"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." - William Arthur Ward.

Once Bihar, known then as Magadh, was famous as a great centre of learning. It boasted one of the largest universities in the world in Nalanda District, housing more than 10,000 students and over 2,000 teachers and attracted students from such far away places as China and Mongolia. At present, with 47.53 percent, Bihar has the lowest literacy rate in the country.

Today Bihar has over 2.7 million children who do not go to school. In Bihar, 60 percent of children drop out of school at the primary level and around 75 percent at the middle level. The proportion is higher for girls. In 2002, Bihar had more than 190,000 vacancies for school teachers. The state has, on an average, 1 teacher per 84 pupils. The national average is 1 teacher per 40 pupils. In 2002-2003, UNICEF worked with the government to recruit and train 42,000 teachers. In 2005, UNICEF urged the government to begin teacher’s recruitment and training again. The government of Bihar is going to recruit 2.35 lakh teachers in the vacant seats in the schools of Bihar. It will bring teacher-pupil ratio to the national figure of 1:40. This would be the largest exercise, ever undertaken, in terms of numbers, and also a major breakthrough in regard to decentralization and devolution of powers to the Panchayati Raj institutions for management of school education as envisaged under 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution.

This is high time when one should focus on policies leading to quality teachers and teaching. Largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school – their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background. Of those variables which are potentially open to policy influence, factors to do with teachers and teaching are the most important influences on student learning. It is difficult to predict who is going to be a good teacher just by considering the more measurable characteristics of teachers (e.g. qualifications, teaching experience, and indicators of academic ability and subject-matter knowledge). There are many important aspects of teacher quality that are not captured by the more measurable characteristics, such as:

• Ability to convey ideas in clear and convincing ways;
• To create effective learning environments for different types of students;
• To foster productive teacher-student relationships;
• To be enthusiastic and creative;
• To work effectively with colleagues and parents.

Policies for developing more effective teachers and teaching have intensified in recent years due to the profound economic and social changes underway and the imperatives for schools to provide the foundations for lifelong learning.

Some of the teacher and teaching related policies are suggested as follows. These policies have general relevance for teacher’s urban areas but take on special significance in rural and remote areas.

A. Teacher Recruitment

Improve selection into teacher education

• Information and counselling
• Assessment
• Early school experience
• Incentives for high potentials
• Put basic teacher salaries in periphery at parity with urban areas.
• Provide salary differentials and/or hardship pay for teaching in difficult areas.
• Develop programs to increase teachers’ social status and recognition

B. Developing Teacher’s Knowledge and Skills

1. Developing teacher profiles

Clear and concise standards of what teachers are expected to know and be able to do.

• reflect broad range of competencies.
• provide framework to guide and integrate initial
• teacher education, certification, induction and on-going professional development.
• should be evidence-based and reflect student learning objectives.
• should be built on active involvement by teaching profession.

2. Teacher education:

Provide more flexible forms of initial teacher education

• Modular, part-time, distance education
• Alternate routes for mid-career changers

Strengthen partnerships between teacher education institutions and schools

• Overt and deliberate partnerships
• Earlier and broader field experience

Subsidize teacher enrollment in courses for earning/upgrading credentials. Associate teacher education with credentials, pay raises, promotion, and job security. Empower and train school principals as instructional leaders/ supervisors. Use distance/ extension education programs so that teachers can upgrade credentials without too much disruption to family life.

3. Strengthening induction programmes

• Formalise induction programmes
• Qualify mentor teachers
• Provide sufficient resources for induction and reduced teaching obligation for mentors and beginning teachers
• Link successful completion of induction to certification

4. Integrating professional development throughout the teaching career

Provide incentives for lifelong learning of all teachers

• Entitle teachers to release time and/or financial support for professional development
• Create incentives: e.g., link professional development to teacher appraisal and career advancement
• Link individual teacher development with school improvement needs

5. Broaden the range of different professional development opportunities, e.g.

• Peer review and action research
• Mutual school visits
• Teacher and school networks

6. Provide more coherent framework for professional development, develop teachers’ learning communities

• Training, practice and feedback
• Follow-up rather than “one shot events”
• Teacher portfolios

C. Teacher Deployment

• Offer extra credit toward promotion for teaching in peripheral areas.
• Create organizational mechanisms to ensure that teachers recruited and trained for work in the periphery are indeed placed there.
• Provide special preparation for teaching in the periphery prior to teachers taking up assignments (including training in multigrade teaching and working under difficult conditions).
• Develop means of overcoming the image of social isolation.
• Develop strategies to support deployment of husband/wife teams.
• Offer subsidized housing as part of teaching contract.
• Cover moving costs to remote locations.

