Re-imagining teachers, reclaiming education

Vivek Vellanki

vivek The proclamation of popular media is simple: there is a crisis in school education and it needs to be fixed. The sub-text that follows this proclamation is that teachers are responsible for this crisis and they need to be ‘fixed’. This idea has been projected so many times, in so many different ways that most of us have come to believe it to be true. Is it not true? Well, yes and no. Yes, there is a crisis in school education and it is one that has been looming large over us for a long time now. No, teachers are not solely responsible for this crisis. In fact, they are the victims of this crisis. The teacher has been made the target to deflect attention from the larger crisis in education.

In contemporary times, the image of the teacher in popular imagination is based on parochial clichés that are fed to us through popular media and seem to be omnipresent. These clichés construct the teacher as being uninterested in teaching, unknowledgeable and ineffective. This image of the teacher serves two important purposes. Firstly, it provides society at large an option to transfer on to the teacher the blame for all its problems. Secondly, and more dangerously, it becomes the basis for exercising greater control over the teacher, turning her/him into an object of education reform.

There is an urgent need for us to interrogate these images and for teachers to reclaim their space within education reform. Unless this happens the ideal of “education as the practice of freedom”1 will continue to evade us.

Education as panacea
One of the most prevalent myths of our times is that education is the sole way to address poverty, social inequality, and discrimination. The idea that if we fix the school system, society will become more equal is the liberal adage that has been around for quite some time now and has gained greater support in recent times. This notion is not completely hollow; in fact, when considered historically, it is true that we live in a society where greater opportunities exist for people to be socially mobile. There are several stories that bring this to our immediate reality – Prema Jayakumar, daughter of a rickshaw driver, who topped the exam for becoming a charted accountant; Satya Nadella, who completed his schooling from Hyderabad and went on to became the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. These examples of individual excellence are used to efface deep-rooted inequalities existing in society and create a mirage of meritocracy.

The author is currently with the Regional Resource Centre for Elementary Education (RRCEE), University of Delhi. He runs a podcast series titled Dialoguing Education, the interviews can be accessed at www.rrcee.net. He can be reached at vivek.vellanki@gmail.com.

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