Policy and Regulatory Changes in Teacher Education in India: Concerns, Debates and Contestations

Gunjan Sharma (gunjan@aud.ac.in) is a faculty member at the School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.
27 February 2019

The article reviews and discusses policy and regulatory changes or reforms in teacher education in India that have taken place in the last one decade, arguing that it is a highly contested arena in India that is closely tied with the way the academic networks and coalitions operate in the field.

Teacher education is a contested terrain globally. The policy contestations in the domain, that are shaped by a lack of consensus on what constitutes adequate teacher preparation, are progressively intensifying with the restructuring of teacher education across different contexts (Whitty and Furlong 2017). The concept of teacher preparation is being debated with a range of disagreements on the standards, content and nature of teacher education is being discussed in various other countries. At the same time, good teacher quality is increasingly being seen as an imperative to meet the changing landscape of social and educational aspirations and the demands of the global “knowledge economy.” Thereby teacher education is getting more attention in the policy space. These issues having direct bearing on teacher education policy and have highlighted that policy decision-making in teacher education is not just an implication driven exercise but is highly and fundamentally political (Cochran-Smith 2013). This analysis also applies to the Indian teacher education policy and regulatory contexts.

Teacher education in India is regulated by the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) that gained a statutory status in 1993. Its main objective is to achieve planned and coordinated development of teacher education through the development and implementation of Regulations (Norms and Standards) for teacher education institutions seeking recognition for starting teacher preparation programmes. Until 2014 there were three (2005, 2007, and 2009) successive regulations of the NCTE, each varying from the previous. The reasons for developing new regulations have not been stated publicly by the NCTE. However, the fourth set of regulations of 2014 were much talked about in the public domain (not systematically researched though). 

This regulatory change emanated from two related national frameworks for reforms in teacher education—the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE), 2009 (NCTE 2009), and the report of the Supreme Court’s high-powered Justice Verma Commission (JVC) on teacher education in 2012 (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2012). Both of these are set against the backdrop of larger education policy transitions in India. Two of these significant transitions are given below.

First, the challenges of expansion and of assurance of quality in school education system have made structural reforms in teacher education an imperative. India’s education sector has undergone unprecedented changes since the last national education policy (1986–92), and especially since the introduction of the economic reforms of the 1990’s. In this duration, there has been a massive rise in the social and economic aspirations leading to multifold increase in the demand for education across the unequal social fabric of India. There has thus been expansion and diversification of education at all levels accompanied with concerns about “quality” of and “equity” in education across levels (especially at the school level).

In this context, there are two major policy-related developments in school education that have come about in the past decade (having substantial implications for teacher education). These are: the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), and the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF) (National Council for Educational Research and Training, 2005). On one hand, RTE is meant to operationalise Article 21A of the Constitution of India that makes elementary education a justiciable right of the children of ages 6 to 14 years. On the other hand, NCF 2005 outlines the constituents of “quality” of the educational/curricular experience that elementary schools should provide. Both documents together aspire for a child-centred environment in elementary classrooms. In this relation, NCFTE and JVC Report chart the corresponding revamping of teacher education in the country to reform teaching–learning in schools. Both these frameworks represent how the concerns for quality in school education have given impetus to the long-pending reform in teacher education in the country.

Second, the concerns that NCFTE and JVC report emanate from are not only structural in nature but also emerge from regulatory issues that have ramifications for managing commercial interests (and thereby quality) in the field. These two frameworks are particularly informed by the fact that as of today teacher education is “predominantly in the private sector, accounting for about 92 percent each of teacher education institutions and student intake. About 88 percent of teacher education institutions offering diploma programmes and about 96 percent of those offering Bachelors of Education are in the private sector” (Menon and Mathew 2016: 150). JVC Report, in particular, was set up by the Supreme Court in view of the case regarding granting of recognition to 291 private teacher education colleges in Maharashtra “to examine the entire gamut of issues which have a bearing on improving the quality of teacher education as well as improving the regulatory functions of the NCTE” (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2012: 3).

