• Teachers and System Design Thinking

    We have always believed that the teachers are perhaps the most important stakeholders in the education ecosystem. They are the ones who shape the future of the country and have such an important role to play in the development of the society. However, in India today we face a huge shortage of teachers. Even a lot of the existing teachers in the schools are not well qualified. While we face, 1.4 million teacher shortage in schools, we face another serious problem of low teacher quality. The problem is prevalent both in rural and urban areas.

    At Happy Horizons Trust, we launched the Teacher training and Leadership Development program called  Soochak, for teachers in schools. The program is designed to provide a 360-degree development of the teacher leading to their capacity building.

    We launched the Soochak project in July as a pilot with 2 schools. In August, we had a good opportunity to conduct the first part of series of workshops with the teachers of 2 different affordable private schools namely the Tagore Public School and the Rose Valley Secondary School in Simri Bakhtiarpur, Saharsa district. The first of the series of the workshops was around the theme of ‘System Design Thinking’.

    What is System Design Thinking?
    When working with fairly-complex systems, it is virtually impossible to get a deeper understanding of the system at one go. System Design Thinking allows one to have a very methodological approach to understanding better. It comprises of three main components.

    1. It allows the participant to break down the complex system into smaller parts.
    2. It identifies all the different stakeholders that exist within that system.
    3. It requires that the participant views the same system from the perspective of each of the stakeholder.

    A deeper understanding of the system results in a better understanding of the different challenges that come with the work. System Design Thinking forces the participant to put emphasis on things they would have easily ignored in the past.

    Introducing System Design Thinking to the teachers
    For the teachers in the workshops, the workshop on System Design Thinking was to make the teacher aware of the complexity of the education space. Often the teachers are under this impression that their role starts with the children and ends with the children. In reality; this is not the case. The responsibility of the teacher is to keep in mind all the different stakeholders within the system. It is therefore imperative that the teacher gets a deeper understanding of the system by viewing the same system from the different stakeholders’ point of view. It is only when the teacher has understood this, they are able to understand the enormity of the challenge that comes with the role of a teacher and the teaching profession.

    The Workshop
    The workshop was divided into three parts. The first was to highlight some of the issues that existed in Bihar and the challenges of working in it and the second was to reflect upon the role as a teacher and question (or reflect) on why they became a teacher. The third part of the workshop was to familiarize the participants with aspects of the Design Thinking Process.

    1. Understanding the context and challenge of education in India today
      We started with a lively discussion on the education system in India today. A healthy critique of the existing education system, compared with the earlier Gurukul education system in India, provided the much-needed energy in the class. During this we also presented some data points of low literacy rate, malnutrition, early girls marriage, scarcity of trained teachers in India. It was important to mention these data points, because most the problems highlighted during the workshop exists in the very place where the school is located. The data also allowed the point about problems in education in India to sink it amongst the participants.
    2. Reflective writing on ‘Why you became a Teacher?’
      The second part started with a reflective writing exercise on why each person in the room became a teacher. This was important, for many people end up joining the profession of teaching without any training. For quite a few teaching is more of a makeshift thing, and something that they started because they could not do anything else. There are very few teachers these days, who get into the profession of teaching, due to their passion of teaching. This needs to change, for the society to start believing more in the capacity of the teachers to shape the future of the society and country. Some of them also read their answers with excitement. One of them, Ms Prabha had written that she became teacher to teach her own children.
    3. Design Thinking – Empathy and Problem Mapping
      Post the reflective writing, the teachers were divided into groups and they were introduced to the Design Thinking methodology. One of the most important aspects of Design Thinking is to empathize with the users and get a deeper understanding of the problems that exists within the system. Sitting in diverse groups, the participants were asked to write down the problems (on sticky notes) they find in the education system. It could not just be about the problems that the teacher faces daily in the education system, but also what are all the problems they think exists. One the main aspects of this workshop was to work in teams, which teachers were not familiar from before. Also, only then the members of each group, started to view the same problem from the perspective of the different users, they realized the magnanimous nature of the education space. The teachers were introduced to the Divergent mode of thinking as opposed to the traditional linear way of thinking. Examples were shared on how they could adopt the same to encourage the children to speak up and develop their critical thinking.

    It was amazing to see the response of the teachers and the cooperation they showed during the workshop. The feedback we received was highly positive, mainly because this was perhaps the first time anyone was attending any workshop of this kind. While at the beginning, the participants were a bit hesitant to speak, as the workshop progressed, we observed interactions happening within the teams. The more these interactions happened, the more post-it notes got filled out. In fact, we had a few teams ask for more post-its and chart papers.

    At the end of the workshop, it was important for everyone to feel immensely positive about working in education.  These are health first signs that we have received from the teachers and their response. For the program to be successful, it is important to keep a regular check on the implementation of the learning from the workshop.

    Next steps

    The next in line is the workshop around ‘Classroom Culture’. The main emphasis on this is going to be understanding the psychology of the different stakeholders. The prime focus is going to be on children. We will have exercises and engagement on the things that the teacher should keep in mind from the child’s perspective to making his / own teaching experience memorable. If a teacher has been able to create a Classroom Culture that he / she is truly passionate about, it is definite that the students will have a great learning experience.

    The next workshop is scheduled for the first week of October.

    Kshitiz & Vatsala