From across the country — remote villages, small towns and big cities — 346 teachers were presented the prestigious National Teachers’ Awards 2015 by President Pranab Mukherjee Monday afternoon at Vigyan Bhawan. The President began his address by quoting Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan — “You cannot make or build the nation by just bricks; you have to establish the minds of young people and then alone can the nation building take place”. Instituted in 1958, the award ceremony is held on Teachers’ Day. The recipients were awarded a silver medal, a certificate and Rs 50,000.
Here, we speak to 10 teachers about their journey, love for academics and what they wish to change in the education system in the country.
Saiqa Shafi Wanchoo (40) awarded posthumously
Taught in Girls Higher Secondary School, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
Experience:16 years of teaching English
Salary: Rs 40,000
In the midst of tight hugs, endearing smiles and countless selfies stood two women — sombre, teary-eyed but very proud. The awardee was missing, and all that remained was the conversation between her mother, Mehbooba, and sister Kahkkashan, who had shown up to collect the award on her behalf. Saiqa, a victim of alleged domestic violence, died on May 16 this year. “She was a very dedicated teacher whose aim was to provide a platform to all the students in J&K. She also took a keen interest in extra-curricular activities for her students,” says Kahkkashan, a journalist.
“She didn’t have a child and her in-laws would often trouble her. When she was taken to the hospital that night, the doctors pronounced her ‘brought dead’ and called it ‘suspicious’. Police hasn’t filed an FIR yet. Today is also her wedding anniversary,” adds Mehbooba.
Born and brought up in Kashmir, Saiqa witnessed the turmoil the Valley has undergone. According to Kahkkashan, that didn’t deter her from her goal. “We have grown up knowing that anything can happen at any time and we must save ourselves. Even in such an atmosphere, she would care most about her students and still go ahead with workshops,” she says.
Govind Sharma (47)
Teaches in Government Hari Singh Higher Secondary School, Jammu
Experience: 21 years teaching Maths and is now associate NCC officer in the school
Salary: Rs 44,000
For eight years, he taught at a school in Rajouri where homes didn’t have electricity. Sharma would often trudge to Jammu to buy kerosene for his students. This was a decade ago. For the past many years, Sharma has been posted in one of Jammu’s oldest schools. “That experience taught me that in remote areas, children are eager to learn even when there are no facilities. But in the cities, though schools have infrastructure, students lose interest in studying,” he says. Once Sharma joined the school in Jammu, he resurrected the NCC. He noticed a change in the way children approached studies after joining NCC. “Once they joined it, they did better in studies. I cannot stress enough on the importance of sports and extra-curricular activities,” says Sharma.
If I could bring about one change: “Remote areas or big towns, I would make sure every school introduces extra-curricular activities. It’s very important for them to learn how to balance academics and other interests.”
Chumzay Nangpa (54)
Mangan Senior Secondary School, North Sikkim
Experience: 20 years
Salary: Rs 80,000
As she waits to receive her award, Nangpa can’t help but wonder where she will escape to if an earthquake shakes the foundations of Hotel Ashok. The teacher from upper Dzongu in Sikkim, which was the worst-affected area during the 2011 earthquake, understands a thing or two about trauma. “Apart from imparting education, as teachers we have to help our students get over fear and trauma,” says Nangpa.
If I could bring about one change: “I would take away all the gadgets that children are busy with these days. They don’t talk to each other or understand time-management because of these.”
Chaman Shukla (61)
Shanti Purva Madhyamik Vidhyalaya
Experience: 32 years teaching English, Hindi at Farrukhabad district, UP
Salary: Rs 54,000
A first generation learner in her family, Shukla has been teaching English, Hindi, and physical education to students of classes VI-VIII for the last 32 years. “When I was a child, it was not common for girls to go to school. I remember how I would go on a hunger strike to make sure that my parents sent me to school. I was the first girl in my family to go to a school. I have spent my entire life to ensure that girls get access to school education,” she says.
“If I could bring about one change: “I would ensure that girls, especially from backward sections, are mentored by educators who will fund their education and keep them motivated. Many students, mostly girls, drop out due to family pressure.”
Dave Prakash Kumar Batukray (50)
Galkotdi Primary School, Gujarat
Experience: 30 years
Salary: Rs 54,000 per month
In the last 30 years as a primary school teacher in a village of 700 residents, Batukray has donned several hats — as a teacher of Sanskrit, Gujarati, Science and Mathematics and also as a facilitator for raising funds for the school. “Initially, the schools did not have basic facilities such as electricity, water supply and toilets. We approached local bodies and village councils to raise funds so that basic amenities could be provided to students. This was the situation 30 years ago when I started teaching. Things have improved now with various government schemes being introduced,” he says.
