Our country has never been in such a flux and turmoil as it is today, with Indian society at the crossroads. The public is unsure about which path to take, and the nation is facing an identity crisis because of deteriorating values.
The easy solution is to blame government, as most people do. But there’s considerable truth in the adage that people get the governments they deserve. Therefore the onus is on individuals, families, society, and institutions, to drive change from within because education doesn’t happen only in centres of formal learning. Nor should the sole objective of education be about securing good marks, college admissions, jobs and money. Shouldn’t character-building, leadership qualities, and core human values constitute an important component of wholesome education? Moreover, what is the role of parents, who to my mind are the first and most important teachers, even if not formally educated? Parents and teachers especially in primary schools where children are of impressionable age, need to become exemplary role models because the goal of all education must be to give to society honest, law-abiding, productive and compassionate citizens. This is not happening. Therefore we need to introspect why not.
As teachers and principals, there’s little we can do to educate parents of our wards, governments, media and other leaders of society who shape public opinion. But what we can certainly do is nurture children holistically by not neglecting sports, extra-curricular activities and moral education. While the role of every teacher is critical in her classroom and beyond, the role and responsibility of principals is more onerous because he/she has to educate, encourage and motivate teachers to give their best to students.
Yet the starting point of education reform is within the teachers’ community. Apart from enhancing their classroom teaching skills, are teachers working on themselves to become better citizens? I’ve never known a great teacher of any subject who wasn’t also a good citizen endowed with the virtues of love, compassion, innate sense of fairness, a passion for life, humanity and profession.
Teachers, including principals have to lead from the front, by working towards becoming good role models for their students, a responsibility greater than teaching their subjects well. But in all education institutions, leadership and role modelling have to flow down from the top. Principals must earn the respect of staff, students, parents and the local community. They need to evolve into upright and transparent leaders who are sticklers for rules and discipline, yet always fair. Only then can they lead and steer teachers and students towards a better future. Authority by itself is meaningless unless backed by inner moral or ‘soul power’ as Gandhiji described it. The plain fact which the teachers’ community needs to absorb and digest is that you cannot be a good teacher unless your students, parents, colleagues and community groups can look upto you as a strong and committed human being. Those who feel they can’t pass this test are advised to choose another profession.
Unfortunately, for complex socio-economic reasons, the great majority of teachers have entered this profession as a last resort or for the wrong reasons. The driving force of teachers should be love of children and burning desire to infuse them with not just theoretical knowledge, but also vital human values, so they leave the world a better place than they found it. But teachers can pass on knowledge and values only if they are themselves acquainted with them. That’s why it’s crucial for us to keep learning as we teach and learn from children as well — of their zest for life, spontaneity, purity, curiousity and simplicity. I’m quite convinced that if a child goes off the rails in a major way, parents who are poor role models at home and/or teachers are to blame.
A beginning has to be made somewhere to cure the national malaise which is debilitating the nation. And a good place to start is in our homes and schools, especially in the latter. Teachers have to raise their self-esteem and evolve from being mere purveyors of information into effective changemakers. “Somebody has got to stop the rot and why not you” is an evocative line we sing in our school song. The teachers community needs to reaffirm that they are nation builders. Let’s not forget that some of modern India’s greatest social reformers have been teachers — Guru Gobind Singh, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, President Radhakrishnan, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, J. Krishnamurti, Rabindra Nath Tagore and Aurobindo Ghosh, among others. Our goal should be nothing short of creating a new consciousness, a new India and new human beings.
“Don’t just go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail behind” — as 19th century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson advised — should be the guiding maxim of India’s 7.5 million teachers’ community. Upon us has fallen the heavy responsibility of shaping the hearts and minds of India’s children and youth, who will hopefully lead the nation out of the wilderness of despair in which it is lost today.
(Praveen Vasisht is headmaster of the Lawrence School, Sanawar)