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Category : COVER STORY
If you think the smuggled notes and comics shuffled underneath textbooks went unnoticed, her ‘eyes’ caught them all. To all our teachers who had eyes and antennae on their backs, comes this tribute with admiration, respect, and all our love.

Every year we celebrate September 5th as Teachers’ Day in India to commemorate the birth anniversary of the scholar and Bharat Ratna recipient Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, who was also an academician and a philosopher. Teachers’ Day is a great occasion to remember those who dedicate their lives and efforts to building a strong nation of intellectuals. In today’s world, educational institutions are highly commercialized, while at least some teachers view their profession purely as a source of income, ignoring their great responsibility in shaping society. Under these circumstances, teacher education plays a vital role in ensuring quality education and in making a teacher realize his or her true potential. They should make a student dream his dreams and strive for his excellence. “The true teachers are those who help us think for ourselves.” — Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan” Some of the great Teachers of all time who inspired and keep inspiring us to date are; Rabindranath Tagore, Chanakya, APJ Abdul Kalam, Jyotirao, and Savitri Bai Phule: In earlier times, only those who had a passion for teaching entered the field. They tackled even difficult students with patience. The situation has changed a lot. Student-teacher bonding is rare. But we still have many teachers who bring reverence to the profession and are the motivating force for students. Most teachers desire a lucrative job and a non-stressed life. Yet, the fact is that many of them have an uncertain future. Their salaries are relatively meagre. The recruitment of teachers is flawed, especially in government institutions, and has become a political tool to get votes. In such a situation, there is no talk of the quality of education. In many parts of India, we need a sound and transparent recruitment policy in order to attract talent. The intellectual autonomy of a teacher must be the predominant factor in any discussion on teacher education. As a teacher’s role affects entire generations, it is a very sensitive issue to be pondered over. The mass-production of “narrowly skilled” people will only result in the staunching of broad national interests. The wide-ranging capabilities of a teacher should be tailored so as to increasingly accommodate a smart epistemology and content of the curriculum. The present-day teacher must also learn to be a lifelong learner. Many Indian academicians and teachers have made history in this high-pressure job. Teachers find themselves at the receiving end of children’s misdirected energy, pressure from curriculum and calendar, scrutiny and non-acceptance from parents, and criticism on the family front for prioritizing work over family. This is not a 7-to-3-day job, as is popularly assumed. The backlog eats into family and sleeping time. This has been compounded by the pandemic and online schooling; not specifying teachers with their kids in schools who need attention, guidance, and support. To seek and find strength in spirituality is a gift. It is not new. And, in fact, if any one of you has been beating yourself over procrastinating or imagining the day when you will have the time to do things that can help your health, allow me to enlighten you: teaching is the deepest spiritual practice. You don’t just interact or spend time with kids, you act in service to teach. Spirituality is a globally-acknowledged concept. You fulfil an honourable purpose, add meaning to lives and connect to the universe via your teachings, allowing the process to give you the deepest sense of peace and happiness. See spirituality as you may. Both the experience and the results are subjective. Spirituality can result in qualities such as love, self-awareness, patience, frustration, tolerance, compassion, boundless energy, a sense of detachment, faith, health and hope. Teachers are constantly learning. Anyone who thinks teachers know it all or should know it all is most ignorant. The reading, exploring, persistence, and tolerance that is required on the job are constantly teaching the teachers. “The end-product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature.”— Dr. Radhakrishnan When we think we know we cease to learn.”– Dr. Radhakrishnan Freedom, creativity, and courage can amalgamate to make a potent mixture of resilience, something the world needs most right now. We agree that this may not be the last ‘historical circumstance’ or ‘adversity of nature’. While many adults are struggling to tolerate and overcome steady lashes of periodic challenges, teachers have the exposure to young minds that can explore and practice grit, and be better prepared. There is no better teacher than you, and no better time than today to teach them survival, compassion, and duty towards the community. On Teachers’ Day, it is time to review the current state and public perception of the teacher. It has deviated badly from Radhakrishnan’s vision. The corruption in this sector, the role of money in teacher recruitment, promotion, transfer, and research supervisors accepting favours from scholars would have shocked the educator statesman. In a rapidly-changing world, teachers must keep updating their knowledge. In these times of information glut, students often enter classrooms with more information on a topic