required in transacting the curriculum and the effectiveness of dealing with children in schools and classrooms.


Since subject knowledge at the elementary school levels was seen to be fairly limited, the training for teachers at this level focused primarily on pedagogic techniques and classroom management. A high school level knowledge of the subjects was, therefore, considered (and continues to be) appropriate for elementary school teachers. The skills to be imparted in the specialized teacher training course were primarily the ‘professional’ skills of learning to negotiate classrooms and classroom materials. University inputs for this training, therefore, were fairly limited and the focus shifted to secondary schooling.

The B.Ed course is today officially recognized as a qualification for secondary level schooling, though teachers with this degree are not eligible for teaching at the primary level. The training of primary level teachers follows a different structure, although some universities do offer what are known as elementary teacher education or ETE courses. A high school diploma is the minimum qualification for entry into this course; a Bachelors degree as in the case of the B.Ed is not required. This training has, however, increasingly shifted to the DIETs. One implication of the move is that the levels of expertise required for the primary school levels of teaching are somehow seen as less demanding by way of knowledge of the disciplines. Though this thinking has been challenged in the Indian context in the last few decades, it remains a minority view within traditional departments of education and has yet to be accepted at many levels of the educational hierarchy.


The B.Ed remains the most widely taught programme in institutions of education today and my discussion will focus on it. Although recommendations for an interdisciplinary perspective, with suggestions for including a diverse range of subjects such as philosophy, psychology, economics and sociology were made as early as the beginning of the 20th century, and although ‘foundations’ papers became an integral part of the teacher training degree, the system remained mired in the early apprenticeship model and none of these concerns were integrated into teacher education in a meaningful way.

The relationship between universities and departments or schools of education has not been an easy one in most countries but it is my contention that in India the departments chose to derive their legitimacy from their ‘professional’ identity and that their subsequent development and evolution is linked to this. This identity fitted in well with the educational discourse of the state within the framework of ‘development’ and institutions of teacher education soon came to be seen as providing a valuable resource for a developing nation, namely teachers.


Postgraduate courses followed a similar pattern and the earliest postgraduate degree instituted in education was the M.Ed, as distinct from an M.A. Although theorizing the why and what of education and its possibilities has been a concern in all major philosophical systems, and educational concerns were being articulated in the backdrop of the colonial policies on education by prominent figures like Gandhi, Tagore and Gijubhai, these did not become an integral base for a theoretical engagement or theory building within the discipline in the Indian context. Gandhi’s concept of basic education, and Zakir Husain’s elaboration of this programme and his engagement with current educational practices of the time were incorporated into the teacher training programme initiated at the Jamia Millia Islamia and other teacher training courses around the country. But this initiative too remained confined to the practical aspects of training rather than provide a theoretical basis for educational concerns.

It is not my intention to down-play the contributions and the efforts of several notable educationists who have been influential in shaping the discipline to larger academic, theoretical and social concerns. Notwithstanding these efforts, the general development of the discipline within the institutions of education, and much more markedly in colleges of education, has conformed to a model of ‘training’ and ‘professionalism’ rather than an academic, social science discipline. Consequently both postgraduate courses and research have strengthened the professional, the active and the empirical aspects of education at the expense of a much needed theoretical engagement.

There have been some efforts at theoretical engagement, most notably at the Centre for Educational Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, but the model was not replicated and it is only in recent years that it has succeeded in creating links with teacher education and schools. No doubt there are issues here of territoriality, professionalism and a host of factors which can be understood within a sociological perspective of universities and the development of disciplines, though they cannot be dealt with here. Nevertheless, understanding this evolution is important for the development of teacher education and the institutions which are responsible for the education of teachers and teacher educators in India today.


The structure of the programmes has remained unchanged over decades and changes, such as they are, largely remain limited to the content of the courses. The courses are usually divided into the academic and the professional components. The first consists of what are known as the foundation courses. In B.Ed and M.Ed courses around the country this consists of a course on educational psychology, a second that combines the sociology of education and philosophy of education and usually a course on the historical and contemporary aspects of education within the Indian context.

