What do we want: Prisoners or Preceptors?

R S Prasad

“Fine, we are happy with you. Hope you find our terms agreeable. So when can you join?” One of the panel members speaks in a soft officious tone.

“Thank You Sir, a week’s time would be ok, I guess,” says the candidate, the prospective teacher.

“Well, that’s ok, Hmm… one more thing, you know you need to submit your original degree certificates with us. We shall mail the appointment order to you shortly. On your joining day, you may submit a joining report and that’s it. You are part of us, welcome!” smiles the panel member.

Well, that’s the scene for you: the teacher whom we expect to impart knowledge, skills and values to our children has to take the first step towards self-annihilation. Surrender the certificates and secure the job. And, it is this teacher who is expected to teach, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.”

Institutions may table reasons to support this kind of practice. Let us, for a moment, move away from the reasons advanced, and even grant they are valid, to examine why this takes place. This would perhaps help us understand certain issues plaguing the education domain in our country. Such an understanding may also lead us to discover what we can do as individuals, institutions, and as a society to address these issues.

Even a casual glance at the employment scenario in India will reveal this unique feature: supply being more than demand. While this applies to most sectors, this imbalance in equation, has affected the education space negatively.

For every single honourable teacher who refuses to surrender certificates, yet willing to serve with commitment, there are hundreds of others who are ready to surrender their certificates. (What’s more, some of them are ready to work even without pay for a certain duration to gain an ‘experience certificate’!)

This works for institutions operating with an exploitative mindset.

They provide employment, obtaining the certificates as a kind of security against unexpected and untimely departures. While this may on the surface seem practical, let’s take a deep look into this.

First, there are concerns about the disposition of the one who is willing to surrender the certificates to secure a job, that too, a teaching job.

Is such a person capable of inspiring students ‘not to yield’ and ‘sail beyond the sunset’? After all, teaching goes beyond mere instruction in subjects; it involves participating in the dreams and aspirations of learners, adding a ray of hope to their lives; it involves embracing a certain way of life that motivates learners to discover the key to self-empowerment to script their morrows with confidence and wisdom.

Second, what signals are we, as educational institutions, sending out to the teaching community through such a practice? The signal is one of distrust, disrespect, and even our own insecurity (the teacher might leave us anytime, perhaps we are not an ideal employer!) and certainly one that does not resonate with the philosophy and higher purposes of education.

How would the teacher be inspired to create an empathetic and nurturing space if she herself is denied this? Shouldn’t we explore ways of beginning the engagement on a more positive and inspiring note?

At a higher level, if schools need to be shrines of wisdom, where teachers and learners together discover knowledge, skills, and values rather than ‘cover’ some syllabus, is it not desirable for the teachers and the educational institutions to come together to co-create, nurture, and model paradigms for internal and external engagements worthy of emulation by the society and nation at large?

All this would call for mature perspectives on education and its relation to life.

Some educational institutions view teachers as an ‘expenditure’ head. This happens at the cost of the child, his or her learning, and growth. There is also another factor that sustains this kind of exploitation.

The steady increase in numbers is a kind of shock absorber: no matter the quality of a school and its teachers, it shall always enjoy patronage as the numbers (children) are always on the increase.

However, a certain kind of educational consumerism is enveloping the scene. The parents and the local community do their own forms of quality-audit, soft-pushing the educational institutions to relook at their orientations and the way they function.

For instance, when a certain ‘International School’ in Hyderabad was in the news for all the wrong reasons, somewhere on the Internet was this comment by a parent: “I always knew that something was wrong in that school, it was always advertising for teachers for all subjects all the time! If the school is good, why would the teachers leave in such numbers? And, how can I as a parent be assured of stability? After all it is the teachers and not the infrastructure that makes a school great!”

So, institutions pursuing (or professing to pursue!) excellence have realized that they are under scrutiny. They understand that unless they treat teachers as ‘investment’ they may not survive, leave alone excel. Thus, there are a sizeable number of enlightened institutions focusing on attracting the best teachers and rewarding them well in terms of emoluments and opportunities for growth and development. Nevertheless, the exploitation-low quality vicious cycle still remains unchecked.

A look at the larger picture reveals that there is an educational cancer that is growing at an alarming pace across the nation. From ‘schools’ in the street corner, there are now ‘universities’ backed by the raw power of money; many such institutions stand proudly, defying academic and moral moorings with naked impunity.

Even in tertiary institutions, students are controlled with an iron hand to achieve ‘discipline’: boys and girls are not allowed to talk to each other, undemocratic classrooms where students cannot raise questions, etc., are becoming common.

“In all our classrooms we have cameras to monitor both the teachers and the taught. We leverage on technology. We are a hi-tech institution!” is a comment that is becoming common.