After the submission of the JVC Report, the Supreme Court constituted a committee to develop an action plan that outlines the processes and timelines required for the implementation of the recommendations. Following this action plan, NCTE constituted various subcommittees, including subcommittees for designing curriculum frameworks for various teacher education programmes, to work on the different recommendations. This resulted in the NCTE’s Regulations (Norms and Standards), 2014 (NCTE 2014a). A summary of the major reforms suggested in NCFTE and JVC Report, that were also pursued by the NCTE sub-committees, is presented below.

Broad Contours of Reforms 

In spirit, both NCFTE and JVC Report envision professionalisation of teacher education in the country. There is also a fair degree of overlap in the recommendations of the two documents, particularly with regard to curriculum for teacher education programmes. In fact, JVC Report recommends that NCFTE be taken as the guiding framework for curriculum reforms. This correspondence between JVC Report and NCFTE (and RTE and NCF) has been analysed as an outcome of the overlap in the members constituting the committees or/and the academic networks among the committee members (Verma 2015). As a result, both the documents broadly suggest the changes that have been described below.

Reform in the curricula: NCFTE describes its aim being to provide “directions towards change in the structural aspects of teacher education at elementary, secondary and post-graduate levels” (NCTE 2009: iv). The framework visualises a change in the profile of teacher education in the country by proposing reforms in the contents, teaching-learning and professional rigour of the curricula. These reforms have been contextualised by NCFTE in the problems of the “conventional” teacher education that are seen as being of abysmal curricular quality (2009: 52). The main principles of curriculum reforms that were proposed included the following: (i) A holistic approach to curriculum; (ii) an emphasis on engagement with theory and foundational perspectives on education; (iii) preparation for future teachers to be reflective, humane and professional practitioners; (iv) longer and intense internship/school experience; (v) preparing would-be teachers to organise teaching-learning in a child-centred manner; (vii) stage specificity in training for various school levels; and (vi) location of teacher education programmes in interdisciplinary environment (2009: 23-24 and 52-55). The details and modalities of these curricular ideas were operationalised by different NCTE subcommittees in the context of their respective mandated areas of curriculum design. To a great degree the constitution of these sub-committees represented or retained the academic networks or coalitions seen in JVC and NCFTE. 

Increased duration of teacher education programmes: From NCFTE possibilities of two kinds of initial teacher education programmes emerge: (i) two-year second bachelor’s degree for initial teacher preparation at the elementary and secondary school levels; and (ii) four-year (or longer) integrated first bachelors model for both the levels. In addition, JVC also points towards the need for two-year Master of Education programmes and NCFTE recommends sandwiched postgraduate courses of three years’ duration towards developing a specialised cadre of senior secondary school teachers and teacher educators. Before these regulatory changes, the durations of Bachelors and Masters of Education programme were one-year each. After 2014, the duration of these programmes was enhanced to two-years each across the country. This recommendation is based on the assumption that longer duration programmes will provide sufficient time and opportunity for rigorous engagement of the future professionals—in view of a larger objective of professionalising teacher education.

Reformulation of the regulatory mechanism: The changes recommended in JVC covered a broad range so as to reshape the way NCTE functions. These included amendments in the NCTE Act, 1983, establishing a vigilance cell within NCTE, tenure of the chairperson and appointment of the NCTE Council, and changing the norms and standards. These regulatory changes as well as those introduced through the norms and standards for different teacher education programmes designed by different subcommittees of NCTE also became the centre of debates and discussions. While these debates were not resolved, they brought out the complexity of the regulatory structure, changes and decision-making process. An overview of these debates is presented in the next section of this paper.

Upgrading teacher education programmes: JVC and NCFTE both recommended that to address pre-service quality issues, teacher education (especially elementary level) be upgraded to the level of degree programmes as against largely being offered through diploma programmes. The stated rationale of NCFTE and JVC for this was that since a large number of current institutions are stand-alone institutions they remain isolated from an interdisciplinary ecosystem that can only be provided in a university. This recommendation put forth an uphill task for both the NCTE and the central and state governments as such upgradation of programmes (mostly offered by private institutions) calls for structural changes. The challenges thus involved are discussed in the following section.

