Monday, August 23, 2010

What is a teacher, anyway?

“The authority of those that profess to teach is often a positive hindrance to those who desire to learn.”

The younger generation today rarely follows our preachings; is more likely to follow our example. A good teacher, therefore, should be a good example to students. S/he should walk the talk. An ideal teacher is more like a midwife, who stands by the side of the pregnant mother in pain, coaxing her, cajoling her, empathizing with her and provoking her to deliver. It is the mother that eventually delivers. Similarly, an ideal teacher does not deliver her/his didactic lecture in the class as is the practice but, tries to get the best out of the student. The student should deliver (e=out; ducere=deliver). Swami Vivekananda once said: “Education is the manifestation of the perfection that is already in man.” Another great thinker, Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Laureate, had opined that: “no man could teach any man anything that he does not already know.” Looks strange but, is true scientifically.
The Gurukulas:
The Indian system of Gurukulas were almost followed by the Socrates method of trying to get the best out of the student which was prevalent even in west up until the time the Roman Emperors despised the idea of wiser citizens coming up endangering their own survival. Thus started the present curriculum type of education where the teacher is supposed to teach what the establishment thinks is right. In this system there is no place for the teacher to get the best out of the student outwith the syllabus. This is the reason why even great minds like Ravindranath Tagore refused formal education! I do not see any change in the near future as our present rulers (Kings) would want to perpetuate the same system for their own survival.
Pythagoras, the teacher of Socrates spent quite some time in India and there is some evidence that he even had a one to one meeting with the Buddha at that time. He must have imbibed the Gurukula system which influenced his teaching methods followed by Socrates, Plato and later Aristotle. It was Voltaire, the great French thinker, who wrote that:”while we were hunter-gatherers roaming the forest in Europe Indians had five Universities of International fame where scholars from all over the globe came to acquire wisdom. It does not behoove us now to either question their antiquity or their authenticity.” If one ponders over the educational system in India today one feels sorry for the students. Most of what is taught is information, very little of it is knowledge and rarely ever, if ever, any wisdom is generated in the students mind. In the era of World Wide Web and what have you one gets drowned in the midst of information, most of it is just noise. Occasional signal in the noise gets drowned in the same noise.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
T. S. Eliot, The Rock
British (US-born) critic, dramatist & poet. (1888 – 1965)

See what Socrates used to do according to Plato, his student as detailed in his book Theaetetus in 360 BCTranslated by Benjamin Jowett
“Well, my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies: and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. And like the mid-wives, I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that I ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself, is very just-the reason is, that the God compels-me to be a midwife, but does not allow me to bring forth. And therefore I am not myself at all wise, nor have I anything to show which is the invention or birth of my own soul, but those who converse with me profit.”
Teachers’ Day Ritual:
The ritual of the teachers’ day is held every year on Late Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan’s birth anniversary. How I wish some of our present leaders had his wisdom to know the difference between true education for our future generation and the present avatar. The teachers’ day is more of a ritual to satisfy the rules rather than to ponder over the sorry state of education here. If any of the readers had read the PROBE 1997 report commissioned by the Government of India, one would be shocked to know that more than 47% of our primary schools in the four BIMARU States do not tech students; instead they use the schools for their own businesses!
When did the rot set in?
Some time ago a school boy in Bangalore injured his classmate using his air gun. When the story of a school boy in Gurgaon shooting his own classmate made news we ignored the same as an accident. The scene repeated in two other States and now it has come to our own backyard in Bangalore! Now we know that it was not an accident but it is endemic in our system threatening to be an epidemic if not controlled in time! With this incident we have been able to ape the American style even in crime in our younger generation. It is a routine affair in American schools these days. We are already ahead of the Americans in our food habits for the young, abandoning our time honored healthy diets completely inviting the American epidemic of obesity and precocious diabetes in the young. Where are we headed in our educational field?
Time is ripe now to go in search of the roots of our present educational system. In the 19th Century, there came a man to India on behalf of the British to study the Indian scenario vis-à-vis the best practices to be adopted by India. He was a young British member of the House of Commons hardly in his early 30s. Thomas Babington Macaulay, later Lord Macaulay, was in India for four years as the Chairman of the Board of Control of Colonies of the British Empire. He was the youngest member of the Board but was made the chairman as he was very close to the then Vice Roy, William Bentinck. Macaulay had an electrifying personality and he used to bulldoze his way through the Board to get his views accepted against the wishes of the majority.
It may not be out of place here to quote Macaulay to emphasize the role played by him in changing our wonderful educational system then prevalent. He had so much contempt for this country and its people that he thought that Indians were an inferior race! However, what he saw in India literally shocked him. He then devised a very ingenious plan to break India’s back by replacing her great tradition in education of “para” and “apara” vidya where every student gets to know about him/her as well as the world around him, the three Rs, thus enabling him/her to have self development as well as external development that today we think is the essence of education. This is a good lesson that we could learn from this intelligent but crooked man. If we could replace the present westernized educational system with the best part of our ancient Indian education, which was even praised by Macaulay in the House of Commons, we could change our younger generation for a better future.
Macaulay’s speech in the Commons on the 2nd February 1835.
“I have travelled through the length and breadth of India and have not seen a single person begging, who is thief. Such wealth I have seen in that country, such high moral values, people of such high caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer that country unless we break the very backbone of that nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient educational system, her culture, for if Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation!”
Some of Macaulay’s writings in the Board of Control minutes, that are available in the British Museum, would make even a skeptic to sit up and take note of the dangerous foundation on which our present educational system is built. Some samples would suffice. “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect.” “A single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” “English tongue is that which could be most useful to our native subjects.” “What Greek and Latin were to us is English to the natives. Sanskrit literature is worse than our Saxon and Norman progenitors.”