The second component which is given more attention (although it leaves much to be desired in the general teaching colleges that are mushrooming in the country) and is the professional component, includes pedagogy courses related to teaching disciplines in the schools and practical teaching experience in schools. The courses in psychology have increasingly come to be associated with the practical aspects of teaching such as pedagogical skills in classrooms, classroom management, issues of motivation of both teachers and students, the very popular courses in guidance and counselling and have, therefore, gained importance in the programmes as contributing to the professional aspect of teacher education.


The tragedy of the supremacy of the professional side has meant that the academic and the liberal aspects of these programmes have become increasingly marginalized and the potential for critical thought and reflection that ought to be the hallmark of a good teacher has been relegated to the sidelines. No doubt there are many individuals in teacher education institutions who are deeply concerned with this aspect of teacher education and are able to impart prospective teachers an understanding and the requisite intellectual skills. Yet, within the institutional structure however, the professional aspects have tended to become dominant and for teachers to be qualified as ‘technically’ competent.

The courses that have suffered as a consequence are what were seen not so long ago as the very ‘foundations’ of theorizing about and understanding the very complex phenomena that goes under the name of education. The academic implications of these disciplines and their integration into the context of education have largely been marginalized at all levels of teaching and research and their inclusion seems to be more a gesture to the history of the discipline, and their teaching has become little more than a formality in the B.Ed courses and unfortunately in the M.Ed courses as well.

Increasingly, with the requirement of a B.Ed degree for all teaching faculty, these courses are taught by faculty who might come from a background in the sciences or commerce with an extremely limited exposure to these disciplines in a B.Ed or an M. Ed course. A failure to forge links with other departments in the universities deprives the institutions from drawing upon subject expertise that is usually available in all major university departments.

The liberal component in the form of courses in philosophy, sociology, history or economics is expected to enable students to engage with ideas, critique them and go beyond them in an environment of creativity and freedom that universities are expected to provide. It provides an opportunity for students to further their own development as reflective, creative and critical thinkers – qualities that are so urgently needed to challenge social and economic inequities, social injustices, communal tensions and social hierarchies of all kinds, caste and gender, for example – that continue to dominate our society in all manner of pernicious ways.


In an increasingly globalized world, a world where the disadvantaged have to compete with privileged populations not only nationally but internationally, where traditions are being eroded and traditional identities evoked to deal with the anxieties of rapid social change, the understanding and reflection that comes from social, philosophical and psychological analyses becomes indispensable for the education and training of a teacher.

These are important intellectual skills that teachers will need to understand the ways in which education is influenced as much by what happens in the classroom and the school as it is by what happens out-side the school, at the local level, the national level and increasingly the international levels of economics, politics and international policy. Only then can teachers be effective in dealing with children, with institutions and with communities. The teacher has for far too long been seen as a cog in the educational machine with limited autonomy for taking decisions or participating in decision-making and this is the image that the present system of teacher education confirms.


Often then, even students who pass out of these courses with honours and excellent teaching skills are at a loss when they are faced with overcrowded classrooms, with schools where the annual examination and a prescribed syllabus takes precedence over every psychological or human consideration about learning, where they have no say in the day-to-day functioning of the school, much less over a larger system of administration that governs the schools. It is no surprise that some of the more innovative and engaged programmes in school education which have been initiated in India in recent years – the B.El Ed programme in Delhi University and the M.A. programme at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences – have had to be initiated outside the confines of traditional teacher education institutions.

The promises that education holds have remained largely unfulfilled for large masses of the population in the history of modern India. It is, therefore, time to critically evaluate the project of education and the reasons why institutions of teacher education continue to remain on the margins of major educational debates, of policy and planning and seem so utterly incapable of raising critical questions about society, about development and progress and of how and why education is implicated in them.



1. See Syed Nurullah and J.P. Naik, History of Education in India during the British Period, Macmillan, Bombay and London, 1943.

2. Ministry of Education, Report of Education Commission (1964-66), Education and National Development. New Delhi, Government of India, 1966.

3. Government of India, National Policy on Education – 1986 (as modified in 1992), Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi, 1992.