celebrated Teachers' Day this week. We suddenly wake up to
the importance of education and teachers. The ritual is repeated
every year. After a few perfunctory ceremonies and many meaningless
shibboleths, it's business as usual.
When I look back upon my schooldays, there are several fond
memories and exciting experiences. Although there were no
computers and television, and modern audio-visual aids to
which our kids are exposed were unheard of, the teachers were
men and women of great concern and commitment to learning.
They shaped most children's future, and in a substantial measure
helped us realize our potential. They taught us the important
things in life. There was fun and frolic, and there was also
respect for the family and elders. Everyone who accomplished
something in life was a source of inspiration, and was looked
up to in awe and admiration.
things are infinitely better. Teachers are better qualified,
and hopefully more informed. Youngsters work harder than ever
before (parents too). The impressive performances reported
in newspapers were unheard of even a generation ago. And yet,
somehow the bond between the teacher and the pupil has become
weaker. At best it is limited to the classroom. Rare is a
pupil who can claim to have been inspired by his teacher,
or adopted him as a role model. In fact even teaching is not
the most sought-after profession. Though teachers are paid
much better these days, not many youngsters regard it as a
possible mission in their lives. A teacher has merely become
a stepping-stone for a better life.
Yet good teachers are important to modern society. A teacher
who merely explains what is contained in a textbook does not
release the creative energies of the youngsters. One who sets
problems for students to solve, and explore the world makes
the kids think. An athlete can build his muscle and stamina
only by exposing his body to many challenges, not by endless
lectures and rote learning about physical fitness. Fine steel
attains its quality only when tempered by fire. Creative energies,
problem-solving techniques, application of knowledge and capacity
to work in groups are what good schooling is about.
Somehow, we reduced schools into factories manufacturing good
grades in meaningless, dreary examinations. Much of the fun
and excitement of schooling is lost. A teacher who stimulates
the imagination of the kids is considered a nuisance. And
for a society which treasures educational qualifications,
school does not occupy a prominent place in our culture.
In many wealthy countries, the school defines the community.
People speak about school districts when they refer to a location
or an address. We often talk of Taluks or Thanas as defining
institutions! People in the west often change their residence
to be eligible to send their children to a good school. In
Britain, they are a step ahead. Schools are of reasonable
and uniform quality. The neighbourhood schools are often the
best ones. Parents trust their children's future in the hands
of the nearest schoolteachers.
We only have to remember our travails and the pain and anguish
we experience while selecting a school for our kids, and securing
admission. And when the child is deeply unhappy with the school,
rote-learning and unimaginative curriculum, many of us suppress
tears of frustration and do our best to comfort the child.
That some children do fulfill their potential, or become decent
citizens is almost a miracle.
We need to re-examine our schools. A lot more investment in
money, talent, manpower, attention, love and concern is needed
to make the school a home-away-from-home for our kids. A school
today is a mirror of tomorrow's society. Lincoln so wisely
wrote to his son's teacher, "Teach him always to have
sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have
sublime faith in mankind".