than teachers. With Google becoming an easily available “guru”, should the teacher be just a disseminator of information? As French essayist Joseph Joubert puts it, “To teach is to learn twice over.” So, the teaching process is an opportunity for the teacher to re-learn with her students. Thus, a good teacher will remain a lifelong student. But there is another facet of modern-day life that demands the teacher’s intervention. In a world of excessive unprocessed information, there is very often a thin line between truth and fake news. That can muddle impressionable minds. Here lies the responsibility of the teacher. The poet Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the teachers’ challenges. Indian teachers are used to chalk-and-talk teaching, which is a practical way of communicating concepts, clarifying doubts, and teaching even subjects such as Mathematics and Engineering. Besides, it is a method that works in all circumstances and locations. Students too are used to following the teacher as she teaches on the board. The general bustle and the playfulness of students also keeps them and the teacher engaged and relaxed.
India’s digital deficit has exacerbated educational equality on the one hand and on the other hand, there is talk of online instruction becoming a part of the educational milieu in times to come. The teacher has to grapple with such contradictions and also guide students as they navigate these trying times. Bill Gates’ statement about technology replacing the traditional classroom is reassuring: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important factor.” Radhakrishnan had put it aptly, “True teachers are those who help us think for ourselves”. For that to happen, teachers have to constantly update their skills and knowledge base. In Karnataka, for instance, the vatara shaale model of community schooling — using open community spaces like temples, courtyards and prayer halls to teach children in small groups, with social distancing norms in place — began when a group of government school teachers sought to create a pandemic classroom that was inclusive. Like in many other states, only about 30% of children in the state have digital access. Spliced for other factors like caste and gender, it throws up a grim picture — as well as the possibility that children, especially in the more impoverished parts, would be sucked into wage labour or child marriage. Similarly, in Sikkim, a maths teacher’s concern for the students of her village led her to visit them at their home for short lessons that ensure they do not fall off the learning grid. The local administration of a village in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, has allowed teachers to broadcast English lessons through loudspeakers. Both the Sikkim and Karnataka state governments have responded by absorbing elements of these innovations in new learning programs devised to adapt to the COVID-19 challenge. Few they might be, but these examples are a glimmer of hope in an education system that stifles creativity in both teachers and students. They also show up the generalization of the commitment-less, undertrained government school teacher as a lazy stereotype. The fact is that schools and teachers exist in a continuum with local communities, and are more responsive to their needs than they are given credit for. Many teachers used the disruption of the pandemic to come up with solutions that adapted to their environments and local needs — and centred the concerns of children who might be left behind, without being told to by government circulars. Some used the unavailability of textbooks and blackboards to set aside the pressure of rote learning for more inclusive pedagogy. The crisis of the pandemic must be used, therefore, not to ram through the chimaera of futuristic tech-savvy education. It must be used to empower the public-school teacher with genuine autonomy and support as Karnataka and Sikkim have shown. However, the education scenario has changed drastically from a time when teachers graded students for their performance to the present when students are asked to fill up survey forms to rate teachers. This is good as long as it is constructive and aids in the betterment of both teachers and students. This system, on the contrary, has been risking the job security of teachers for no fault of theirs. It is a pity that a teacher would most probably lose his/her job if he/she is not able to please the children and their parents. Teachers have almost become puppets in the hands of the students and management. In such a situation, Teachers’ Day might turn out to be the only good day in the lives of teachers. Whatever the case, every teacher deserves to be recognized, and a day like Teachers’ Day would be the perfect occasion to do so.
THE GURUCOOL JOURNEY Gurucool, the Delhi based edtech startup that was in the news earlier for its rise from a student-founded enterprise to having secured pre-seed funding of $150,000 in November 2021 has launched its Padhai app. Started by alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia, Gurucool’s app sets itself apart as being free and accessible in a time when Edtech initiatives are increasingly expensive and even exploitative. It has been approved by the Bihar government as a pilot project and Gurucool hopes to launch 50 centres in 15 cities in the upcoming year.

1 Comment

  1. Khalid Akhtar

    Very informative article that covers all aspects of teaching and the challenges the teachers are facing.

    Reply

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