Dr. Atul Nischal is a mathemtiacian committed to improving the quality of school education, to build a better future of India. He is the founder director of the International Council of School Leadership (ICSL), an organization for the professional development of educators and school leaders. He is also the Executive Vice-President at the S. Chand Group.
Before founding ICSL, Dr. Atul Nischal has had a rich and diverse experience of 30 years in the school education industry. He has led several innovative interventions in different domains of education including content development, assessment, in-service professional development of teachers, educational technology and eLearning.
Dr. Atul has actively engaged in various aspects of the quality of school education with decision-makers in the Government, industry and institutions. During his tenure, he has led or collaborated on various projects with MoE, Government of Uarakhand, The World Bank, Open University (Oxford), British Council, NIIT, HCL, eGurucool, Riverdeep (Ireland), Chegg Inc (USA), Encyclopaedia Britannica, and other reputed organizations in education.
In this exclusive interview with the TeacherTribe.world, Dr. Atul speaks about ‘Friday@5’, which is one of the longest-running and a popular weekly e-convo for educators.
1. What is ‘Friday@5’?
Friday@5 is a weekly e-convo for professional development of K12 educators. It is a free programme open for all educators across the world. It takes place on Zoom from 5 PM to 6 PM (IST), every Friday. Each week, we invite domain experts from India and abroad to have a conversation on a topic that is relevant, useful and beneficial for teachers and school leaders. Educators who wish to attend this programme can register on our website. At the me of registration and during the webinar, they are invited to ask any questions that they would like to be addressed by the experts.
2. How did the idea come about?
International Council for School Leadership had launched ‘Leading in Chaos’, a residential training programme for school leaders conducted on weekends. We organised two editions of this programme, in NCR and Ludhiana. Our team had finalised a 10-city rollout of this programme when suddenly, the lockdown was announced which got extended. During this me, we saw mushrooming of webinars for teachers. We observed that teachers were attending as many as 4–5 such webinars and workshops every week. Many of these online workshops were focussed on the newly released National Education Policy. Our team members also attended some of these workshops and observed that all these workshops were only providing a synoptic view of the policy.
We observed that it was important for all educators to gain an in-depth understanding of the policy. That is when the idea of Friday@5 was born as a series of webinars, where we would discuss each chapter of the NEP in detail. To make it lively and interactive, we decided that we will have it in a conversational mode and also allow participants to ask questions. Then we realised that for each chapter of the NEP, we will need to invite different experts.
The first few episodes of Friday@5 focussed on NEP. But, by the me we completed the discussions on NEP, Friday@5 had become quite successful. So, we continued. Up until September, we have organised 58 episodes of the programme and in each episode, we have taken up a new topic.
3. What is the importance of such programmes for teachers?
Over the last 18 months there has been a lot of turbulence in the lives of teachers. I doubt if any other profession has had to evolve so fast because of the pandemic. While other businesses and professionals are slowly returning to normal, teachers are still engrossed in an ocean of uncertainty. The only thing certain is that blended learning will be an integral part of school education in the future. The National Education Policy is also being implemented at a rapid pace. CBSE has already announced major reforms to assessment. The panel to prepare the National Curriculum Framework has been set up. All these are clear indications that teachers need to gear up to embrace a tsunami of changes.
Teachers will need to learn new skills to remain relevant in the future. There is no other way. The real challenge manifests in the diversity of skills, knowledge and attitude that teachers will need to acquire. The advent of blended learning and NEP will change each aspect of the three dimensions of education, namely, content, pedagogy and assessment. One of the first steps that teachers need to take is to be aware of all the ways that school education is about to change, and what would be expected from them in the future. Therefore programmes such as Friday@5 are important for all educators.
By investing just 1 hour every week, educators can update themselves of the latest development in school education that impacts their professional lives. Friday@5 has become a habit for hundreds of teachers who wish to excel and learn.
4. How do you see such continuous learning for teachers evolve over me?
The National Education Policy advocates a minimum of 50 hours of continuous professional development for every educator as well as school leader. Most often, we confuse the word ‘continuous’ with ‘regular’. These have two different meanings. Organising two training programmes of 25 hours each for teachers is regular but not continuous. The information overload for teachers during these 25 hours, which is approximately 3 days of training, will result in high levels of learning inefficiencies. Teachers can achieve a lot more if they attend 1 hour of training programmes per week. This is what Friday@5 aims to deliver. And, I think there is a huge scope of such programmes. For example, we can organise such programmes for individual subjects or in vernacular languages. Imagine if all math teachers in India can attend a weekly zoom session in their language of instruction. It will be far more effective than any other professional development initiative.
5. The NEP requires mandatory training hours for teachers.
How do you see digital training blend in? The era of organising in-person training programmes is largely over. And, my prediction is based on three facts. First, most of the 1 crore teachers in India have developed the skills required to attend and benefit from online sessions. Second, online training can provide the best experts to teachers even if they are located in rural or semi-urban towns. Friday@5 sees many teachers from remote regions of India. And lastly, the economic advantages of online training are unparalleled. For example, on Friday@5, we can have 1000 teachers attend a live zoom session and unlimited teachers watch the live streaming on our Facebook page. Along with that, teachers can also view the recordings of each session on our website and our YouTube channel. There is no way that in-person training programmes can deliver these advantages. However, in specific cases where it is important for participants to engage in hands-on group activities for an extended period of me, in-person training programmes will continue to be offered.
6. Do you think, as educators, we do enough for teacher training in India?
I am really delighted that during the last 18 months, educators have begun to focus on their professional development. They have grown so much. The longevity of Friday@5 and continuous increase in its viewership are tesmonials to the changed mindset of educators. However, there are still lakhs of teachers who avoid their professional development. Are there adequate opportunities for the educators to get energised, empowered and enabled to excel as educators? The answer is no! The amount of me, effort and money we spend on teacher training does not match our expectations from educators. There is a long way to go. I feel that government and private school managements must facilitate teachers to attend good quality professional development programmes. Teachers’ salary must include Rs 5000 annually as a training bonus to complete 50 hours of trainings. The teacher should be given the choice of spending this money on buying books or attending courses, workshops or conferences.
7. Where do you see the future of ‘Friday@5’?
Friday@5 will continue to grow. We have some exciting plans for the next year that will help us reach more people and measure the impact of Friday@5 in the classrooms as well. We will soon be launching a post-show quiz. Teachers who complete the quiz will be eligible for a certificate of patircipation. This way we will be able to recognise and reward teachers who have the relevant knowledge on the subject. Our goal for the future will be to use radio, television and print media to benefit all the educators of India.
This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine November 2021 edition.