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Teachers' day: Ritualistic tributes, populist rhetoric 'fill up' intellectual-moral vacuum

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

Henry Adams, said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops!” Nevertheless, conflict in teaching today is between the obsession with the earning power of learning on the one hand, and the seeming irrelevance of the pedagogical activity resulting in an intellectual and moral vacuum on the other.
On Teacher's Day (celebrated September 5 in honour of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, noted educationist and India's second president), a grateful nation pays its ritualistic annual tribute to the teaching community. As usual, there was a lot of rhetoric, including traditional lectures, on ideal teachers and some mandatory awards and a dose of nostalgia.
The question is, what would a talented teacher carry home in terms of salary every month? The truth is that there are hardly any incentives for a person who joins the teaching profession and that is why the best brains are not joining this stream. Besides, what is of paramount importance is to follow a model of value-based education.
The teaching system in India seems to be at an awkward crossroads as both the teaching community as well as the community of the taught, in schools and colleges, talk of discontentment and also disenchantment with each other. 
Students today feel that the teaching style adopted by their lecturers is outdated. Others lament that the norms and values too have changed. But similar, rather more vehement, is the grouse of teachers who feel that values were missing in their students as well as parents.
The fact is that the professional development of teachers is in the hands of the bureaucrats and hence opportunities for teachers are severely limited by the system. The Indian model of education not only discourages experimentation in teaching but also undermines the very desire to teach.
When we were young and studied at school, some of us harboured dreams of becoming teachers one day. But what about my students? Their response for over two decades has corroborated what I never wanted to know.
Unfortunately, the teaching profession these days does not attract bright young people any more as it did a few decades ago. The bitter pill to swallow is that it does not attract any one these days -- at least at the school leaving stage. Perhaps there may be valid reasons for that.
Fifty years ago children had ambitions about becoming teachers and serving their nation. Today, a majority of the teachers both in schools and colleges are either those who have opted the profession owing to the comfortable working hours, or because they have not been able to cope with the demands of lucrative and competitive careers elsewhere. 
In the olden times, the society accorded the gurus the status of angel, guide, guardian and mentor. What is of paramount importance for the teachers today is to introduce value education.
States the Taittarya Upanishad: “Matri Devo Bhava, Pitri Devo Bhava, Acharya Devo Bhava” (Respect the mother, the father and the teacher). All our sacred texts have mentioned how spiritual guides and teachers, sages and saints with the strength of their character, upright morals and strenuous practices, had remained fearless when attacked by men of physical might.
In a comment on value education sometime ago, Anil Wilson, the principal of Delhi's St Stephen's College, pointed out at the Modern School Diaspora Initiative lecture that the conflict today is between the obsession with the earning power of learning on the one hand and the seeming irrelevance of pedagogical activity on the other. The natural result is an intellectual and moral vacuum that is increasingly being filled up by populist rhetoric in the one hand and coercion and corruption on the other.
Educational scientists have presented solutions but myopic politicians have unfortunately acted in disregard to the same. The Indian brain is today recognised as the best in the world but perhaps the same cannot be said of the Indian heart. This is because we have not spent as much effort in educating the heart as we have in educating the head.
Our efforts at educating the heart have not only suffered due to a lack of understanding and direction but also because most attempts in this direction are hijacked by power brokers who manipulate educational systems.
The notion of value in education has shifted to the market place. That is why criminals are accepted, dictators admired
The need to control people is fundamental to the quest for power. Power brokers have, over the years, instinctively realised that in order to control people they first need to control educational matrices that determine a people. Dilute education of values and they have control over people.
This is because people with values cannot be ruled over except by the values they hold dear.
"Networking" is the watchword, not merit, to undermine the people's sense of integrity that takes the toll of brilliance introducing pull, not ability. Impetus towards work, improvement, perfection and excellence are killed by setting up standards of achievement available to the most inept. This crisis has divested education of values today.
In his book "Law of Education", M Atyab Siddiqui, lawyer and standing counsel of Jamia Millia Islamia writes that sensitizing and not dehumanising should be the motto of education that implores that the study of literature is important only if it sensitises us to the importance of human feelings and emotions. If we are sensitised to the human condition in context of the material aspects of life, only then our study of economics will be value-based.
Siddiqui further writes that no study of science will be meaningful unless it sensitizes us to the humane aspect in science and all progress. Likewise, the study of history will be rendered futile unless it sensitizes us to impel the menacing forces that endanger human life. But it is lamentable that we study these subjects not for their sensitising potential but for minting money.
Besides the status, the earning potential of learning determines the importance and the "value" of a subject in the eyes of a student. Thus, commerce is a much sought after subject today whereas philosophy, history or the arts find few takers.
It is obvious that the notion of value in education has shifted from the philosophical and transcendent sense and come to rest in the market place. That's why the criminals are accepted, dictators admired, and corrupt power mongers emulated.
The new education order separates value from education. This has resulted in a closing not only of the human mind but more significantly the closing of the human heart. The intellectual cacophony that surrounds us can only be resolved when we realise that an education that ignores moral and spiritual values cannot qualify as a quality education.
Modern education has largely separated virtue and knowledge and has severed the link between reason and virtue, between the mind and the heart. An adequate education cannot afford to ignore either the mind or the heart. Together they form the vital links in the chain of civilization.
Thus, education, to be truly value-centred, must move away from "survival learning" and towards "generative learning". This implies that the aim and purpose of any and all kinds of study is to get to the heart of what it means to be human.
---
*Chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University; grandnephew, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

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