Every year India honors school teachers for their outstanding contribution based on their applications. Should any teacher really be applying for such honors? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of parents, fellow teachers, educational administrators and others to nominate such outstanding teachers who go beyond the call of duty and nurture the curiosity of the children and set them on a life long journey for learning, growing and sharing?
About fifteen years ago, Secretary, Education in Gujarat Government requested our help in preparing a management plan for revamping primary education. We hadn’t done much work in the field of primary education till then. But, I realized that if anyone can advise the way to restructure education, it can be a teacher who has achieved all the policy goals without any external incentive or assistance. I asked the Secretary to invite 20 such teachers who had achieved all the goals on their own without any external help. The Secretary was flabbergasted. He regretted that he didn’t know the name of such teachers. Such a question apparently hadn’t been asked very often in the past. I suggested that we go to the Federation of the Primary School Teachers and request them to identify such teachers. The next meeting of the committee to prepare the plan was held in the Federation office in Gandhinagar. To our great satisfaction, 20 outstanding teachers had been invited by the Federation leaders to share their stories. One of them was Bhanumatiben, Sabarkantha district. She was very disturbed that many villagers didn’t send their daughters to school. On Rakshabandhan day, she invited the male folks and tied a red thread around the wrist of all the invited parents. The male community members offered to reciprocate her gesture by providing whatever facility she wanted to the school. She denied the need for any reciprocity. When the men persisted, she said that what she really wanted, they may not be able to give her. The male vanity couldn’t bear with this audacious remark. They insisted that she had to express her wish. Bhanumatiben asked that if they wanted to give her a gift, they should let their daughters come to school. She solved a problem of enrollment of girl child in Rs 2.50 which didn’t happen in many districts despite crores having been spent then. Why cannot such teachers be invited by the Education Minister at state and central level besides the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister for seeking advice on different issues affecting quality of education. See teachers as transformers.org for thousand more examples pooled by prof Vijaya sherry chand. The problem is that those who advise policy makers have seldom learnt from such teachers and thus often fail to build upon the positive energy in the system. The Prime Minister during his recent address to 18 lac schools has stressed the need for scientific temper, role of teachers in nurturing curiosity of children and importance of generating social and environmental consciousness. There are unsung inspired teachers everywhere in the country who are achieving all these goals without caring about any recognition or reward. Why cannot such inspired teachers become the pivot of educational reforms and revitalization? I have said this before and I will plead again; couldn’t the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and Education Minister spend an hour a week listening to such inspired teachers from all over the country. Their ideas will provide far more effective solutions for turning around the educational system of the country than the advisors sitting in the Planning Commission or its new avatar or for that matter, the mandarins in the ministry.
The Prime Minister mentioned about the new ministry of skill development. But, somehow he didn’t say anything about the need to recast the biggest de-skilling program in the history of human civilization in the form of Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme named after Mahatma Gandhi. A scheme which does not value the innate skills present in our society and defines work only as a menial labor cannot ever do justice to the goal of skilling India. I hope that this catastrophe can be remedied through significant and urgent reforms. A country which cannot provide opportunities of using skills of artisans, artists, sculptors, performers, environmentalists, masons, craftsmen and women and converts them into so-called unskilled workers surely is not serious about skilling the society. I hope Prime Minister will bring about this overdue reform, by redefining work and thus create multiple role models for our children. Let artists pain the walls of schools, let the performers education and entertain our children, let the craftsmen and women instill the art and teach the dignity of labour. Education will then reflect the Gandhian dream of blending theory with practice. It will also be a befitting tribute to Dr.Radhakrishnan’s memory who advocated the need for learning not just from formally trained teachers but also from the teachers in the informal sectors.