Last week we once again observed customary celebrations of ‘Teachers Day’. Even as World Teachers Day is celebrated on October 5, India observes its own Teachers Day every year on September 5. As all of us know this national Teachers Day marks the birthday of the former President, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, who was born on this day in 1888.
Meanwhile, on this day, innumerable posts in honour of the teachers’ community flooded the social media platforms and scores of stories hit newspaper columns where authors shared their tales of student-teacher relationship. Most of the anecdotes described classroom business and were, of course, a delight to read. In fact, reproducing a small incident in the classroom during your school or college days that happened some three decades back is always nostalgic and at the same time delights a reader. In all circumstances, teachers are to be respected for the kind of services they are rendering to society for a better and prosperous tomorrow. However, teachers don’t exist in classrooms only. In fact, there may also be someone outside the classroom who may be imparting you important lessons of living a good life for the overall benefit of humanity.
Let me share an extraordinary lesson imparted to me by a great teacher during a brief conversation with him outside the four walls of the classroom. In fact, Teacher's Day always reminds me of my brief half-an-hour meeting with this great teacher, which happened in 1988. That was my first and the last meeting with this personality – Prof Mushir-ul-Haq , the then vice chancellor of the University of Kashmir. I received a telegram from the University of Kashmir inviting me over a cup of tea with Prof. Mushir-ul-Haq on a particular day. It was the time when Greater Kashmir was a few months old newspaper with weekly periodicity. The reason for inviting me was a report in which I had highlighted the weaknesses and strengths of the Kashmir University.
While discussing the report, Prof. Mushir-ul-Haq didn’t contest the facts mentioned in the content of the report. But he told me something exceptional which has a great human value. He didn’t deny my report, but said, “Look, this institution (Kashmir University) is like your mother, it has nourished and made you capable of joining a noble profession of journalism. Allah has given us eyelids. One of the justified uses of these eyelids is to shut them when you see something is going wrong on part of the mother. If you highlight the wrongs in public, it will bring disrepute to the honour of the mother. Things should be set right within the four walls of the house and not by highlighting the wrongs in public."
This was a huge message which he conveyed in his own way of unmatched humble nature despite being a towering personality of his time. His message is relevant for all of us and is valid for all times to come.
The point of mentioning the incident is to understand that teachers in one’s life are not confined to classrooms only. There are teachers who are coaching us in our day to day life to live a better tomorrow with peace and prosperity.
Meanwhile, let’s have a look at the teaching scenario in our education system. Competition is of course a buzzword today. Be it an unemployed or employed youth, a student or an entrepreneur, a working lady or a housewife, everybody is engaged in competition. In this competitive environment we see a lot of people taking unnecessary risks and get themselves woven in a do or die situation. Among the breed, the fiercest competition has been triggered in the school going children.
We have a unique modernised education system, which breeds stress and frustration more than infusing physical, mental and spiritual confidence among our toddlers. The drivers of this system are parents whose pressure or what we call expectations and academic performance are the major factors contributing to the high level of stress that is plaguing the minds of our young students. They want their wards to be more or less as plaques through academic and extracurricular achievements, causing huge stress in children. Toddlers as young as 6 years of age are put into a variety of competitions where failure isn’t an option.
Let me have a take on our examination system. It breeds fear among students. We have a teaching community instilling the fear of examination even from primary grades. They have evolved a culture of continuous testing which engulfs the primary school curriculum. The whole chain of private schools operating in our state use the stick of punitive measures to ensure that teachers concentrate on pushing students to improve their scores. Does it induce competitiveness? Of course it does, but at a massive cost of burning out the natural desire to learn in children. Precisely we can say that the present state of affairs in our education sector has made even some of our best teachers to act like coaches and drill masters.
Here in our system, the message is clear: “Focus on the examinations.” This attitude has led the children to believe that marks, and marks alone, matter. Even our colleges and universities do not consider it necessary to apply their mind to assess the student’s potential. They go by the student’s marks scored in previous examinations. Parents push children to work for the highest possible aggregate, rather than to pursue individual interest. This kind of pushing destroys the student’s confidence. Our system undermines the student's ability and potential if he/she has not scored well in the examinations.
Over the years, the demand for children’s education has witnessed tremendous growth. Everybody from the poorest of the poor to the well off acknowledges the value of education in the overall development of children. The importance of learning is to enable the individual to put his potential to optimal use. With rights to education, our student should find himself in a situation with all its windows open to the outside world.
This attitude and mindset has killed the basic concept of education as teaching towards clearing examinations has become the only norm.
So, what is needed to bail out students from the clutches of stress and frustration? I think we need a change in attitude. We need a change in attitude of parents, teachers and our educationists. This cannot be achieved by the mere imparting of factual information and practical skills. It is the cultivation of the ability to analyse, the desire to question and the courage to challenge convention. Development of a good student to a great extent rests on the schools and the type of education and opportunities given to the students. The parents also should come out of the narrow expectations of making their children an engineer or a doctor but allow them to develop their innate skills. They should cooperate with the schools to implement the reforms initiated for the betterment of the children.
Even as we produce brilliant and intelligent students, they are not an outcome of the current educational system. They are what they are despite the system. The focus of any system, especially at the primary education stage, should be to benefit all and not merely some. One more obsession that the current educational system faces is the burden of information in the curriculum. If emphasis is given on understanding and creativity rather than memorizing information, much of the bloat from the curriculum can be simply removed.
(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)