Teacher Education Policy: Political and Under Contestations

At each stage of arriving at the regulations pertaining to the above reforms through the work of different subcommittees, there were debates to the extent of being seen as “wars” regarding the nature of systemic overhaul and future directions of teacher education (Dhankar 2014). On one hand, these debates pointed towards rampant commercial interests in teacher education and poor regulation in the sector by the NCTE reflecting adversely on the quality of teacher education. On the other hand, these also demonstrated that regulation and policymaking in teacher education is a highly disputed arena with many conflicting interest groups (such as professional collectives of teacher educators, the private sector, and actors within governments) jostling for more control and a greater voice (Menon and Mathew 2016: 164). 

The debates that emanated in the process of regulatory decision-making revolved around the concerns that are fundamental to teacher education or education as a field of study. How are the foundations of education constituted? How is teacher education different from areas of liberal studies? How is the professional component in teacher education defined? In which institutional context(s) should teacher preparation programmes be located? How and by whom should these be taught? These questions were generated mainly from wide disagreements on the Report of the Sub-Committee for Revised Recognition Norms and Procedures for Select Teacher Education Programmes (NCTE 2014b), and became further highlighted with the Report of the Committee on Faculty Requirements and Qualifications for BElEd and DElEd Programmes (NCTE 2014c).

While there were several arguments made in the public domain on these core questions, only few articulated the core arguments in a balanced and informed manner. Some argued that liberal studies are central to defining the field of education: 
Education in this sense, when perused gives rise to a whole lot of fundamental questions about life, humans and society. These are its foundational questions. Insights gained from various disciplines become necessary conceptual apparatus to address those questions. The knowledge that is essential for addressing these questions becomes foundational, but the guiding principles emerge from the central concerns of education…  (Dhankar 2014: 3) 
Others expressed concerns regarding the marginalisation of professional competencies:
While one must acknowledge the contributions of the various foundational areas in the perspective building exercise, it must be emphasised that the essence of professional preparation as educators is reflective practice involving hands-on engagement with the core processes of education... (NCTE 2015: 25)

These debates took different forms on different occasions. They have ranged from the lack of agreement on what comprises the core of the curriculum of teacher education, to whether initial teacher preparation and further postgraduate preparation (Masters of Education) are essential requirements for a teacher educator. While there appeared to be a consensus about the professional status of teaching and other supportive processes like educational leadership, curriculum design, textbook development, and so on, there was no generally accepted view on what comprises adequate preparation of a future professional. These debates are not new to the field of education and are inherently related to the ambivalent identity of education as a discipline or an area of knowledge (Sarangapani 2011).

Along with the question of necessity of Master of Education degree for teacher educators, another major point for disagreement between different coalitions was the increased total time involved in completing the minimum eligibility for becoming teacher and/or teacher educator. The recommendation of JVC Report of longer duration programmes quickly snowballed into a concern regarding the possibility of fall in the number of teacher education aspirants. In the view of these issues, it has been argued that underlying this whole debate and discourse is the “politics of securing jobs in universities” (Menon and Mathew 2016: 166).

Along with these debates, the recommendations of JVC presented several issues or challenges. Two of the prominent ones included— (i) upgradation of stand-alone institutions/programmes to university level; and (ii) curricular revisions.

The upgradation of stand-alone teacher education institutions to university level has not yet been initiated. As can be anticipated, the proposed upgradation of institutions to university level would not be a simple linear process. This is particularly because the teacher education system is networked with a variety of institutions and structures (for instance, with examination boards and teacher recruitment systems), and the changes that JVC Report proposes would require a complete overhaul in these networks and structures. Also, the significant variations in the teacher education system and networks across different states makes it difficult to adopt a standard route to implement the change.

While the upgradation in public-funded teacher education institutions may be achievable in a phased manner, it is particularly challenging in the case of private institutions that constitute the majority in the system. This is because it will pose challenges of upgradation of faculty and institutional contexts of curriculum development and transaction, and a probable shift in institutional location. All of these have considerable cost implications. The option of phasing out all stand-alone institutions and launching fresh teacher education in interdisciplinary environments potentially has a greater number of issues, particularly of political nature given the private stakes in the sector. At the same time, the assumption underlying this recommendation that the programmes located in interdisciplinary environments utilise their ecosystem well, may not be unequivocally correct (Srinivasan 2015). 

