As the nation pays tributes to Dr. Radhakrishnan on” Teachers Day” on September 5, every year, the occasion also provides opportunity to reflect back on some of the concerns and challenges being faced by the nation in its march towards good quality education for all children till they attain fourteen years of age. It includes provision of access and equality of opportunity to the suitable and talented in the pursuit of higher education in the area of their interest. One recalls the oft-quoted words of Dr. Radhakrishnan: “Education is a universal right and not a class privilege”. Our achievements in education deserve to be judged on this parameter. No system of education, particularly of school education, can flourish without the active and adequate presence of fully-equipped, professionally competent, motivated and inspired teachers who are individually convinced that they are preparing not only the future generations but also the future of their country. There could be many instances in the life of all those who had been lucky to get education on how some of the teachers ‘expand their universe of affection and love’ far beyond the official realm of duties and responsibilities laid down for them in the official documents. These repose faith in the better future of our nation. In India practically every teacher teaches in a multi-religious class and knows how important it is to let every child know how precious he/she is to him. Only the teacher can, particularly in the initial stages, sow the seeds of the beauty that emerges out of ‘unity in diversity’. Schools would, thus, become the centres of social cohesion, religious amity and value nurturance. One illustrative instance is presented here. In Srinagar school, around 1947-48, young Som Nath Saraf comes to school after about two weeks. ‘Where were you, Som’ asks Maulavi Sahib. The feeble response from the young child ‘My mother expired’, makes Maulavi Sahib leave his seat, walk towards distraught Som with stretched hands and lift him in an affectionate embrace. With moist eyes and in a soft motherly tone Maulavi Sahib said: ‘now onwards, I am your mother”! What he said became a Mantra for Somnath Saraf throughout his life. It transformed the life of S.N. Saraf, who rose to great heights in education, retired as the Chief of Education in Planning Commission, a much-respected Vice-chancellor and made significant contribution in ‘Values in Education’. He was always willing to cite it in presence of young teachers, in the expectation that it would transform at least some of them. The continuity of the great empathetic and intense relationship between the teacher and the taught could be found umpteen instances described in details in scriptures. There is no dearth of such motivating and inspiring instances that have been documented in historical accounts. Acharya Chankya picks up a boy simply after observing his talents, cares little about his background, and transforms him in to a mighty emperor Chandragupta! Yes, teachers can transform uninitiated, innocent individuals in to great performers and achievers. The arena of sports and games presents inspiring examples of the coaches; exactly on the lines narratives from achievers in fields of higher learning dedicate their achievements to their teachers. Everyone acknowledges he owes it to his teachers. We all owe it to our teachers. Who can have a role higher than that of teachers?
Ageing societies of the world are looking towards India, the young nation that has 650 million population below 35 years of age. It is said to be an opportunity of great “Demographic Dividend”. Could India avail of it rejoice about it? Yes, it can if the young of India get good quality education and are skilled and equipped to avail of the opportunity within the country and also on the international playfield that is waiting for the ‘competent, committed and performing young persons”! While several new initiatives have already been launched in this arena, including creation of a Ministry of skill development at the centre, there is still the dire need to create an environment of confidence, assurance and transparency amongst the young and their parents that alternative streams of education and skill development could provide openings for the flowering of talent of the young. People have slowly and gradually begun to realize that avenues for innovation and entrepreneurship open up a vast area of activity and furtherance of talent in the 21st century. There are success stories that emerge from every part of the country of young men and women who have transformed themselves from job-seekers to job-providers, the process giving tremendous boost to their own creativity and entrepreneurial skills, simultaneously providing motivation to many others. Any discussion on these aspects invariably shifts to education and the parameters that make it ‘good quality education’. This good quality may essentially remain same in broader terms, but its details do change with the changing demands that emerge from market forces and, economic changes and their consequential impact on the society. The content and process of education would remain relevant only if these keep pace with the emerging and speedily changing demands from every sector of human endeavour and activity. In India it requires and attitudinal transformation and a far more sincere, active and alert work culture. It is universally acknowledged and accepted that the key role in the process of preparing manpower shall remain with the teachers in spite all the technological changes and impact that have reached the classrooms in addition to on-line initiatives and open and distance learning modes. The Dictum “No people can rise above the level of their teachers” shall remain valid, rather eternally! Further, the thought -Yavadjieevait Adhiyate Viprah – the wise continue to learn till the end of life - was never more valid and relevant as of today, and tomorrow. There shall be no place for those ‘teachers’ who are not attuned to new knowledge and skill that is raining incessantly from all sides. Teachers of tomorrow shall derive respect from their students only if they remain conscious of the fact that their initial education, training and skill acquisition shall not help them lifelong. Only a lighted lamp can ignite others! Future teachers shall have to be conscious of changes in subject content on one hand, and the pedagogy on the other. In higher education, awareness of new advances, researches and innovations shall have to become part of the curriculum after due scrutiny and examination of their relevance. One practice that needs to become more frequent in education is the opportunity of new and young teacher interacting intensively with more experienced and enlightened. Training institutions must include this in their activities for the benefit of both pre-service education and in-service education. Far better facilities in teacher education are an urgent need of the teacher preparation system which, unfortunately, has suffered serious dent and damage during the last couple of decades. Recent decisions to go in for a two-year Bachelor of Education course and implementing four-year integrated course for teacher preparation is the step in the right direction.
