November 12, 2018
The comment took me by surprise, especially since it came from the academic coordinator himself. I almost began to reel out several semi-prepared arguments on why a live interaction with the teacher could not be replaced by handouts but then, something held me back.
Eventually, this hesitation would sink further and solidify into a searching enquiry for a rationale of my presence in the lecture hall — why are teachers needed at all? As a faculty member on contract, I am put on the defensive right from the start. Not so much to the students who are generally curious to know what the course and I have to offer; instead, to the management, which needs convincing every year afresh about why the course needs to be taught by a real flesh-and-blood person and not just the computer. The annual rite of justification coupled with reducing number of classes allotted is indication enough of the commercials at work.
But the whining stops here. To those who counter my concerns with suggestions like looking for institutes with better working conditions or freelancing as a “trainer”, I would say, let’s keep those for another time. Today, I am just going to ask myself why do the students need me at all? What can I bring to the table — literally and metaphorically — that Slideshare PPTs and online courses cannot?
At the outset, let me point out that this is not a human versus technology debate — that is a perilous path where one is bound to skid on the inevitability of technology use in every aspect of life, including learning.
Though research citations are beyond the scope of this article, goals of education are broadly classified as intellectual, vocational, social/civic, and personal enrichment. If we agree upon this, then clearly the last two goals require real teacher-student interaction since social and personal goal-fulfilment incorporates as much variety as learners in a class which no digital module can cater to. Even more, vocational learning requires the physical presence of a teacher who can not only impart skills but evaluate, correct, and fine-tune performance.
Now, coming to intellectual goals of education, a conventional curriculum has been, unfortunately and wrongly, trying to meet them by dishing out the “whats” and “whens” of a subject — information rather than knowledge; exactly because of this, proponents of teacher redundancy insist that hand-outs and online PPTs should suffice.
Only when the intellectual goals are correctly recognised as cognitive development of the learners, then will the focus shift to knowing the “whys” and “hows” — the building blocks of creative and critical thinking. And to bring this about, a teacher is indispensable since the exercise requires on-the-feet thinking, seamless application of theoretical concepts to real-life situations, and promptly using learner responses to further encourage curiosity and imagination. No matter how interactive a digital module is, such rich guidance and mutual discovery can come only from a committed, knowledgeable, living-and-breathing teacher.
The writer is a soft skills faculty at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington.
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