It is contended that most of these proposed reforms (particularly those proposed in NCFTE) are based on the lessons learned from the innovative Bachelor of Elementary Education of the University of Delhi and from the process of its institutionalisation (Setty 2014: 71). It was also debated that this model was being standardised for the national level without adequate consideration of whether or not this is even achievable or useful given the qualitatively uneven higher education context in the country.

The challenge related to curricular overhaul emanated from the fact that this was the first time that programme content became a subject matter of the NCTE regulations. It is difficult to achieve any curricular “reform” within a prescriptive framework. The NCTE regulations for individual programmes were detailed (in varying degrees though) to the extent of stipulating course titles, weightages apportioned to various components of the programme, transaction modalities and qualifications for teaching different courses. Teacher education programmes as envisioned in NCFTE and JVC Report would have demanded that teacher education institutions engage in conceptualisation of the programmes afresh. Revising the existing curriculum by a mere expansion in the existing programmes (in terms of time-duration, addition in the number of courses, etc) would have diluted quality and rigour, and would reproduce the existing problems. Thereby, the decision of regulating the broad template of curricula appears to be a logical route. However, this involves a careful consideration and fine balancing so as to ensure institutional autonomy in curriculum design. It also requires engaging with the concern that a simple adoption of the given curricular prescriptions would not lead to a reform and transformation that is generated from within the institutions and thus may be difficult to sustain in the long run.

A systematic study of the post-2015 revised curricula of the various programmes is not yet available in the public domain. However, the experience of the regional dissemination workshops organised by NCTE during 2015 for curricular dissemination, highlighted what is referred to as the gap between the language of the “educational elite” to whom this curricular reform belongs and that of a large part of the audience for the reform (Setty 2014: 89).

Way Ahead

Scholars internationally and in India have long engaged with the tensions in the identity or meaning of education as a discipline and its location in the university or academy (Furlong 2013; Furlong & Lawn 2011; Sarangapani 2011). This is largely an outcome of the struggles that the field—historically identified with mainly teacher preparation—has undergone to claim legitimacy and space in university or amidst academic disciplines. In this struggle, the “discipline” grappled with politics around what constitutes educational knowledge—marked by changing views on distinctions between educational practitioners and university scholars (Furlong 2013: 41).

These recent teacher education policy and regulatory reforms in India have been shaped or marred by this sharp but rather arbitrary distinction between “educational practitioners and scholars” and their respective coalitions. More than the fundamental concerns of the field, the debates and struggles between these coalitions to gain greater control of the domain took the centre stage in the reform process. 

This is also evident from the fact that none of the regulatory changes or policy frameworks have been based on research or a concerted inquiry of practice. This in turn points toward the lack of relationship between research, policy and practice in teacher education in India that is also a long-standing issue in many other countries (Whitty 2006: 159). The relationship between these three aspects of a domain of knowledge and practice has a bearing on its future direction and development. A lack of linkage between these is likely to make teacher education more vulnerable of de-professionalisation (Furlong 2013).

In this debated reform process, it also became evident that NCTE, as a national regulatory body, has not been sufficiently equipped with the academic and administrative resources, capacity and autonomy to discharge its mandates. Additionally, NCTE drew on academic capacities of universities/academic institutions (mostly Delhi based) on varied aspects. Even after this reform exercise NCTE has not been adequately endowed with the wherewithal to implement the entire gamut of recommendations.

Meanwhile, the policy direction in teacher education is set for another round of changes. The Government of India is developing a new National Education Policy that will revisit reforms in teacher education. From a study of this National Education Policy related documents made public by the government, it has come across that the JVC and NCFTE approach has been overlooked therein (Sharma 2016). Also, as per media reports the process of revising the teacher education curricula and regulations is on simultaneously in the NCTE (Economic Times 2018). There are indications of a major reshaping of the key ideas that were instituted through the recent regulations—an example of which can be seen in the new regulations for a four-year teacher education programme announced by the NCTE in 2018 (NCTE 2018). It is unlikely that these new developments are mere omissions and responses to some needs—and further help in understanding how teacher education policy and regulatory decision-making in India is not merely a neutral domain of knowledge; rather it is essentially political and constantly under contestations.


Gunjan Sharma (gunjan@aud.ac.in) is a faculty member at the School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.
27 February 2019