The Changing Role of Teachers

By Anandakumaresh Ratnasingam, Principal, Taylor's College Sri Hartamas

Education today hinges on the idea of student-centeredness. Complementary to this idea is the active participation of students in their learning. In the past, the "transmission model" of imparting knowledge was the norm. Teachers were respected as repositories of knowledge.

The advent of information technology has radically changed the face of education. Today's students can access information with the simple click of a button on their computer or mobile phone. Students are learning all the time and the information they have at hand is global information coming from the numerous channels available. What is most evident is that, students live in a culturally diverse global environment that impacts them just as much as adults.

So it is only natural that teachers have to employ new and different ways of teaching. They now need to be facilitators of their students' learning and they need to build on the learning experiences of their students. Learning is no longer confined to the classroom or the textbook but takes place beyond the classroom, and it is the teacher's role to help the student relate his/her experiences to the subject being studied.

This transference, from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning, is a big paradigm shift. The key is to involve students in their own learning. Teachers using Science, Technology and Society (STS) approach are able to achieve this. STS goals include making clear to students the relationship of science and technology to socially-relevant issues. It involves the application of problem-solving and decision-making skills to solve real problems. It is important for teachers to help students develop thinking, problem-solving, communication and decision-making skills as well as achieving emotional equilibrium.

Student-centred learning demands commitment and passion from the teacher. However, it is the approach that I would advocate. More important than merely imparting knowledge, what teachers need to do is to provide the right environment for students to develop these skills.

Therefore, students need to know not just the 'What?' but also the 'Why?' It is not enough for students to merely memorise facts and figures and to be tested on how much they know. The litmus test of a successful teacher is that his/her student can understand, debate and apply what they have learned.

Students need to take charge of their own learning but teachers can set the direction and lay some ground rules. Through hands-on activities and discussion in the classroom, teachers can guide the students to construct their own knowledge and form their own conclusion.

Students who are involved in their own learning are found to be more receptive to the concepts being presented. Furthermore, as the teacher employs a wide variety of methods to deliver the curriculum, the different learning styles of students are facilitated.

In student-centred learning, the teacher needs to be aware of student sensitivities and challenges. They must learn to see each student as an individual with unique needs, learning styles and interests. The teacher needs to know how each student is coping so they can provide motivation and support for those who are lagging behind or facing difficulties. For the students who are doing well, the teacher needs to ensure that there is teamwork and everyone is given an opportunity to take part or to present their findings. If conflicts arise, the teacher can assist them in resolving the conflict.

The teacher's role today has evolved and is indeed very challenging. To make their lessons exciting and up-to-date, teachers need to be lifelong learners and continuously update themselves on the latest development. Thus, teachers need support in the form of training to help them implement effective student-centred methodologies. With student-centred learning, the teacher's role has not diminished. In fact, teachers are more important than ever.