D. Teacher Retention

• Payment of overtime for extra work/preparation. Bonus for regular attendance. Bonus for student achievement.
• Improved management of automatic promotion systems (eliminate paperwork bottlenecks).
• Community contributions toward teacher welfare/earnings.
• Organize school clusters and/or working groups for peer support and group problem solving.
• Empower teachers as co-developers of school curriculum and in service education programs.
• Solicit community for teacher aids and guest instructors.
• Promote special recognition of teachers by community.
• Use decentralized systems of resource (e.g., textbooks) provision and distribution.
• Provide access to teacher education/ teacher upgrading courses (through distance or extension education).
• Make in-service teacher education relevant to teacher needs in the periphery.
• Involve teachers/teacher groups in the planning and implementation of their own in-service education.
• Maintain housing subsidies.
• Cover costs of occasional “home visits” for those not originating in school vicinity.
• Provide assistance for health care and education of family members.
• Scholarships for children and free books.

E. Providing Schools with More Responsibility for Teacher Personnel Development

Schools need to have more responsibility and accountability for working conditions, and development.


• Developing school leaders’ skills in personnel management;
• Providing disadvantaged schools with greater resources;
• Monitoring the outcomes of a more decentralised approach;
• Creating independent appeals procedures to ensure fairness and protect teachers’ rights.

F. Evaluating and Rewarding Effective Teaching

There needs to be a stronger emphasis on teacher evaluation for improvement purposes. Opportunity for teachers’ work to be recognised and celebrated and help both teachers and schools to identify developmental needs.


• Teacher appraisal to occur within a framework provided by profession-wide agreed statements of standards of professional performance;
• Evaluators need to be trained and evaluated themselves;
• Evaluation frameworks and tools need to be provided.

G. Providing More Opportunities for Career Diversification

Teaching would benefit from a career ladder based on skills, responsibilities and performance. There needs to be more opportunities for career diversity and mobility (between schools, between roles, and between teaching and other careers).

H. Teaching Needs to Become a Knowledge-rich Profession

Teaching needs to become a knowledge-rich profession in which individuals continually develop, and have the incentives and opportunities to do so, research is integrated into practice, and schools become professional learning communities that encourage and draw on teachers’ development.

I. Improving Leadership and School Climate

A range of initiatives should be taken to strengthen leadership in schools:

• Improve training, selection and evaluation processes for school principals;
• Establish leadership teams in schools;
• School leaders to be trained and supported in conducting evaluations and linking them to school planning.

J. Improving Working Conditions

• School facilities
• Classroom facilities
• Number of students
• Age range of students
• Collegiality

There needs to be an explicit recognition of the wide variety of tasks that teaching actually entails. Well trained support and administrative staff can help to reduce the burden on teachers and free them to concentrate on the tasks of teaching and learning Better facilities at school for staff preparation and planning would help in building collegiality and in programme provision.

K. Redefining Management Roles

To raise the quality of teachers, teaching and learning at the school level, new school level management roles are evolving, and low-cost alternatives to current practice are need to be explored. The traditional role of head teachers focuses on routine administrative tasks. New functions may include instructional leadership; community liaison and mobilization; stimulating and monitoring innovations (e.g., multigrade classrooms, teacher assistants); generating, understanding, and utilizing information on interventions in progress; and responding to the emergence of new priorities.

L. Monitoring and Sustaining Quality Improvement

To help monitor and sustain continual improvements, there is need at all levels but particularly at the local level for both practical technology and, within contexts of decentralization, for participatory decision processes. Head teachers, in order to provide leadership and mobilize community support, should be able to assess the quality of their schools and utilize such information in local strategic planning.

Working toward the Future

To ensure a highly qualified supply of special education teachers in the future, policymakers should consider the following strategies:

1. Create programs to encourage experienced teachers to stay on beyond retirement, perhaps as part-time teachers or mentors;

2. Promote the use of less traditional methods of recruitment, such as the use of web sites or professional recruiters;

3. Examine State and local policies that affect paperwork burden to see if some requirements can be reduced, making the jobs of special education teachers more manageable;

4. Work with school districts and teacher’s preparation programs to provide more training in areas in which teachers feel their skills are weakest, that is, using technology in education, interpreting results of standardized tests, accommodating diverse students, learning needs, and using literature to address problems; and

5. Help school districts tailor continuing professional development to the needs of special education teachers and ensure that those programs use best practices, including time for teachers to implement what they have learned.

Bihar’s future depends on how well we educate our children. To provide every child with a class education we need to start sooner, set standards higher and provide opportunities to all. We need excellent teacher and teaching methodology. We need to restructure the school day and the school year. Money alone won’t solve the problems facing our schools, but a policy of reforms without resources mocks the scope of our challenge.

Good Teachers are Costly, but Bad Teachers Cost More!


The author is a research scholar at IIT Madras and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Original publish date: Sept. 13, 2006