Reflections: Teachers Day

Every year Teachers Day in India is celebrated on September 5th. (and everything that I write here is based on the Indian perspective) The special day for teachers in India is dedicated to a quintessential teacher’s birthday: Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a teacher, statesman, philosopher and former President.

Teachers Day

What is the scenario at schools today? Low pay packets; humongous expectations from both parents and management; overburdened with work; crowded classrooms clamouring for individual personalised attention and instruction; callous, unconcerned pupils; technological challenges that make one a refugee first, immigrant next and a native per force in the digital world; the obsession with standardised tests and thoughtless one size fits all propositions of boards and education bodies…
Teaching has never been tougher as it is today.
Being an educator by profession, I can’t but help taking a critical look at the education system prevalent in our country. 

I am just back from home after summer holidays and saw the reality of it playing out everyday at home. I have a nephew who is studying in Class IX (CBSE). Everyday he comes home with projects galore. There is time only to do homework and projects.
So, when is the time to read and understand lessons done at school? I have no clue.
Without systematic study, how is he going to cope with his studies? I have no clue.
(Mind you his school is just a 10-minute walk away. His tuition teacher is a stone’s throw away.) 
After seeing it all, I only felt sorry for the young boy. True, he too has some time management issues but he is a child after all. 

Studies are no longer interesting. They have become mundane chores. The spark of curiosity is totally, totally missing. It is just regurgitation of lessons learned in answer papers and notebooks. There is nothing beyond books and lessons. Sorry, textbooks. Is there nothing beyond grades and scores? What about igniting the passion for knowing the unknown? Missing, totally. What about discovering and honing other skills like music, drawing, painting, sports etc? Nope. Where is the time? Now you might ask aren’t there children who are doing all that and coping with studies? All I am saying is that they are exceptions than rules. My nephew, a smart and clever chap, is bored beyond anything else. I know, if you need to keep him hooked, you need to really be thinking on your feet and package it in a ‘smart alec’ way. At this rate I am afraid he will burn out too soon and lose all his yen for studies. He is already on the verge of it. In fact, the scenario was so disappointing and depressing that I have started reading articles on “Unschooling”. 

If this is the plight of students, what about teachers? Not too different. While it is true that every profession has good and bad professionals, methinks the the scale is too tilted in favour of the inefficient in the case of education. The best ones are not attracted to the profession. There is no money or respect for the profession is the common rejoinder I hear. Besides many parents still are obsessed about a couple of professions: medicine; engineering; computers & software (though there are a handful of students who take up offbeat courses). The leftovers are often insipid and tasteless. They are teachers not because they are passionate about teaching – but because their job gives them holidays in line with their children’s and some pocket money. And from such kind of teachers, stakeholders harbour inordinately high expectations. Parents expect them to wave a magic wand and make their child a whizkid. The professional course (B.Ed) is an antiquated course. Teachers are forced to teach what they learned yesterday to students today so that they can handle their tomorrows well! Can that ever happen?

Students. Sadly, they have very few role models before them. Many parents have no time for them. It’s work, office, and material considerations. They cannot even give quality time – even if it means just an hour – to their child / children. To compensate this they offer them material rewards or even a huge sum as pocket money. Instant gratification is what is sought and easily provided. Value systems don’t matter and many don’t inculcate any in their children.

The management. Results. That is the yardstick of whether a school is good or great. Crass commercialization has corroded the innards of educational systems and systemic decay is visible even to the naked eye. Administrative bodies. Standardised tests rules the roost. it is a one-size-fits-all proposition. A student is judged by the grades and marks he gets. Though collaborative project based study is required, paucity of time in schools make teachers give it to students as individual projects. (As many as 10+ days were declared as holidays in Kerala due to the fury of the monsoons this time; over and above this is our fanatical obsessions with bandhs. The Supreme Court banned it but we reincarnated them in another name: Hartal! It is freedom to protest, folks!!) Many a time parents end up doing these projects for the child. Now how will that be a learning exercise is a good question to ponder over.

So, do you get it – we are in a totally messy situation. Celebrations apart and notwithstanding the challenges, it is time to introspect: Are we as teachers –

  • Passion-driven? Without this our classrooms will be dull and drab.
  • Action-driven? Without this we will never be able to infuse energy & bring the fun element to our class. Isn’t it because of the fun aspect that PE periods are students’ all time favourites? 
  • Empathetic? Without this we will never be able to strike an emotional chord with the child. This in turn will make our students compassionate individuals too.
  • Lifelong learners? Learning just does not end with the classroom; a key point that must be driven home over and over again!
  • Being Mindful and Reflective? We need to help pupils stay on course and be aware – not only about things around but also things within themselves. Self awareness is key to effective relationships and achieving success in adult life. It is always easier if we ‘catch ’em young’!
  • Encouraging collaborations and curiosity in classrooms? It is these skills that our pupils require in the 21st century to function as effective citizens and humans. 
  • Patient and Persevering? Without this none of the above is possible!