If I could bring about one change: “There are around 300 students in my school. While I would like to ensure that all amenities and infrastructure is provided to them, the main issue is of students dropping out. Due to poverty, children are forced to work as labourers to support their families. This is happening despite government schemes aimed at reducing dropouts.”
Dr. Bijendra Singh (61)
Adivasi Inter College Siltham, Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh
Experience: 39 years teaching Civics and is now the Principal
Salary: Rs 50,000 per month
After almost four decades as a teacher, Singh is an ardent believer of that fact that girls fare better at studies than boys. It is with this belief that he goes around Siltham convincing parents of young girls to let them continue their studies. “In the tribal area, the girls are married off early. I try and motivate them to continue their studies even after that. I tell them to come to school just from 10 am to 4 pm, and they won’t require any tuition, and they will pass,” he says.
If I could bring about one change: “Gareebi padhai ke aare aa jaati hai (poverty comes in the way of education). If I had the power, I would provide even more facilities – better midday meals, more books, uniforms to all the students. Just more facilities.”
S Muruganandam (58)
Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Kalapet, Puducherry
Experience: 33 years teaching accounts and commerce and is now the vice-Principal
Salary: Rs 80,000
On his birthday, Muruganandam received the sweetest present – a phone call from a student he taught more than a decade ago, wishing him Happy Teacher’s Day and reminiscing about school days – and this award. He maintains a 100 per cent record of all his students going to college, and securing a full score in his subjects. “In Puducherry, college admissions happen only on the basis of your school marks, and I had to make sure that all my students go for higher education. At least in my subjects – accounts and commerce – they get the perfect score,” he says.
If I could bring about one change: “I would wish for all students to study joyfully. Children should be happy in their studying years, it’s very important, but most of them aren’t. I would wish for happiness.”
Vinay Sharan Singh (59)
Senior Grade Teacher, Government Aangle Purva Madhyamil Shala Khairagarh, Rajnandgav, Chhattisgarh
Experience: 27 years
Salary: Rs 49,000 per month
In 1981, Singh got his first job as a primary school teacher in a district primary school where he taught Hindi for 27 years. “I started teaching in a village and it was only in 2008 that I moved to a district level school where we have 70 students,” he says. For Singh, the greatest challenge was the language barrier that his students had. “In villages, the main language is Chhattisgarhi. However, all textbooks are in Hindi. Students did not have a good hold on Hindi. I believe that if a child can converse in a language which is spoken in most part of the country, it is better for his education. He will be able to not just communicate better but also understand his syllabus. While children, most times, need to be told to study their textbooks, their interest gets piqued when they are told stories. With this aim in mind, I came up with several stories which will improve their language skills,” Singh says.
“If I could bring about one change…
“The biggest problem that the country is facing is the absence of values – kindness, love, brotherhood. Our textbooks talk about these values but a child sees different worlds inside a school and outside the school. What they see in the society do not match the values that they are taught in school. While our efforts focus on inculcating these values among students, we are still struggling in this regard. I wish we could balance these two worlds and ensure that our children become better human beings,” Singh says.
Seethi PA (55)
Seethi Sahib Memorial Higher Secondary School Azhikode Jetty, Kodungallar, Thrissur, Kerala
Experience: 29 years
Salary: Rs 45,000 per month
A grandson of late Kerala Legislative Assembly Speaker and Mappila leader K.M Seethi, P.A. Seethi has been teaching social sciences to students in Thrissue for the last 29 years. “Teaching is a profession through which you can serve the society, inculcate human values in young minds. You get the opportunity to interact with children from varied social backgrounds,” he says.
“If I could bring about one change…
“Education is necessary for the country’s development. However, change needs to take place at the grassroots level. If I had the opportunity, I would like to propagate moral values among students – education should take place on the basis of human values.”
KK Raman (55)
Government VHSS Thirumarady, Ernakulam, Kerala
Experience: 32 years
Salary: Rs 56,000 per month
For 32 years, Raman has been teaching art to students from Class 5 to 10. “I use different art methods to inculcate life skills among students. Through behavioural therapy, colour therapy and Yoga, art education is different from the teaching that takes place throuigh textbooks. Art education is a form of value education,” Raman says
“If I could bring about one change…
“Nowadays, art education is not considered an important part of a child’s education. Every school should should offer art education to students, develop a curriculum around it so that students not just learn science and develop technical skills but also human values.”