Let’s now look at our neighbours and study their initiatives to draw a couple of lessons.

Bhutan, for instance, accords a central place to the teacher and school in its socio-economic-political structure. Documents at the department of education acknowledge the role of the teacher and school as ‘social animators’ who are seen as deliverers and enablers of the national vision. Excellent pay and growth are part of the package and the best minds are attracted to the profession.

While we do have our own documents such as NCF 2005, where admirable ideas are discussed, the concept of teacher/school as ‘social animators’ has not been celebrated, positioned and articulated. Unless we do this and orchestrate an awareness movement at a national level about the centrality of teacher and school in our collective emancipation, nourishing structures and a culture conducive to attracting the best minds to teaching may not emerge. Our future generation would languish in schools with sub-optimal ‘teachers’ while the best minds will be cocooned in corporate cubicles.

Another example is that the national colleges of education under the Royal University of Bhutan ensure that the teacher-trainees receive a sound theoretical and functional grasp of pedagogy. While we have a few apex institutions in our country doing real good work in this line, it is doubtful if all the private ‘B.Ed colleges’ across the country attempt this task sincerely.

The result is that teaching-learning process suffers in the classrooms and the smile vanishes from the child’s face. Forever.

Learning becomes a permanent nightmare. Can there be anything more cruel than this for our children?

Will Durrant, the eminent historian remarks: Education is the transmission of civilization.

And, perhaps as the first step towards that kind of transmission, can the educational institutions boldly take a step forward to create an eduspace that invites preceptors and not prisoners? Can we have the following welcome scene instead of the one this article began with?

“Well, we are happy with you. Hope you find our terms agreeable. So when can you join?” One of the panel members speaks in a soft officious tone.

“Thank You Ma’am, a week’s time would be ok, I guess” says the candidate, the prospective teacher.

“Well, that’s ok, mmm… one more thing, you know, we are a very different institution. We value education. We value teachers as competent and committed as you are. So, we will NOT ask you to surrender your certificates on joining. We trust you. We trust that if at all you wish to leave you will let us know well in advance so that we can work things out.

We respect you as a professional. You are eligible for the vacation pay and we WON’T hold your vacation pay back. We look up to you as one who will help us in guiding young minds and contributing to the growth of this institution.

And, we believe that you will find it difficult to leave us, you know! Our school is as much loved by teachers as students! The formal appointment letter shall be mailed to you shortly. On your joining day, you need to submit a joining report and that’s it. A Mentor-teacher will help you for the first few days. You are part of us, hearty welcome!” smiles the panel member.

Think about it

  1. Ignoring the lopsided supply-demand equation, can the institutions take a bold step saying that they would like to have only the best person in terms of qualification, experience, and more importantly individual orientation that aligns with the demands of teaching, assuring the best remuneration and respectful treatment?
  2. Can the teachers and the institutions come together to look at ways of arriving at a fine balance between the rights of the individual (leaving the institution at will) and the concerns of the institutions? (the education process should not be disturbed during the course of academic year by untimely departures)
  3. How can the educational institutions and teachers co-create a healthy culture in the schools that students, society, and nation find worthy of emulation? We may draw inspiration from various sources: My Pedagogic Creed by John Dewey, On Education by Bertrand Russell, Sadhanaand An Eastern University by Tagore, to cite a few…
  4. Can all the stake-holders begin to question the credibility of the ‘educationists’ and ‘educational institutions’ to demand quality education? Can we create a new brand of educational consumerism that will hard-push the government to be more proactive? (How come these universities were allowed to exist in the first place? Whose dreams and lives are we playing with?)
  5. Is it possible for us as individuals to create a culture, in our families at least, of going beyond the entertainment personalities (with due respect to them) and look up to academicians, scientists, literary figures, and such others whose works and lives may have far more positive influence in our lives? This would ensure that our posterity moves towards the higher planes of existence, capable of celebrating sublime quests in life. They would demand intellectual rigour and aesthetic excellence from the institutions.
  6. Can we relook the way we see teachers and schools and in turn help them relook at themselves as social animators enabling and delivering the national vision? Can we also, as responsible citizens, appeal that people with proven credentials and academic moorings need to occupy the slot of education ministry and the entire education functional machinery?
  7. Can we, as a society, reposition ourselves and see education as investment and not an expenditure item in the national budget? Can we work on ways of annual mandatory increase in the GDP percentage that is earmarked for education and ensure its effective use?
  8. Can we value Education for Life so that we ensure that learning goes beyond marks? Can we come together to put the smile on the learning child?

The author is a consultant and resource person for the University Resource Centre, Azim Premji Foundation. He is also engaged in teacher-training projects and other human capital building endeavours. He can be reached at vrsprasadsai@gmail.com and (0)7760896148.

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