Teachers’ Day – Musings and Reflections

Tomorrow, on Teacher’s Day, school children all over India greet their teachers. Some schools organise cultural activities and speeches by children in praise of their teachers. Those of us who are former students remember our favorite teachers and get nostalgic about school life. Yes, a teacher’s job is one of the toughest and must be appreciated. However, most of us, the former students, forget about teachers the very next day.

Our constitution has provided a special status for teaching profession. In all bicameral states, including Karnataka, 1/12th of the Legislative Council members (MLCs) are elected by teachers! We have 7 MLCs elected by teachers in Karnataka. Unfortunately, though, the vote-buying is rampant in teachers’ constituency elections. Most of the candidates from big parties make efforts to register government school teachers – and bribe them with expensive gifts, lavish dinner parties and a promise of favorable transfers! If vote-buying in an MLA election is frustrating enough, the fact that teachers sell themselves out is downright disgusting. I shudder to think what kind of values such teachers could be teaching our next generation. Most of the teachers from private schools are not registered to vote in these teachers’ constituencies. Considering that there are more private schools in cities now than government schools, perhaps parents and students should encourage their teachers to register and vote. If the voter base is large and more inclusive, the impact of vote-buying will be reduced to a great extent – and thus paving a way for honest candidates a chance to be elected in future.

Our society often has a cult-like reverence for teachers – ‘aacharya devobhava‘ (teacher is god) – we often quote our scriptures. At the same time, our society doesn’t show respect to teachers in terms of salaries paid to them! Perhaps we believe gods don’t need much money to survive! Govt school teachers today pay bribes of several lakhs to get the job or transfers. Most teachers from private schools aren’t paid well even if their school may be minting money from mandatory ‘donations‘ by parents. We have reached a situation where our best and the brightest are discouraged from choosing teaching as their profession (just like our politics). As a result, our country will face long-term impacts of the gradual degradation in quality of our education system.

On one hand, we have blind reverence and speak eloquently about teachers being gods. On the other hand, we often fail to protect our children from some teachers who could fit into ‘aacharya devvobhava‘ (teacher is demon). I had a male teacher in middle-school who used to inappropriately touch girls, who were looking older than their age, on a daily basis. I am ashamed to say that none of the children- boys or girls – including myself – did stand up to that teacher. Even if we had complained to our parents, they may not have believed us. I also had several female teachers in school who routinely insulted children from so-called ‘lower castes’ by making reference to their castes. And I had teachers in my engineering college who rarely came to college, but instead routinely threatened some students to fail them in internal tests and lab courses, unless they agreed to pay for ‘private tuition’ from them!

The annual Saraswati Pooja in my school was always was performed by a Brahmin boy student, who was appointed by teachers. I hope that teachers of today ensure that Saraswati Pooja is performed by a random student. If it is truly random, there would at least be some instances where a Dalit girl would be performing the Pooja. Let us set aside the deeper question of whether religion should have a role in schools. I am not sure if we, as a society, are ready to have a meaningful discussion about it yet. At the juncture, I am just hoping that if a school chooses to observe ‘Saraswati Pooja’, the teachers take it upon themselves to raise awareness about treating all castes and both genders equally and leading by example.

Of course, we certainly have several great and inspiring teachers despite the limitations of our systems. I just don’t think we need cult-like reverences that expect us to treat teachers like gods. It would great service to teachers if we treat them like human beings! Teachers, like people in any other profession, are human beings capable of greatness as well as susceptible to failings. Let us not fall back on the stale arguments to defend our ‘culture and heritage’ by proclaiming that ‘in our glorious ancient days, teachers were great‘ and placing all the blame on ‘western system of education that has ruined our values’. Let us shift our focus away from the ‘glorious past‘ and let us strive hard to create a better present and future. Personally, I am glad to have the current education system which has allowed me to go to school – unlike ancient ‘boarding schools(Gurukulas) which catered only to the boys! Inclusiveness is a start – but it is not enough. Great education is not optional or a luxury in this global economy – it is absolutely necessary for survival. The parents, teachers, government and the civil society at large – all have to work together to build world-class education system such that even poor and village children get a decent level of education. Only when we build a great education system can we hope to build a great nation.

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