Teachers’ Day is an occasion to not only recall the past but also to analyse present-day positions and think about how tradition could be reinterpreted in modern contexts
This year, on Teachers’ Day, everyone would be talking about the Draft National Education Policy (NEP), which is awaiting finalisation. People would also recall the great Indian tradition of knowledge quest, its focus on the welfare of one and all and the unparalleled respect and honor that was always bestowed on the guru, who leads from ignorance to knowledge, from known to unknown. In Indian scriptures, the teacher has been accorded the highest place; the guru is to be given the primacy even before “Govind.” The teacher transforms a layperson into a personality. He/she leads human beings from “humanity” to “divinity.” What more could be said about how his/her role has been widely acknowledged all along.
Teachers’ Day is the occasion not only to recall the past but also to analyse the present-day position and then think on how the “glorious tradition of past” could indeed be reinterpreted in a modern-day context and envisioned on futuristic aspiration. While post-independence achievements in educational access, participation and attainments have been significant, there is no dearth of challenges and issues that need to be met and resolved. As the nation pays tribute to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan today, one also needs to recall his oft-quoted words: “Education is a universal right and not a class privilege.” Our achievements in education deserve to be judged on this parameter.
No system of education, particularly of school education, can flourish without the active and adequate presence of fully-equipped, professionally competent, motivated and inspired teachers, who are individually convinced that they are preparing not only the future generations but also the future of the country. While analysing the issues in the context of teachers in the draft NEP, the K Kasturirangan Committee in its chapter on teachers lays down the objective: “Ensure that all students at all levels are taught by passionate, motivated, highly qualified, professionally trained and well-equipped teachers.” There could be many instances in the life of all those who were lucky to get education on how some of the teachers “expand their universe of affection and love” far beyond the official realm of duties and responsibilities laid down for them in the official documents.
These repose faith in the better future of India. Practically every teacher in a multi-religious class knows how important it is to let every child know how precious he/she is to him/her. Only the teacher can, particularly in the initial stages, sow the seeds of the beauty that emerges out of “unity in diversity.” Schools must become centres of social cohesion, religious amity and value nurturance. It is not a new expectation; it is part of the teaching-learning tradition all over the country. Unfortunately, it is gradually getting diluted in times of glare and glitz of materialistic pursuit that has relegated certain sublime aspects of education to the background.
Everyone acknowledges he/she owes it to the teachers. We all owe it to our teachers. None else could play a role higher than the teacher in shaping an individual’s life. On Teachers Day, it is also customary to recall one’s own teachers, those who shaped the future, inculcated and nurtured values and showed the path ahead. These days, everyone in India is talking about Jammu & Kashmir.
I often recall one instance narrated to me by a very senior educationist. In a Srinagar school, around 1947-48, young Som Nath Saraf came to school after about being absent for two weeks. “Where were you, Som”, asked Maulavi Sahib. The feeble response from the young child was: “My mother expired”. This made Maulavi Sahib leave his seat, walk towards distraught Som with stretched hands and lift him in an affectionate embrace. With moist eyes and in a soft motherly tone, Maulavi Sahib said: “Now onwards, I am your mother.” What he said became a mantra for Som throughout his life. It transformed the life of SN Saraf, who rose to great heights in education, retired as the Chief of Education in the Planning Commission, a much-respected Vice Chancellor and made a significant contribution in “values in education”.
In times of growing stress among students, this one act of Maulavi Sahib reflects almost all the qualities that one could expect from a guru. It was the continuity of this great tradition that maintained an empathetic and intense personal relationship between the teacher and the taught. There is no dearth of such motivating and inspiring instances that have been documented from scriptures and other historical texts. Acharya Chanakya picks up a boy simply after observing his talents, cares little about his background and transforms him into a mighty Emperor Chandragupta.
Yes, teachers can transform innocent individuals into great performers and achievers. The arena of sports and games presents inspiring examples of coaches, exactly on the line of narratives from achievers in fields of higher learning, dedicating their achievements to their teachers. The ustaads of musical gharanas also represent a tradition akin to the environment that existed in the Gurukula: Total devotion to learning and development of personality in all of its humane aspects.
The dictum, “No people can rise above the level of their teachers” shall remain valid, rather eternally. Further, the thought — Yavadjeevait Adhiyate Viprah — the wise continue to learn till the end of life was never more valid and relevant as of today and tomorrow. There shall be no place for those “teachers” who are not attuned to new knowledge and skill that is raining incessantly from all sides.
Teachers of tomorrow shall derive respect from their students only if they remain conscious of the fact that their initial education, training and skill acquisition shall not help them lifelong. As they say, only a lighted lamp can ignite others. Future teachers will have to be conscious of the changes in subject content on the one hand and the pedagogy on the other. In higher education, awareness of new advances, researches and innovations will have to become part of the curriculum after due scrutiny and examination of their relevance.
One practice that needs to become more frequent in education is the opportunity of new and young teacher interacting intensively with the more experienced and enlightened. Training institutions must include this in their activities for the benefit of both pre-service and in-service education. Radhakrishnan said the aim of education is to prepare would-be teachers “to apprehend the eternal values, to appreciate the supreme human virtues and the simple decencies of life.”
In the contemporary context, he expresses in strikingly touching terms on what should be happening in education: “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.” And to achieve this, we need to trust our teachers as has been the Indian tradition.
(The writer is the Indian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO)