Professionals involved in educating and communicating for environment and development need to have a multidisciplinary perspective; an understanding of development processes, and they also need to possess unique set of skills. However, very often practicing teachers as educators are not necessarily trained in these. This gap in capacity building of teachers makes in-service teacher training in Environment Education (EE), a long felt need.
Today in countries like India, in- service training faces a number of challenges like, lack of time, training programmes not being always relevant to the work situation and needs, limited resources available for training, etc. Green Teacher, a distance education course in EE for practicing teachers was launched by Centre for Environment Education, in partnership and with support from the Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, Canada in the year 2005 as an experiment towards meeting some of the challenges of in- service training programmes.
With the feedback from pilot run available, it is felt that Green Teacher has relevance to not only practicing teachers in India, who have been assigned to teach environment in their schools, but also for teachers from the neighbouring countries. As a result, the Green Teacher is now being also developed as an on-line training-learning programme.
In the year 2003, the concern for mainstreaming EE in India was spelled out by the Supreme Court of India in its directive making EE compulsory at all levels of schooling. Yet another set of reality is the reality of concerns with regard to teacher training in the country. These include inadequate resources or facilities for EE, limited access to teaching aids, tremendous workload on teachers and the fact that teachers cannot take off long periods of time for enhancing skills or professional development.
Over the years, working with teachers and schools, at Centre for Environment Education (CEE), India, it has been felt that there is an increasing interest among the teaching community to bring environmental concerns into the classroom, as well as to explore innovative and participatory methods of teaching. Schools have become increasingly supportive of such endeavors, and the students themselves are more concerned about the environment and keen to learn about it.
In India today, while a number of teacher training institutions concerned with in-service teacher training, as well as NGOs all over the country, offer a variety of short-term training programmes on EE, it would be fair to say that EE training is not available anywhere near the scale that it is either required or demanded. Besides a gap between the need and the availability of in-service training opportunities, in the Indian context some of the other key challenges/barriers to effective teacher training in EE include:
Duration of capacity building opportunities: Most in-service training efforts are short duration workshops (of 3 or 5 days), which act more as ad-hoc 'orientation' opportunities rather than sustained capacity-building processes of orienting teachers to EE, hand-holding and guiding them through the initial stages of learning, supervising them in the trial and experimentation phase and building their capacities to the level that they feel confident to be able to take on EE within their teaching-learning assignments.
Time availability with learners: A large number of teachers to be trained fall under the 'in-service' category, thus their ability to take on intensive, long duration training programmes is limited.
Heterogeneity in the 'learner group': Since the essence of EE is in being multidisciplinary, EE concerns all subject teachers. The challenge in designing a training programme is thus to ensure that all subject teachers find the training meaningful.
Diversity-Flexibility: In terms of EE, dealing with high diversity, ecological as well as cultural, is challenging. For a training programme to be effective and relevant across a vast country with tremendous diversity, a high degree of flexibility is a must.
Limited resources: In countries like India, the sheer numbers that need to be dealt with tend to always pose the challenge of resource limitation. This challenge requires that by appropriate design a training programme becomes cost-effective.
Overcoming challenges: From 'in-service' to 'on-the-job; on-site' training
CEE, a national centre of excellence in EE has been closely involved in teacher education and training of professionals since 1984. Through its six regional offices, over 30 state offices in the country, and strong networking and partnership with education departments and other NGOs across the country, CEE has, over the last two decades, offered numerous in-service training programmes in EE, mainly through the mode of face to face training and orientation.
However, with the concept of in-service training changing rapidly, not adequate time for teachers to come out of classrooms, need for customised training, peer-learning, learning by doing, the challenge for CEE was how to bring in principles of good quality education into in-service training without necessarily having professionals take off from work for long to come to the 'training room'. On-the-job; on-site training was obviously the answer and this was possible for CEE to implement only by adopting the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode. In the year 2002, CEE, with support from the Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver Canada, undertook an experiment in the form of an ODL teacher training programme in EE. In 2005, this programme called The Green Teacher – the first in-service teacher training programme in EE offered through ODL in the country, was launched. The Green Teacher is designed as an in-service training programme with the objective to enable teacher-learners to effectively take up environmental concerns and issues in the classroom, and engage their students in practical, action-oriented EE activities and projects. Over the last two years, about 150 teachers have been transformed into Green Teachers.
