Are present day teachers being valued and respected like before?

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara,

Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah

This week millions of children return to school in India after the summer break. Vidya Gyan salutes every educator- the Guru- who in India’s ancient traditions has held the highest esteem in the society. In fact, the Guru symbolizes the TRINITY (Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh in one) because s(he) guides the disciples away from Darkness to Brightness by imparting knowledge. Undeniably, teachers are the backbone of a quality system of teaching and learning, particularly, at the primary school level which builds the foundation and is a good predictor of what the future may hold for children.

With our continuing focus on rural government primary schools, we discuss about the Guru of the yesteryear and who s/he is in contemporary India. For decades following independence, many school teachers did not have the “credentials” by today’s standards (a Bachelor’s plus a teaching degree such as B.Ed.). They were meagerly paid in those days but commanded utmost respect in the community they worked and lived in. They affected change and instilled good citizenship among the students and community. By contrast, today teachers are relatively well compensated to match their credentials with a decent living in an urban setting- miles away from the community they work in.

Speaking of my own experiences, the teachers were driven not only to teach but more importantly what we learned. We were punished when desirable and unhesitatingly, the teachers reached out to parents (typically walked after school to know her/his welfare) when a child abstained. They were caring, compassionate, committed, and part of the community as Guru and ignited the torch of learning. In my limited experiences with the rural schools, the present-day teachers seem to be losing the tender touch and care about the students’ learning and the Trinity image of the Guru is becoming a thing of the past. What went wrong? Could it be that today’s teaching, in the larger context, is merely a paid occupation without the passion or purpose? Is it the lack of, or the loss of, trust and relationship between the community and educators? What else?

Segregation: In the good old days, children from different socio-economic status studied in the same school. That allowed for better integration, “peer” learning and the spirit of mutual giving and sharing. The friendships got cemented among many socio-economic backgrounds. Today’s government schools are “segregated” not by choice but driven by the fact that the economically disadvantaged families have no other place to send their children. The children know no better to look forward to; the poorly educated parents don’t value education, many are afraid to talk with teachers, and perhaps many teachers don’t care even if the parent asked. A highly politicized system, aimed at vote-bank, has driven the wedge along the caste more than ever before. There is also a widening gap between parents and teachers because they barely meet and know each other. Many schools don’t maintain the mobile phone list and thus calling parents is not possible when the child is absent, let alone visiting homes. No doubt, the parents must inform the school about their child’s abstention but they are not as responsible. I urge that teachers self-impose an expectation to call parents if the child is absent? Someone needs to initiate the conversation to gain each other’s trust. Perhaps, some present-day urban teachers may be reluctant to mix with their rural pupils (and parents) because the latter are not well groomed- an invisible and non-quantifiable segregation. However, if true, it must be rooted out; only our educators with purpose can make it happen.

Accountability: The lack of accountability on many fronts is eroding the quality of education and reputation of educators. The teachers are routinely asked to do “non-teaching” tasks (loss of teaching time). Many teachers may be part of the scam like “rent a teacher” and thus inadequately trained staff in the classroom. It hurts the quality of learning and brings bad name to the noble profession of teaching. Where is the responsibility and credibility of our educators? It is incumbent on all educators to root out such elements from the teaching force to restore trust and reputation in the society. There is little or no accountability from the local governance (Pradhan) and education officials.

The lack of quality is also driven by an ill-conceived policy of promotion from one grade to the next irrespective of whether s/he has attained the minimum reading, writing, and other competencies. This is a vicious cycle; teachers may not be teaching, children not learning or both because of little or no expectations for serious assessment of learning. Parents falsely hope that children are learning. Nobody is thinking of long-term consequence i.e. an ill-prepared student in higher grades resort to unfair means to get through or simply drop out. Another vicious cycle. Our teaching force must raise their voice against corrupt practices at all levels, not succumb to such practices, and get deeply engaged with students’ learning to restore their Guru-like image.

Infrastructure and Teachers’ role: Many schools have dilapidated buildings, poor facilities, limited teaching and learning tools, children sit on the floor/mats, and the overall environment is least conducive to learning. While the govt. must make things better, the teachers can and should serve as role models and coach parents to be their advocates for better infrastructure. I argue that the teachers need not take a stand against the system for the fear of retaliation. However, what is preventing them to empower community leaders for keeping the pressure on the powers to be. Yes, an important change teachers must embrace first is their own time commitment beyond school hours. In some communities, teachers are perhaps the only well educated group. Teachers must take the local Pradhan in confidence, but not collude, toward creating a stronger community voice and building trust. I was ashamed and amazed that a headmaster will turn classrooms into poultry farm during summer. Even one such case is far too many in distorting the image of the profession. In Uttar Pradesh, the district officials have an open forum from 9-11 am. I believe that an organized effort to offer a written reminder to officials about the lack of infrastructure/issues will yield positive results.

Our present-day educators are well credentialed and they do deserve the Guru like place in the society. It must be collective effort by all but the educators must desire it by being an integral part of the change. The educators must care and commit for pupils’ learning, rise above the bad policy, politics, and practices, earn trust and build community, and be passionate and proud for their profession. Vidya Gyan is pleased to stand with, and for, the educators who are pursuing the purpose of imparting knowledge. Together, let us re-image all educators as Gurus of the 21st century.

Vijendra Agarwal