The task before future teachers, and education, at this juncture of history is indeed, stupendous. Education is the ray of hope for one and all, most particularly to those who are still not out of misery, poverty, ill-health and other socio-economic deprivations. Post WW II, and the colonial era, the path breaking decision to extend universal education for all – EFA – was globally accepted in March, 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand and reconfirmed at Dakar in the year 2000. India has a lot to present by way of achievements in educational endeavour. As per the UNESCO Institute of Education data of September 2013, adult literacy rate stood at 84.1 percent and that of youth at 89.5percent. Adult illiterates were estimated at 773.5 million and youth illiterates at 123.2 million. Much has been achieved and the remaining task too is tough. One of the latest reports of this institute estimates around 47 million young persons of school going age at secondary and senior secondary stage are out of school. Further, there is a shortage of around 20 lakh teachers across the board in the country. In real terms, it may be far higher as the number of para-teachers, and that could make a substantial addition to the vacant regular vacancies of teachers. There is no dearth of trained teachers for schools in the country. There are more than 16 thousand teacher preparation institutions in the country. The quality of output is not what the nation needs at this stage, for a better tomorrow. The Teacher Eligibility Test; TET; usually indicates a very poor percentage of those who successfully clear it. The other major hindrance emerges from archaic recruitment procedures, lack of transparency and, political interference. In higher education, the criterion for recruitment changes very frequently and that frustrates young persons from opting and waiting for years together to get in to teaching and research.
The emerging role, responsibility and performance levels of future teachers are very succinctly summarized in the Delors Commission Report “Learning The Treasure Within” released in 1996 by the UNESCO,: “The importance of the role of teacher as an agent of change, promoting understanding and tolerance, has never been more obvious than today. It is likely to become even more critical in the 21st century. The need for change, from narrow nationalism to universalism, from ethnic and cultural prejudice to tolerance, understanding and pluralism, from autocracy to democracy in its various manifestations, and from a technologically divided world where high technology is the privilege of the few to a technologically united world, places enormous responsibilities on teachers who participate in the moulding of the characters and minds of the new generation. The stakes are high, and the moral values formed in childhood and throughout life become of particular importance”. This was the assessment of the emerging scenario twenty years ago, things have become more complex during the last two decades, and the digital divide is threatening to widen the economic gap, which has immediate impact on the spirit of moving towards an egalitarian society. People and parents are far more alert, and interactive now. They demand not only education but good quality education. They are not satisfied with what is being offered; they demand to know how it shall contribute in the proper settlement of the learners in life. Teachers of Tomorrow shall have to remain alert to the fact that the new advances in ICT (Information & Communication Tecnology) attract young children and they acquire proficiency far more swiftly than their elders. The “Reciprocal Learning” shall create its own space in future deliberations between the teachers and taught! Learning to learn together shall also be a much sought-after skill. Learners and teachers together have access to multiple sources of learning and acquiring knowledge and skills. This availability may not always be helpful in the process of growing up as it may lead the learner stray if he has not achieved the requisite level of maturity, or because of lack of guidance. Here comes the crucial role of the skill of discrimination (the ability to judge what is good, true etc.) – Vivek! It is the practical application of Vivek that makes all the difference in setting the pace of the process of human evolution, progress and development included. The scientists had reached the highest point of knowledge of the Atom; they knew how it could become the source of energy. The lack of human values and absence of discrimination led to what happened in Japan. Every teacher, therefore, has to acquire mastery over the skill of discrimination. In the glamorous world of ICT, it is the acquaintance and internalization of human values and appreciation of the art and skill of discrimination that alone would guide the learner on the right path. This is the latest challenge before teachers of today and tomorrow.
(The author is an educationist and former Director NCERT New Delhi)