Train-the-Trainers principle is flawed

January 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm (FOSS, Uncategorized) ()

FOSS is making its way to schools and colleges in India in a big way. There are Govt sponsored projects that are working towards replacing proprietary software being used in labs and introducing FOSS technologies in college curriculum. Notable mentions are the FOSSEE project at IIT Bombay, IOTA in West Bengal , DSERT initiatives in Karnataka and numerous initiatives in Kerala and Gujarat.

The typical way in which they operate is that they train the teachers/professors in the schools/colleges. They conduct workshops spread over a few days and distribute GNU/Linux DVDs and training material at the end.

I have been part of the first such workshop session conducted at NIT Durgapur. We somehow managed to get around 90 teachers from high schools from Bardhaman and Bankura districts. 98% of them had no exposure to computers. Most of them did not even have computers in schools. Even if they did, they would never come close to using it. When you look at it that way it makes no sense to train them. The model was based on  a simple logic: Lets teach school children FOSS. When they graduate and become engineers and managers FOSS shall be their natural choice.

Here are the flaws in the above logic: A college professor or teacher teaches stuff that she has mastered over a period of time. You may introduce FOSS to a teacher and he may even be very bright and receptive, but to teach it to students in a class is too much to ask. It takes 100s of hours of practice to comprehend things well enough to be able to explain to a an average class of 50.

Train-the-Trainers is an attempt at short circuiting FOSS education to get benefits in a short time range, but from what I have seen  is that the rate of decay of information passed to teachers in workshops like these is exceptionally high when they go back to their institutions.

For engineering colleges the case is no different. Many professors will find it difficult to put themselves through tuitions and lectures to learn a new technology any ways. Then to expect them to learn it well enough to create  a culture of using it locally in labs is again unrealistic. There are professors who drive FOSS usage in institutions in India, but if you ask them where they learnt their FOSS and for how long they have been using FOSS, the answer givesa pretty clear verdict at whether the train-the-trainers over a period of weeks works at all.

Students are the dynamos of an educational institution. In a sensible college where there is a reasonable degree of freedom students create new trends and culture. In my college for example, we started using GNU/Linux and then our professors followed to keep up with us.

I feel a lot of time and energy is being wasted in looking at the problem as a hierarchial graph. It does not show you facts like lack of interest after a certain age, ego in teachers and the lack of motivation and time these teachers have to learn a new tech.

I believe these programs should turn their focus to students. Cover as many as possible. If you have covered the brighter percentage of the class you will surely have influenced their decision making for decades to come.



  1. Pramode C.E said,

    Agreed, students are much more receptive to new ideas than teachers. But we do have a resource problem which can’t be easily solved – there are not many of us who can go along and conduct seminars and workshops. So far, in all my “teach the teacher” workshops, what I have seen is that there is usually at least one teacher in a college who is sufficiently motivated to pass on the knowledge he has acquired to his students …

  2. Amit Sethi said,

    I partly agree with you !! most trainers are too inflexible to change . But in world including FOSS , you always do need mentors and who better than those who do it for a living .In whatever brief period I have done this I see one thing , few teachers do care and want to learn and do their best to promote. By reaching them I think we can reach a much larger audience .Atleast thats the plan till now . But ya criticism and understanding one’s mistake is essential …

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