Is teacher a powerless facilitator?

Representational Photo

A recent incident in which a teacher was arrested for slapping a student in the classroom ignited a debate on the student-teacher relationship. There were opinions against the teacher criticizing him for slapping the student and there were equally narrations calling it a normal thing in a classroom and criticized the media for blowing the issue out of proportion. Even the debate still continues on the incident with varied opinions.

However, let’s take the opportunity to revisit some crucial issues confronting our education system, particularly the student-teacher relationship.

The system of education has undergone a sea change in the past two decades. The demand for educational degrees has ballooned. Today, students have choices in abundance to pursue their education in different streams. Larger institutions while leveraging technology are poaching students through extension campuses and online mode as they want to capitalize on the surging demand to make profits despite being ‘non-profit’ organizations.

Over a period of time, this transformation of education system has been driving competition among the educational institutions to claw for more and more students. One may call this modern system of education, but the fact is that it has stamped the educational degrees as good as consumer goods. Offering the degrees as consumer goods means the institutions are focusing on making money and for making money, they need more and more students.

It’s here the institutions, be it schools, colleges or universities, executed a drastic shift in the way of imparting education. In order to lure students, they offer what students want and unfortunately don’t focus on the areas which a student needs. In other words, most of our educational institutions, be it at higher or school level, have adopted student-defined system of education. Even as Internet has revolutionized the teaching methods and today students are more comfortable to learn their lessons through online mode, it has complicated, rather marginalized the role of a teacher. In fact, in a student-driven education system, the teacher-student relationship too has witnessed a sad transformation, where institutions have squeezed the role of a teacher as a powerless facilitator and treat students as commercial commodities. Broadly speaking, consumer-driven education system has hit the element of discipline in the teacher-student relationship. Gone are the days, when the system was tailored to make students to submit to the authority of their teachers and this would discipline a student’s mind and heart. Interaction between student and teacher was an essential part of the educative experience. Teachers used to determine not only the subject matter but the structure and purpose of homework. As rightly put by one of my acquaintances, ‘curriculum was not only about growth in knowledge but also growth in maturity.’

Now the model of authority in classrooms has changed. Classrooms most of time stand dominated by students. The growing online system of education, majorly pushed up by the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, has squeezed the role of a teacher in real sense. This changing authority in classrooms has adversely impacted the teacher-student relationship to a large extent. In fact, teacher feels marginalized in this student-centered classroom environment.

We have to understand that for a teacher it’s not matter of communicating information in line with the curriculum alone, but infusing discipline and maturity in students to grow into self-motivated individuals is also equally important. And in a student-dominated classroom, this mission goes for a toss.

It makes a sense to reproduce a quote from Dr. T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: “The barrier to education is the student himself–his parochialism, his laziness, his reluctance to abandon his current viewpoints, his resistance to disciplined intellectual effort, his complacent self-satisfaction with his present attainment and understanding.  Nearly every capable educator in the history of the human race has realized that the least important thing we educators do is disseminate information, which is (especially now) widely available in less expensive formats. What capable educators have always attempted to do is to infect their students with a love of learning and a hatred of parochialism.”

Here I want to make it clear that student-driven education is not bad. But it should not be at the cost of disrespecting teachers. This should in no way allow the students to dictate dos and don’ts of teaching to the teachers.

Meanwhile, in the context of given environment, our teaching community can still play anchor role to shape the future of their students. Our place has witnessed large scale death and destruction over a period of three decades and children have been the worst sufferers of this situation. This conflict situation has caused Kashmiri children lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm. Whether the child is a direct victim or a witness of the conflict, adverse impact of the violence has taken its toll. Regressive behavior, anxiety, depression, aggression and conduct problems in Kashmiri children have now turned a normal thing. Under these circumstances, the teachers’ responsibility in classrooms is beyond routine tutoring. They have to simultaneously help the students not to feel burden of death and destruction on their shoulders.

Here the teacher has to act as a guardian of their students when it comes to any violation of their educational rights. It’s the dire need of the hour to protect students’ basic human right to education. They have to understand that they are having one of the most vulnerable sections, the children, under their umbrella. Notably, education is considered an important intervention in conflict situation, which can provide physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection to children.

It is also of utmost importance for a teacher to understand that children are unique and gifted in their own way and avoid criticizing them as failures to score good marks in their tests. They should always instill honesty and truthfulness in their students.

And one more important and sensitive issue taking toll of teachers’ reputation is moral degradation stories brining disrepute to the student-teacher relationship.  Teachers should not forget their roles as mentors and figures of authority. They should not fall into the trap of talking to their students intimately and respect the set boundaries with them.

What has led to this inappropriate trend in this sacred relationship? In the past teacher – student contact was confined to the classrooms. But the emergence of new technologies enhanced the possibilities of contacts between them even beyond classroom hours. Also the concept of online classes is catching up fast and cannot be avoided in the Covid crisis. Here it needs a thorough check as children are most vulnerable to the cyber risks.

Trend of inappropriate teacher-student relationship is still in its infancy stage. Before it plagues our society, all of us have a role to play. Here onus lies more on the parents. What we have observed that today’s parents have shed their responsibility towards their teenage kids to the ‘modernity’. Unfortunately they feel gladder in leaving them exposed to the countless risks in unknown territories, especially in cyber space. They have to understand that parental neurosis is far more detrimental to childhood development than the ease at which the internet will corrupt the personality development of their teenagers.

Precisely, in the given situation when they have been reduced powerless facilitators, they should not get bogged down as teachers in real sense. In the context of teacher’s role, Sidney Hook, a well-known American philosopher, has said, “Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.”

Lastly, any transformation in the education system should favour teachers and students. At the moment it has helped only those who run educational institutions on the pattern of commercial organizations.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)