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DAWN The Review, August 12-18, 1999

"The Alternate Module

For a teacher working in a private school in a city like Karachi, teacher training may not mean the same as what it would have meant to one in that position twenty years ago. The concept has changed.

Today, teacher training doesn't necessarily mean getting enlisted in a government teacher training college for a two year long course. In fact, most teachers working in the private sector today might never consider that option at all. Many private schools have stopped giving preference to such degrees as B.Ed and M.Ed as part of their employment policies.

Today, the concept of teacher training revolves mainly around participatory workshops of short duration, often conducted by other practicing teachers.

This change started around mid 1980s with the realisation that traditional courses in pedagogy taught at recognized colleges of education do not serve the needs of the real classroom. The methods prescribed in those courses were obsolete. Neither the changes happening in the society, nor the new methodology coming up in the world was taken into account. Definitely there was a need for alternate channels of teacher training, and they might have sprung up much earlier if the educational institutions hadn't been nationalised in the 1970's. 

The nationalisation policy was revoked during the Zia regime, and private schools sprung up in all the urban setups. This opened the possibility for an alternate channel of teacher training. SPELT (The Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) and TRC (Teachers' Resource Centre), both starting in 1984, were perhaps the first NGOs that made a dent. They were both organized on the common principle of learning by sharing of experience. They introduced a new method of particpatory workshops where teachers could share their experiences with each other, and discover new possibilities for their classrooms by exploring a number of parallel options. Ironically, this democratic approach in education fermented at a time when the rest of the society was under the grip of its worst military dictatorship.

SPELT was founded by a group of eight English language teachers out of whom Zakia Sarwar and Anisa Mumtaz still remain active in their participation. It follows a non-hierarchical structure. There are no directors or executives, and the whole body runs through democratically elected committees. The major services provided by this NGO include a quarterly newsletter, free for all monthly academic sessions, annual seminars, RSA Certificate Of Teaching English course and Practical Teacher Training Course. The last one is probably the only one year long course in the whole world that is taught and organized by teachers themselves while the RSA course is obviously certified by the Royal Society of Arts, U.K. Over the years SPELT has earned international reputation and its annual seminar presents an opportunity for teachers to exchange views with experts from all over the world. In addition to the parent body running in Karachi, the organisation has its chapters in Hyderabad, Quetta, Lahore, Islamabad, Abbottabad and Peshawar.

Teachers' Resource Centre has a different organisational structure, as a professionally hired director manages it. But the ultimate managers of the NGO are the members themselves, who elect a governing body from amongst themselves on an annual basis. Among the pioneers of TRC were Mehrunisa Ahmed Ali (also its first director), Zubeida Dossal, and Stella Jaffery, all renowned educationists. Seema Malik, who presently heads the organisation, and Farishta Dinshaw, are also two educationists who became well-known through their association with TRC, as were foreign experts like Steve and Christine Parker. The activities of TRC are not limited to any one subject and it offers workshops for teachers of all subjects at primary and secondary levels. TRC also brings out a monthly newsletter, as well as some other publications in accordance with its various projects. Two areas that have remained its major domains since the very beginning are early childhood education and environmental education. In fact, TRC was among the pioneers for creating an environmental awareness in the schools, through its regularly organized earth day celebrations and its Environmental Education Project, funded by WWF (UK) and run in coordination with the International Conservation Union (IUCN) in the early 1990s. 

Already by the early 1990s, the schools had begun to respond to the alternate channel of teacher training. Workshops attended at organisations like SPELT and TRC became a plus point for any candidate applying for a job at most private schools. Also, the myth that these workshops were only for the elite soon gave way. The democratic approach of the alternate teacher training also meant that the workshops were replicable: teachers who participated in them could conduct them for their colleagues at their own school. More than anything else, it was this mechanism of "learning by sharing" that guaranteed a visible change in the classrooms across the society.

Taking it a step further, large school chains like the Beaconhouse Public Schools System and its rival network of the City Schools also established their own regional training centres. "In-house" training centres, however, were not limited to school chains as individual schools like Narsa School were also one of the earliest pioneers of "annual training camps" which are now a tradition with many schools. Again, the philosophy behind this tradition is that teachers can learn from their own experience.

Aga Khan Education Service Pakistan (AKESP), which may be seen as the largest educational network outside the public sector, sometimes appears rather bureaucratic in its structure, mainly due to its massive size, but it was quick to respond to the changing trends in education. Also, due to its distinctively community based approach it was possible for the AKESP to launch big budget initiatives without paying too much attention to the guarantees in terms of cost recovery. Some of its key initiatives were in the area of English Language teaching, which included the development of a complete alternate syllabus.

The Institute of Educational Development (IED), a faculty of the Aga Khan University, came up in 1993, around the same time as the Ali Institute of Education at Lahore. It was a different enterprise altogether, since it offered an M.Ed degree in collaboration with the universities of Oxford and Toronto. Even though it included training of individual teachers in the process, as a principle IED's focus in the beginning was on school improvement rather than individual training. That was necessary in order to justify the costs of the course offered by this institution, most of which were sponsored by the university itself.

The existence of alternate training opportunities also brought forth a new profession: workshop leader, or resource person. This became an increasing lucrative profession as more schools looked forward to conducting workshops on their own premises. Among the ones who made a name from the very beginning from both the platforms of SPELT and TRC was Abbas M. Husain, who was at that time teaching at Karachi University, and was later a trainer with IED. He was also the author of a series of Islamiat textbooks (co-authored by the present writer), that were probably the first to consist entirely of activities used in these type of teacher training workshops. His Teacher Development Centre, launched in 1996, is perhaps the first commercial initiative based exclusively on providing teacher-training services. The success of this enterprise is just one of the indicators of the society's trust on the alternative channel of teacher training. Among major activities of TDC is its Master Trainer Programme, aimed at training workshop leaders, and its courses in the Integrated Model of Language Skills (IMLS).

Another private initiative that has recently come up is the New Century Education (NCE), headed by Rayad Afzal, with a clear focus on pre-primary education. The NCE has developed an 18-point syllabus for early childhood education, approaching 10 new schools every month. It also claims to have reached out to over 18,000 teachers in government schools through projects funded by the World Bank. 

The question most often asked is, what about the government schools? Contrary to the common belief, most of the institutions mentioned here adopt a well-defined policy of encouraging government schoolteachers to participate in these activities. The incentives include special concessions in course fees. However, the response is not the same. The reason of this isolation lies in the unique dynamics of the government schools themselves. At the same time, there have been government schools, such as Mehr-e-Neemroze Girls School, or Government Boys School, Malir, where the presence of a strong principal has ensured participation in the activities of alternate teacher training NGOs. 

Over the past fifteen years, the concept of teacher training have entirely changed. Today the gap between the rules of pedagogy and the actual classroom practice has greatly reduced. In a typical teacher training workshop today, the participant is not likely to accept any information without questioning its practicality with respect to her or his own classroom. The teachers today have become more vocal. All of them may not be running truly participatory classrooms, but the awareness that education can be participatory is very much a part of collective consciousness.

Today, the concept of teacher training revolves mainly around participatory workshops of short duration, often conducted by other practicing teachers.
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