The Thousand Schools Programme is an ambitious initiative focused on ensuring equal and quality education opportunities for children in India. As part of the Programme, The University of Turku provides teacher training for local schools.
Education is a powerful tool for social and economic development. However, in many countries ensuring access to quality education remains a pressing challenge. In India, the challenges can be attributed to several factors, including poverty, gender disparity, teacher shortage, lack of infrastructure, and social as well cultural barriers. While the country has made significant progress in improving educational opportunities over the years, there are areas where access to quality education remains limited.
To help solve the underlying problems, Tata Steel Foundation has joined forces with ASPIRE to create the Thousand Schools programme which works towards equal and quality education for all children in India. The University of Turku is involved in the programme through teacher training activities which aim to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
Transforming Education through Access, Learning and Governance
The overarching aim of the Thousand Schools Programme is to create a model of Universalisation of Elementary Education within the Right to Education framework that is replicable and scalable. With this in mind, the programme addresses three critical factors of education: access, learning and governance. It strives to ensure that all children are in school and on track to complete secondary education while also eliminating issues of learning deficit, creating effective learning environments in schools and strengthening and improving school governance structures.
The Programme is focussed on rural regions of India where access to school is limited and the quality of education is poor. Initiated with 1000 schools in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand in 2015, the programme has since been replicated in other states. Due to its success, the current plan is to expand the programme even further.
Teacher Training for Rural Areas and Villages
University of Turku joined the Thousand Schools programme in 2021 through the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning (GINTL). The University’s role in the programme is two-fold. Firstly, the University is involved in training the teachers in rural areas and villages. Secondly, it is developing new teaching and learning materials for the schools.
Training and empowering the teachers is a vital part of the programme as this means that they are better equipped to provide quality teaching for their students. In spring 2023, the training sessions focused on mathematics and natural sciences which were the topics requested by the teachers in India. The two training teachers of the lessons, Mari Hanski from the Turku Teacher Training School and Sari Isokytö-Sinjoi from the Rauma Teacher Training School, conducted the training sessions as online lessons. Both teachers found the experience largely positive as the participants in India were very enthusiastic and eager to learn.
“The teachers’ thirst for knowledge was impressive, they really wanted to learn more. Some of the topics we went through are complicated even at the best of time. With limited time and resources, they are even harder to teach and learn. But the teachers were mostly very motivated and asked good questions which made the experience a positive one,” explains Hanski.
In addition to training teachers in specific subject areas in mathematics, chemistry of physics, Hanski and Isokytö-Sinjoi also focused on teaching methods. Some of the local teachers in India do not have a formal teacher training background which meant that their pedagogical skills varied significantly. Furthermore, the education system in India is very oriented towards standardised exams which emphasise memorising rather than learning.
“The traditional education culture in India is very focused on the teacher. In other words, teachers teach and students listen. We tried to show them that teaching and learning can be interactive, engaging and fun processes. I hope we were able to widen the teachers’ perspective on how to teach in addition to what to teach,” says Isokytö-Sinjoi.
The collaboration between the University of Turku and the Thousand Schools Programme is set to continue with more trainings in the pipeline. Working together has proved to be meaningful for participants both in India and in Finland.
“In June, we will continue to work on mathematics, but there are new topics planned for autumn. Cooperation between the two cultures to promote education has been very rewarding. We have been allowed to take Finnish expertise to teachers in village schools in India but we have also learned a lot from them. We have also been inspired by the joy and desire to learn new things and by the teachers’ attention to the subjects taught," rejoices Training Expert Mirjami Jeskanen from the Department of Teacher Education.