“When a nation of high intellectual attainments undertakes to superintend the education of a nation comparatively ignorant….we are forcing on them mock-learning…..”
Now is the time to do radical surgery on our existing educational set up to revamp it to bring out a class of people, eventually every Indian citizen, who is Indian in thought, in action, in opinion, in taste, and in intellect and not British! It is also time to show them the rich literature of every single Indian language, some of which are much richer in content and are older than the English language. English has borrowed quite a lot of Indian words in the new Oxford dictionary of Indian English. In contrast to Macaulay’s contempt for India and Indians let us see what the great people of other countries had to say about Indian education.
Macaulay did succeed in his mission. Even after 60 years of “so called” political independence we do not seem to have intellectual independence to think with an Indian mind. We are still the slaves of western thought. It is because the mind of every child that goes to the conventional school today gets fettered and never free to think, just the opposite of what Gurudev Tagore wrote in the Geetanjali-“where the mind is free”. The gun culture of America will automatically be replaced by the universal compassion emanating out of the wisdom of our inner self in the ancient Indian educational system if only we could change our educational system.
As was pointed out by Macaulay the back bone of every culture is its educational system. While we insist on our being Indians first what are we hesitating to give the future generation the correct education that can root out the greatest cancer in our society-corruption? The root of corruption is the competitive ethos of western education for the impressionable mind of a young child in school where the child is encouraged to compete with others and not with itself. The former is only mediocrity while the latter is excellence. The former makes the child either proud or jealous, the two deadly poisons that slowly kill mankind. The latter makes the child excellent and altruistic.
We need not throw out the western education system lock, stock and barrel. That would be like throwing the baby with the bath tub out of the window. Let us devise a new educational system that incorporates the wheat from both the systems excluding the chaff in either. Unlike what most people think the progress of a nation does not depend solely on its economic growth or its technological superiority; it depends on the development of its people physically, mentally, spiritually and culturally to make them happy and contented. Man with his greed and proclivity for comfort would otherwise rob this universe of all that is needed for the future development. Healthy nation is a happy nation.

Need based higher education:
The present educational system is job oriented and examination centered. That does not let the child develop himself to be an ideal citizen with the complete awareness of his social obligations. The present generation does not seem to be bothered about its collective responsibility to society at all. We can not blame them for that. The educational system does not inculcate that in them during their time in school. With our demographic figures likely to throw up 700-800 million children looking for education in the next fifty years, we lack the necessary infrastructure in addition. Higher education at the tax payers’ cost is out of the question but primary education is the responsibility of the government. Primary education of the right variety would bring forth a generation of Indians truly Indian in thought and action.
“I am beholden to Indians as it is they who taught us how to count, without which there could have been no progress in science.”
Albert Einstein.


  1. Intellectual Freedom! More simply put, freedom of thought and expression. A fundamental right, today extrapolated to, the right to education.
    Freedom is inherent,
    we are taught to be slaves,
    and when it dawns on the subject that there is a possibility of freedom, the subject becomes an individual; life then becomes a quest for self-realization and eventual self-expression. The interesting bit is, our system has in itself, built, not only the rules to create slaves but the power to empower. "What young Indians need is opportunity, empowerment and leadership. With that India's time really has come. People say that India is a land of a billion problems, but I'm a firm believer that India is a land of a billion opportunities." ---Mukesh Ambani.
    The Indian Identity: Aggression, confusion, deprivation but full of hope!

  2. Indian education system is really a system that produces employees and that too inefficient ones.

    I have written about a new way to bring up our children in I have named it community school. It really takes a village to bring up a child.