India prides itself on the hallowed tradition of knowledge quest – its gurukul system and the reverence it traditionally extends to the guru. It achieved deeper insights in knowledge, wisdom, and vivek through the intensive process of prashna-pratiprashna-pariprashna, which has eternal validity and universal acceptability even amongst the modern-day pedagogues.
India celebrates September 5 every year as Teachers’ Day to express its gratitude to the teachers. It is also an occasion to respectfully remind them – the society and the system – to realise their role in the preparation of future generations in the present-day centres of education and learning. Tributes are paid to the memory of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, an exemplary illustrious teacher of the modern times who, true to his profession, spent a life time in the quest of knowledge and in transmitting it to the generations ahead.
He put to practice the great ancient conceptualisation that the wise man continues to learn throughout his life; yavadjieevait adhiyate viprah! This expectation is eternal, yes, even from the teachers of today. On teachers, Radhakrishnan said it all in one sentence: “The true teachers are those who help us think for ourselves”.
In a world torn in a maze of wars, violence, bigotry, distrust, insecurity and fundamentalism, how soothing is his prescription: “Peace is not the mere absence of war; it is the development of a strong fellow-feeling, an honest appreciation of other people’s ideas and values. Distinctions of a physical character diminish in importance as the understanding of the significance of the inner life of man increases”.
This lays open the path before every sincere, committed and truly empathetic teacher. It is the moral fiber that appears to be in short supply everywhere. India has a far greater responsibility as it is still considered to be the prime source of comprehension in spirituality and humane values.
India knows that it was once acknowledged as the vishwa guru, and that we are keen to regain that status. What a better occasion than the Teacher’s Day to recall and recollect how it could indeed be achieved again: “We must develop the freshness of feeling for nature, the sensitiveness of soul to human need. We must foster the freedom of the mind, the humanity of the heart, the integrity of the individual. Even from the nurseries, we must train human beings by unconscious influence and conscious effort to love truth, beauty and goodness.”
A famous church Father in the middle-ages, Bernard of Clairvaux, in a Latin hymn, asks, “Who will achieve universal peace?” and answers, “The disciplined, the dedicated, the pure in heart and the gentle in spirit”. “No machinery, which the art of man can devise, will work unless there is behind it the proper temper of mind. To create and maintain that temper should be the aim of education in a civilised society.” This could be one of the core concepts in teacher preparation programmes.
It is often realised that teachers of the present times often delineate their goals and objectives rather in a routine manner, often dependent on the instructions received from the ‘controlling authorities’. It may include prescribed curriculum, identified activities, and the final examination that determines the future of the learner in highly competitive world of work.
Under such constraints, curiosity, creativity, desire to innovate, and impulse to think gets terribly subdued. These have a direct bearing on the teacher’s capacity to nurture these traits amongst his children. His role becomes that of a transmitter of existing knowledge, not as a partner and facilitator in discovering new knowledge. Such conditions impact his consciousness as well as a feeling of ‘working as per the instructions’ overtakes his own inspiration and motivation. The inherent instinctive urge for ‘liberty to think, to create and reform, is subdued.
Speaking comprehensively about teachers and their students, envisioning the future Indian citizens, Radhakrishnan illuminates the scenario for action: “We are demanding a more equitable social order. We can achieve it only if we plan our education properly and strive to eliminate the sources of inequities and injustices. Education is a means for the reconstitution of the society. If we are to prepare ourselves for democratic order, our education must have in view the development of each and every individual as a producer, as a citizen, as a human being”.
The foremost challenge before the teachers is to provide ‘equality of opportunity of access and success’ to every child under his charge. It requires tremendous mental strength to ascertain the levels
of inequalities, and then to strive hard to fill in the gaps. The recent decision to revert back to examinations at class V and VIII could provide an apt instance of how an incorrect decision ruined the educational advancement of millions of children.
A no-examination elementary education could be possible only when teachers, in adequate numbers, are mentally, professionally, and academically equipped to monitor the progress of every child at each stage.
With 11 lakh untrained and underqualified teachers in schools; with around seven to eight lakh vacant positions, coupled with several other inadequacies; this was just impossible. The result was a huge number of students moving to upper grades without any learning. The final suffering was inflicted on the students, particularly from Government schools.
Quality is a casualty even in higher education as reports indicate that only 20 per cent of the fresh engineering graduates are found ‘up to the mark’ in the job market. It is the bounden duty of the nation to provide equality of opportunity to everyone, right from the beginning and that includes pre-natal care, pre-school education and elementary education. Teachers have a large role – they need to be active, alert, and wherever necessary, demanding. For students, it is the teacher and the institution that paves the path forward for them in life.
Education overhaul is the core element that could upgrade quality in every sector of human advancement, progress and development. Teachers shall play the prime role in it. That alone can ameliorate the sufferings of millions of fellow citizens. As per 2015 World Bank estimates, India is home to 24.5 per cent of the global poor as it houses 172 million people below the poverty line.
It is an indicator that persistently confronts our planners and also the implementers of welfare schemes, and innumerable projects on growth and development, unfortunately, deliberations; in every sector are never complete without reference to the quality of the products of current education system. The picture that emerges is often rather depressing in spite of considerable gains in the positive domain.
Radhakrishnan, who said that education is not a class privilege, had also said, “Intellectual work is not for all, it is only for the intellectually competent.” It has a great message for everyone associated with educational endeavour. And who is not? Education requires unprecedented transformation. Indian teachers have the competence, commitment and must take the lead.
(The writer is former Director, NCERT and an educationist)
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