The Role of Teachers’ Beliefs in the Implementation of Learner-centred Education in India

Suzana Brinkmann
UCL Institute of Education, London, UK

International education has witnessed a widespread push for promoting Western-originating ‘learner-centred’ approaches, often without adequately considering the challenges involved in crossing cultures. Like many developing countries, India for decades has been attempting a paradigm shift from predominantly ‘teacher-centred’ to more ‘learner-centred’ classrooms, particularly through in-service teacher education, yet most Indian classrooms remain dominated by rote-learning. One possible reason suggested by scholars is that Indian teachers’ pedagogy is grounded in deeply-rooted cultural beliefs resistant to change. However, research and training have rarely attempted to identify and address these underlying beliefs.

This study explores how Indian teachers’ beliefs relate to their practice, whether there are prevalent beliefs that conflict with a learner-centred paradigm, and how these can be addressed within teacher education. The beliefs of 60 government primary teachers in 3 Indian states are explored through questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and open-ended life-narratives, while their pedagogy is analysed through classroom observations. Insights are also drawn from interviews with 73 teacher educators.

Findings suggest eight prevalent beliefs that contradict learner-centred assumptions of policy documents, and that indeed correlate with less learner-centred practice. These include beliefs about equality, democratic relationships, diversity, knowledge, purpose of education, responsibility for outcomes, professional commitment, and change. A critical realist lens is used to analyse causal mechanisms accounting for teachers’ beliefs, practice, and the relationship between the two, revealing many of these beliefs to be rooted in dominant caste ideology.  Drawing from transformative learning theory and Freirean problem-posing, the study proposes a new framework for Indian teacher educators seeking to empower teachers as rational agents capable of bringing changes in their own beliefs and practices.

This research offers insights for teacher educators, policymakers and education reformers in India and other developing countries, regarding the need for engaging with teachers’ beliefs, the need for contextualising Western-originating progressive pedagogies, and suggestions for doing both. Its findings have implications for conceptualizing LCE in an Indian context, for pedagogical reform efforts in India, for LCE reform efforts around the world, and for teacher education research and practice in India and abroad.