The country is celebrating Teachers’ Day in the memory of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former President of India and an iconic educationist. Radhakrishnan was a legendary figure in the world of education and valued the contribution of teachers in nation-building and shaping the lives of children.
Every civilisation and culture has celebrated its teachers for their role in the academic, social and emotional development of children, inculcating in them values and character that makes them compassionate holistic human beings. The home and community are a melting pot of emotions, desires, attitudes and aspirations. One may think that the energies that reside in these places are positive but there’s a great deal that lies at a sub-conscious level within the collective humanity that inhabits these places. Thoughts of religious intolerance, stress disorder, child neglect, caste, community, environmental insensitivity, personal competition and a plethora of issues envelop this space. The “guru shishya parampara” today stands at a crossroads from a relationship that was nurturing healthy and empowering to becoming one of mistrust.
We are perhaps the only country where any untoward incident within or outside the school holds the principal and teacher immediately accountable. On the one hand, the government speaks of restoring the professional dignity of teachers and heads of schools and on the other, there seems to be a societal and systemic aggression directed against them, resulting in disrespect. This is disturbing because it is creating a culture of suspicion between the teaching community and the system, and more crucially between teachers and students. Vulnerable as they have become, and regardless of whether they belong to a government or a private institution, it has now become a battle of survival for teachers.
There seems to be a growing tendency to immediately pin all responsibility for any untoward incident at the school without a systematic investigation that involves evidence, witnesses, documentation, et al. In the case of an abhorrent molestation or unfortunate accident, it is the duty of the school to help identify the perpetrator or the person responsible along with informing the parents and reporting the matter to the police. A school fails if it does not ensure adequate checks such as electronic surveillance, security, systems and processes or attempts to suppress the incident and is unwilling for an internal investigation. All this can be considered a dereliction of duty.
Sometimes a teacher and administrator are blamed for incidents which are out of their control — if a cricket ball hits a child in a game or a school bus meets with an accident; a child falls and is critically injured or succumbs to an asthmatic attack. Even if there is an unfortunate suicide of a student at home.
With the growing demands of modern life, parents feel increasingly pressured to reduce the time and attention they give to their child. Consequently, their expectations of the school are increasing, and the relationship between the two is becoming progressively transactional. Meanwhile, schools are battling crises daily, with police interventions and complaints to local authorities abounding and issues being blown out of proportion by the electronic and social media. More energy and time are taken up in crisis management than in creative, child-centric work.
This situation is undoubtedly unhealthy, and the fear is that if it is allowed to persist, it might impel the teaching community towards complete indifference and push it towards constant vigilance rather than its core responsibility, teaching.
The mind is a garden that contains seeds of understanding, forgiveness and love along with seeds of ignorance, fear and hatred. It is only an enriched nurturing environment that will help to water the positive seeds.
Preparing children academically, inculcating values and moulding them into competent and compassionate human beings is expected from a teacher. The role of the teacher remains unchanged but they have to do all this without authority, with a trust deficit and lack of belief in the tenets of their profession. They are expected to assess students with objectivity and yet accused of harassment by deliberately failing them. The government itself in its new policy has created a system that fails students, by amending the no-detention policy. How are schools supposed to move forward on this stand on failure, where a principal or a teacher becomes the immediate victims of the system?
India needs 1.3 million teachers at the elementary level. The shortfall is more glaring at the secondary and senior levels. There is also the threat of the new generation ignoring teaching as a profession because of more lucrative and seemingly attractive alternatives.
The teaching community has kept quiet so far. We need our voices to be heard. The government must react positively and judiciously by drafting legislation to protect the rights of teachers who are facing attacks not only on their integrity but also on their person. Wrongdoing cannot be tolerated, but the treatment must be fair and just.
Does all this mean that we are ready for the demise of the brick-and-mortar school and the formal instructor-led learning system? That would script the obituary of the teacher and the profession.