Teacher’s Day 2014 was different from celebrations till 2013. It was a turning point in the history of school education in India. Like in several other spheres, Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves his footprints in one of the most vital areas of nation building-education. Teachers have traditionally been revered in India; the country takes pride in its teacher taught bonds, better known as the Guru-Shishya Parampara. Traditionally the Teacher’s Day is celebrated as Guru Parb. Teacher’s Day is its modern version. But the spirit remains the same: to value the contribution of the teacher in the life of the individual and the nation. Teachers educate, develop, train and prepare the individual to become a useful productive well chiselled person. It goes down as an eternal debt, as is the love of the mother which cannot be discharged unless similarly transferred to the next generation. The demand for education in a democracy like ours is so great that we need to adopt modern methods of teaching. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has succeeded in conveying this significant message for urgent change through his interaction with teachers and student throughout the length & breadth of India. He adopted the impressively visible symbol of modernity by going for the video conferencing mode for his interaction. Without hurting the sentiments of either the “traditionalists” or the “anti-traditionalists”, the Prime Minister was successful in driving his point through the target audience viz., the teaching and students community: that love for tradition was as important as for science (traditional temperament vis-a-vis scientific temperament). As he engaged his audience in a very fruitful dialogue, he also gave demonstration of the power of technology to the children. He also demonstrated to the teachers the need to fill their skill gaps before they missed the opportunity for ever as the children of today are not like traditional ones but “Born Digital”. These children already know more than their traditional counterparts at that age. This generation is inquisitive and wants to know more. They have become used to getting the desired information at the click of the mouse and unless the teachers too are capable of responding as fast as the computer, their bonds will not forge as strong as the traditional one when the students worshipped their teachers. While the teachers may not know answers to all the questions asked of them, they certainly should be able to guide the students convincingly. India has to bridge this gap in skills of teachers rather fast to convert its demographic advantage to levers of prosperity. For this to happen, the government alone will need to take decisive steps.
The PM asked the question: why it is so that teaching is not the chosen profession of the people generally. Surely he knows more about it, but a few points need highlighting. School teachers are not accorded the same respect that any civil or police officer of the same rank gets from the government and the society. The teacher might get respected for his contribution to the grooming of students but he gets nothing more than that. In fact, transfers of teachers in government schools are the biggest industry in the hands of the corrupt administrative as well as executive authorities. Compared to the other variety of teachers, who have made a commercial success of their talent, the one making “sacrifice” looks a loser in real life, because maintaining a minimum standard of living for him is very difficult. Parents show respect only so long their son/daughter is getting good coaching to make a success in the entrance examinations to professional institutions. Thereafter they may not even recognize the teacher. There is no complaint for this change in people’s behavior because urbanization has induced such change. I quote another funny but significant example. As a student of Sociology it is my hobby to go through various kinds of advertisements published in the newspapers. In the matrimonial columns of these newspapers, advertisements seeking grooms for their daughter all parents seek only IAS/IPS/IIT/IIM and other such professionals but none, without a single exception in the last 5 decades, has ever sought a teacher or even a Lecturer/Professor! That is our collective respect for the Teacher, whom we celebrate on the Teacher’s Day.
In this background, the best teachers have regularly been changing professions e.g. entering civil services where the career prospects are fantastic in comparison to teaching. Those committed to academic profession find jobs abroad. It is one of the greatest losses to the country that it had exported its precious pool of talent depriving the children of good teachers. To attract and retain talent in teaching, teachers need to be paid well according to their academic excellence. The private sector in India is doing that- teachers in the “Public Schools”, which means private schools, are a satisfied lot because their pay and esteem in these schools is valued. Admission of children in these schools is a ticket to better educated, better skilled children and an assured career in life. Should it not be the right of every child to receive that kind of education? This is the difference between the old Gurukul system of education and modern education; the Gurukul education was accessible to only the select few but the modern education is available to everyone. But the differing standards of education in government run and private schools reinforces the old tradition of Gurukul in practice because of filters applied to block the admission of every eligible child except the select few. There is denial of quality education to all children. When that is the case, can the graduates be blamed for their being “unemployable”? Who has made them unemployable? Certainly not the parents nor the children themselves but the system that denies children equal quality education and equal opportunities. End this system and watch all of them turn adequately equipped to serve the vocations of their choice. The graded education even in the government schools draws a depressing picture for the ordinary- there are Central Schools (KVS) followed by Jawahar Navodaya Vidhyalas, Pratibha Vikas Schools for the talented, government schools, municipal schools, Panchayat Schools, etc. The largest number of children have access only to the last three in this list, which are poor specimen of school education! Even if the government had provided Kendriya Vidhyalaya (Central School) education to every child in the country, the power of these young people would have changed the country’s economic conditions long ago. Unfortunately, school education has received the worst treatment in free India. Had the British not set up excellent schools in India, our children would have suffered much more. All politicians and bureaucrats get their children admitted to the best schools run by the private sector and thereafter send their children abroad for further education. So the country has been suffering double whammy in the form of loss of talented teachers and students. We have never reviewed such huge loss of talent by way of “brain drain”, much less any plans for “brain gain”. We should import good teachers from wherever we can. The American success story validates this argument.
The Prime Minister should have been briefed on this aspect. There are more than 20000 vacancies in institutions of higher learning in India. The numbers for school education are frightening. And yet the Prime Minister asked the question: can we not export good teachers sometime in the future? No, Sir. We must not export good teachers if we can afford to retain them on their terms. We have yet to achieve our targets of full literacy. A recent report published in the newspapers stated that it will only be by the year 2080 that the primary school education of girls in India could be achieved! Does it justify our objective of being able to export teachers?
Globalization has shifted the business modules everywhere. Foreign students are taking coaching from teachers operating from India. They are helping students with their homework and project work. Virtual class rooms are becoming a reality wherever they are lagging. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC) are going to change the whole system of imparting education. I have a feeling that the Prime Minister hinted at such programmes in his Teacher’s Day interaction with the students. He opted for video conferencing, revealing his mind. He emphasized the need for technology and demonstrated its use through the 90 minute interaction with the children. A superb move from the Prime Minister of India. He is preparing the “Born Digital” generation of Indians for the responsibilities of the decades beginning 2020: learn, play, health, intellect, values, scientific temperament etc. in the technology driven decades ahead. By the time these children graduate and join the skilled workforce, they would have attained the age of 25 years, a time to own responsibility. They have more than 7 years at their disposal to visualize their future and go full steam to achieve their goals. To that extent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it again. Without giving boring speech on the occasion, he has demonstrated to all variety of students and even those deprived of education the need for education and technology. It was for the first time in the history of India that the Prime Minister spoke directly to the students taking all their questions and answering them. It was made possible by the availability of technology. The PM knew its value. His mission is clear: to connect all the villages of the country through broadband connectivity. Then every child will get answers to all his/her questions, unlike now when they are spanked for asking questions. The revolution that I see happening sooner than the Modi haters imagine is bound to change “things” in India, The explosion of knowledge occurring due to the internet will be within the reach of all students, not the select and privileged few as of now. It will cost the exchequer less than the cost of poor education, free books, uniforms and meals etc. in one year. It was the post-Independence born Narendra Modi and he was talking with the “Born Digital” generation.
Modi haters suffer from compulsive neurotic disorder and have to criticize even such a flawless, revolutionary and nationally beneficial programme. Let us ignore them. It is time to achieve full broad band connectivity before the next elections. Revolutions happen due to one leader. Narendra Modi is one such leader. He should ensure programme implementation.