Let us think of every day as a Teachers Day, by enjoying what we do in our classrooms. Let us transform our classrooms into hubs of activity where pupils take responsibility for their own learning. Let us make our classrooms engaged, connected spaces so that our pupils will learn the art and science of collaboration. And may we succeed in making each student a passionate lifelong learner, the most critical objective of education. And thus let us contribute immensely to nation building.

What & Where is the Disconnect?

The word education originated in the mid-15 century from the word educate which means “bring up (children), train,” from Latin ‘educatus’.  Educare meant “bring up, rear, educate,” which is related to educere “bring out, lead forth,” from ex- “out” (see ex-) + ducere “to lead” (see duke (n.)). Education, thus got the meaning “provide schooling” in the 1580s. In today’s parlance this means that we provide a conducive atmosphere for learning, thinking, problem solving, collaborating, creating and thereby nurturing in our students the vitally essential skills to become successful 21st Century learners are to be provided in our schools. But do we, in real speak?

What is the status of education in India now? My week end was spent in reading all these reports; and I must add that each one was so depressing. For, if reports are an indication, there is something seriously wrong with our system. On 15th January 2012, the global rankings of the 73 countries that participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted Programme for International Assessment (PISA) was released. PISA is annual exam administered to 15-year olds to evaluate educational systems worldwide in Reading, Math and Science. The penultimate position, i.e. 72nd was that of India only overcoming Kyrgyzstan! Second from last!!!

The findings of yet another study done in urban schools by Education Initiatives and Wipro called the Quality Education Study (QES), it covered over 23000 students, 790 teachers, 54 Principals and 83 ‘top’ schools across Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were part of this survey. This one too, which was released late in 2011, revealed disconcerting facts. All these children came from educated and affluent families, and the schools they went to had all facilities and were technologically savvy. Yet these children showed signs of rote learning. They lacked critical thinking skills, higher order thinking skills, creativity and hardly responded about current social, cultural, civic and ecological issues. So things are not fine at the urban level too.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)** has released its report for 2012 on January 16, 2013 and the bad news continues. Literacy and Numeracy skills amongst 6-14 year olds have drastically waned. Academic levels have declined. Enrolment in schools has increased but attendance is deficient. The exodus to private schools continues despite the very many benefits like the mid day meal scheme and monetary aid provided in government schools. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the number of Class 5 students who can do two-digit subtraction problems have declined from 58.8% to 49.1% in just 2011-12.  More than half of all children in class 5 are at least three grade levels behind where they should be in terms of learning levels, says the report. And the blame could partly be attributed to the government’s much-touted Right to Education Act (RTE), ASER 2012 results seems to suggest. While enrolment has increased in private schools, there is great deal of dependence on private tuitions. Considering that 70% of India’s population lives in its rural regions the report needs to be closely looked into to stem the rot.

If all these are not pointers enough, each time CBSE conducted the CTET (Common Teacher Eligibility Test) or states conducted theirs (Tamil Nadu, for example) very few teachers clear the test. In 2011 when the test was conducted by CBSE, the pass percentage was 9%; in 2012 it dropped to 7% and now in the latest test results in 2013, it is seen that only an alarmingly abysmal 1% got through.

So keeping these cavernous slides in perspective, is there some kind of proportion at work? Is it that we churn out pathetic teachers and they in turn are responsible for the grossly substandard results from pupils? Where is the disconnect? What is the disconnect? Whatever be the case, we need to seriously introspect, examine, debate and come out with effective strategies that will bring our education arena from the mire that it is in. There is no point in generating plans. What we need is action. Precise. Specific. Laden with accountability. We owe this to our children, who will be future citizens taking our country into the 21st century.

Have you ever read The Parrot’s Training (read it here: ) an amazingly must-read and true-even-today short story written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore? Tagore lampooned the educational system that focussed only on mugging and rote learning prevalent in his times through this brilliant and incisive tale of a parrot’s training. Seemingly generations of young minds have undergone the same drudgery of mundane, insipid text books, uninterested and even boring teachers, rote learning, tests and examinations that focus on reproduction than understanding or application, and mindless discipline that Tagore saw in the classrooms of his times. It was this despicable kind of learning that prompted Tagore to conceive of establishing the Santinikethan, the Srinikethan and the Visvabharati.

The disconnect still exists not withstanding the fact that today’s children require a multi sensory engaging experience in the classroom. So, have we ever progressed from the 1860s? Mind you, Tagore lived from 1861 – 1942. To me the wheel of education has just stood still for centuries!!! Crying face Crying face Crying face   There may be changes outwardly but the core of the classroom is just the same. We just do today to our pupils what the pundits did to the poor caged bird a century ago…