Ms Amrita Randhawa, Head of Faculty, Asian International College-India presenting a workshop for early childhood educators at the EducationWorld conference in Bengaluru, January, 2016. She has a EdM from Harvard University, and facilitates online teacher education programmes online from home so she can care for her infant son.

#IWD2016: India’s untapped reservoir of talent

How online teacher education can be a boon for stay-at-home mums … and society at large

Today is International Women’s Day, and the media will be chock full of articles bemoaning the plight of women the world over, trotting out the usual string of platitudes about the pressing need to address the deep-seated structures in society that contribute to gender inequality.

Meanwhile, in a patriarchal society like India, gender-biased social structures are as entrenched as ever with overt forms of discrimination remaining part-and-parcel of every day life; the most extreme form of all being the alarmingly high number of incidents involving sexual violence against women.

Image source: fco.gov.uk

Sadly, there are likely to be many more International Women’s Days yet before any serious headway is made in dismantling such chronic and ingrained behaviours.

We are talking, of course, about the behaviour of men — even supposedly well-educated men — whose prejudices about the role of women in society take hold during childhood as they mimic their male role models and then become difficult to eradicate.

It is so important, therefore, that — starting in early childhood — children are educated about the importance of non-discrimination when it comes to gender (and other equity issues). To do this, we need to impart good quality early childhood education (ECE) teacher education and to attract the right people into the profession.

In India, there is a chronic shortage of well-trained teachers and the problem is particularly acute in ECE, where it is commonplace for people to be employed as teachers with no formal training. This is despite the well-documented evidence that the years 0–5 are the most critical in terms of brain development and interventions during this period can have a profound impact on person’s life chances.

What if it were possible to tap into the reservoir of talent in India among the stay-at-home mums and home-makers, to leverage their bachelors and masters degrees and PhDs to good effect?

A recent academic study indicates that the level of education among Indian women is rising, and even an extremely conservative estimate would have to put the number of highly qualified, stay-at-home mums and home-makers in the hundreds of thousands in a country with a population the size of India.

If a small proportion of these women undertook online early years teacher education programmes, the benefits to them, their children, and society at large would be considerable.

First of all, there is probably no better time to learn about theories and best practices in child development than when you are the parent of young children yourself. There is also the added advantage of developing one’s digital literacy and so-called 21st century skills that are increasingly highly valued. Second, children get a great deal because they get access to better quality parenting. Third, when the children are old enough to go to school, the mums get the chance to become employed as early childhood professionals and make a difference to the lives of the children of other families besides their own.

When this happens the whole community benefits because young girls have good role models to follow. They stay in school longer, become better educated than might otherwise be the case and — importantly — they raise better sons who learn to treat their mothers, aunts, sisters, wives and female work colleagues with the respect they deserve.