Remembering the 'Gurus' on Teachers' Day

Dr.Pauly Mathew Muricken 

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Representational image | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Kabir Das, the unusual and mystic Indian poet of the 14th century, once wrote on the importance of a teacher in the life of an Individual: “If I encounter God and Guru both on my way, I will first bow down to the Guru as he is the one who showed me where to look for the God. No one can replace a Guru. He opens up the treasure which is beyond all the measures”. ‘Shikshak Divas’ is the occasion to offer our heartfelt tribute to our teachers, the architects of knowledge guiding us in the pursuit of discovery and growth and shaping our lives.

Kabir Das

From time immemorial, we have given due respect to the special category of learners, whom we affectionately call ‘Guru’. Rig Veda equated a ‘Guru’ with the ‘Supreme Being’. We remember the story of Eklavya, who dedicated his thumb to his Guru, Dronacharya. The grace and guidance of teachers help us distinguish between right and wrong and achieve life goals.

Diving into history

The man behind the celebration of ‘Teacher’s Day’ in our country is none other than Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first Vice-President and second President of Independent India. He was a well-known scholar and a highly influential philosopher who taught us that “teachers should be the best minds in the nation”. Born on September 5, 1888, he stood tall as a rare politician and statesman who dedicated his life towards education and the youth of the country.

Dr. S Radhakrishnan

He once said, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teacher’s Day”. So the tradition of celebrating Teacher’s Day started in 1962 in India, in honour of Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was then officiating as the President and in honour of all the teachers of this country.

Pandit Nehru always used the opportunity to highlight the mental alertness and intellectual power in Dr.Radhakrishnan. Nehru remarked: “He has served his country in many capacities. But above all, he is a great teacher from whom all of us have learnt much and will continue to learn. It is India’s peculiar privilege to have a great philosopher, a great educationist and a great humanist as her President. That in itself shows the kind of men we honour and respect”. Bharat Ratna, the highest award of the nation, was conferred on him in 1954 in recognition of his meritorious service to mankind.

Leading in crisis

Educational Institutions are not just brick-and-mortar structures but are centres of lifelong learning. The National Education Policy, 2020, has been tailored to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030 as part of the global education development agenda. The Policy proceeds on the fundamental premise that education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development.

Recognizing the role of educational institutions in setting the learning environment, the Supreme Court in Christian Medical College Association, Vellore v. Union of India(2020), says: “Educational Institutions are temples of learning. The virtues of human intelligence are mastered and harmonized by education. Where there is complete harmony between the teacher and the taught, where the teacher imparts, and the student receives, where there is the complete dedication of the teacher and the taught in learning, where there is discipline between the teacher and the taught, where both are worshippers of learning, no discord will arise”. Teaching, therefore, does not just include the content itself, above that lies the importance of connecting with the students.

Re-imagining the future

Teachers play a critical role in educating and shaping our children, the future leaders of our nation and in making them true citizens. They are hard-working, dedicated and understanding. No matter where we are in life, a teacher has influenced us. They continue to impact our lives every day. Every recognized talent with a wealth of skills is moulded and shaped by an inspiring teacher. Considering their role, they are regarded as the backbone of the country.

Teachers spend their whole lives lighting up the lives of students. Teaching is conceptual and intellectual; abstract and concrete; creative and sequential; it is about content, hearts, minds; the past and the future; causes and effects. It is the highest form of understanding, making others think, learn and awaken.

It is a sacred work performed in silence, making those with eyes to see and ears to hear and to respond.

Harnessing life to the fullest

Education is not the filling of a pot, but the lighting of a fire. It is part of national life. A mediocre teacher tells; a good teacher explains; a superior teacher demonstrates; and a great teacher inspires. Teachers must instil confidence, and encourage the students to dream boldly and help them to believe that through untiring efforts, they can achieve anything. Dr.Radhakrishnan was truly an inspiring teacher and thereby a great teacher. Being a ‘guru’ is a true calling instead of a job to earn money. A teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself, just as a lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame.

We need the teachers for the right education and unique learning experience we want. Teachers should realize this necessity and contribute immensely to shaping sustainable information, available not only in books but everywhere in bits and bytes. At the international level, the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers finalized in 1966 sets the benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers, teaching and learning conditions. Complementing the same, the Recommendation concerning the status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel was also adopted in 1997 to cover teaching personnel in higher education.

Striving for the better

Participatory democracy can thrive only if its citizens are able to make informed choices. The goal of education is to enable us to make informed choices. Tagore, an avid educator, in his Collection of Essays, was critical of the education imparted by the colonisers. He argued vehemently that education should not be like ‘parrot’s training’ where students are taught just to mimic. Tagore, with magnetic force, conveyed his vision of education: “And for that they must be trained, not to be soldiers; not to be clerks in a bank, not to be merchants, but to be the makers of their own world and their own destiny, And for that, they must have all their faculties fully developed in the atmosphere of freedom”.

Change “show-and-tell” practices

The old “show-and-tell” teaching practices have lost their credence in the age of the digital revolution. There was a time when teachers and their books were considered as information oracles. Gone are those days as the world now is awash in information from a multitude of sources. The teacher has a different fundamental role here to help students think critically, solve problems, make informed judgments, and create knowledge that benefits both the students and society. In the changing learning landscape, a teacher is expected to make students passionate participants in the instructional process through participatory educational adventures. This means that the curriculum must relate to their lives, learning activities must arouse their natural curiosity; and assessments must measure real accomplishments and be integral to learning.

Not the King or Queen

In the changing learning scenario involving massive revolutions in knowledge and demand for better learning, is the teacher the king or the queen of the classroom? Is not. A teacher cannot become a dictator, though maybe a benevolent dictator in deciding what is best for the students under their care. Above anything and everything, it has to be accepted that students are equal creators of knowledge. Therefore, a teacher should re-invent his role and plant transformation by adopting the role of educational guide, facilitator, and co-learner, and helping the students to integrate their social, emotional and intellectual growth. Ultimately, it is the union of these elements that yields the ability of a person to seek, understand, and use knowledge to make better decisions in life, and to value contributing to society. Alexandra K. Trenfor rightly points out: “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see”.
Beyond teaching and classrooms

Education is not for mere success or progress but for the illumination of the heart. National Education Policy, 2020 aims to restructure the education system in our country by incorporating flexible courses with an enthusiastic inclusion of arts into education. Teachers are identified as the heart of the learning process therein and given more autonomy in choosing aspects of pedagogy to make teaching most effective and beneficial for the students, and to make India a ‘viswaguru’.

Education should not stop with providing skills for employability. It is expected to combine perception and patience, emotion and intellect, substance and morals. It should enable us to nurture diversity. The Persian poet, Ferdowsi in his long epic poem beautifully endorses the place of an inspiring teacher in the heart and mind of the students, “I shall not die, these seeds I have sown will save my name and reputation from the grave. Men of sense and wisdom will proclaim my fame when I have gone”.

(Dr. Pauly Mathew Muricken is a lawyer, writer and academician based in Kochi)

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