The Green Teacher: A podium for excellence in EE
The Green Teacher Distance Education Course is structured such that:
Process of development of course material was participatory, bringing in experts from relevant fields.
The writing style followed is of self-learning which is suggestive in its tone rather than prescriptive.
Not all the course modules follow the same pedagogical approaches used. From module to module, based on the focus, objectives and expected learning outcomes, the writing style varies.
Course design takes into consideration the principles of adult learning, realities of in-service training and features of ESD. Besides the 4 course modules, there is also a 5-6 course project.
Course timing decided to match with convenience of teachers in the school calendar.
Course delivery is of 'blended' nature, commencing with a compulsory contact session.
Learner support system is being built up with the philosophy of providing some ready-made support features, but several of the features are tailor-made. Further peer support is being strengthened as a key mechanism.
Examination scheme has equal weightage on knowledge and skills components. Course-project makes an important part of this.
From ODL to ICT-enabled on-the-job learning
The past two years of successful experience of the Green Teacher illustrates the immense potential that ODL has in meeting the challenges of learnings for sustainable development. With the feedback from pilot run available, it is felt that the course is required to be translated and adapted to various vernacular languages in India. and that Green Teacher has relevance to not only practicing teachers in India, who are interested in or have been assigned to teach environment in their schools, but also for teachers from the neighbouring countries. The growing demand of EE training across teachers of a variety of disciplines, classes and countries and also the need to provide much locale-specific; subject-specific and customised learning experiences to a teacher-learner are posing challenges of meeting these demands of on-the-job; on-site training without losing the quality and essence of the training programme.
Several features of ICT-enabled learning are:
Bringing training to the door-step of the learners – on-the-job; on-site
Providing scope for developing a flexible training design;
Providing effective, efficient and adaptable versions of training material to suit individual learner's need, making learning more customised;
Providing real-time learning – on-demand training;
Providing more choices and options to learners, thereby making learning experiences more relevant for individual needs;
Enabling very high scope for learner participation in the training programme (comment, contribute and provide feedback to the training design and content thereby ensuring that learners appropriately also become facilitators/trainers);
Enabling the training experience to be not just 'learner-centred' but also 'learner-controlled';
ICT-enabled tools can help make 'learner-support' more responsive and supportive.
As a result, the Green Teacher is now being also developed as an on-line training-learning programme. This programme, called the Green Teacher online is being developed as an experiment of combining the immense potential that Open and Distance Learning (ODL) has in meeting the challenges of learnings for sustainable development with the wide reach and that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can provide to a programme in terms of its reach, time-effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and learner-controlled.
Lately in India, ICT, as an area of supporting communication, learning and training, is growing by leaps and bounds. This is supported the fact that India has launched a satellite devoted exclusively to learning, education and training called the EDUSAT – providing virtual classroom situation, learning experiences and training opportunity to not just the children in all corners of the country but is playing a major role in continuing education, in-service training and learning in the country.
Green Teacher Online
The programme is based on an existing print based ODL course called The Green Teacher, developed and offered by CEE and COL. Green Teacher online will be offered through an ICT-enabled, web-based, Learning Management System.
The larger aims of the Green Teacher online experiment are:
To test and validate the effectiveness of ICT-enabled, web-based learning management system in providing effective, customized and accessible in-service teacher training.
To establish a learner-centred and learner controlled, self-sustaining, continuing, ICT enabled open and distance learning programme.
This course will provide teacher/educators across various countries, an opportunity of being trained in Environmental Education at their door steps. In the South Asian context, Green Teacher online course would prove very worthy and effective as an e-Learning tool for adult learning. This online course will enhance skills of teachers in implementing effective Environmental Education in their schools/communities. This course will also help learners, to share knowledge among them allowing the much valid wisdom and experience of learners to influence the training process.
The above mentioned examples and many more recent developments in the country are providing very supportive indicators to the use of ICT for on-the-job training and learning for educators. The increasing recognition of ICT enabled open and distance learning as one of the most effective modes of offering on-the-job and in-service training opportunities ensures good acceptance and greater demand for ICT enabled, web-based courses especially for educators and communicators. With a view to making on-the-job training and learning meaningful and relevant, the Green Teacher online is being taken up as a case of educating the educators using ICT based in-service training programme in a highly contested, contextual and dynamic subject, i.e. environmental education and education for sustainable development.