TODAY -

In search of Mr Keating and others: A simplistic take on Education

Rajkumar Panthoiren *



The cursor blinks right at me, as if mocking with sheer delight and telling me, "Boy, give me words, give me words." I submit. And here begins the splash from my cesspool of somewhat suppressed and long forgotten idealistic yet true self.

It is an irrefutable fact that among all the professions and pursuits, teaching (and consequently the quest of learning) occupies a pride of place, and this has reasons. Teaching and its implications are something you cannot just brush aside. Here, the formal education system is referred to, which in our country is steeped in systemic flaws and biases. It has long been felt by enlightened individuals that measuring the ability of different individuals using a set of rigid parameters is inconclusive, misleading and harmful. In the current system, marks are overemphasised to the extent that it has become some sort of a badge of reputation and worth.

Again, certain professions are put on a fancy pedestal. In Manipur, it is often seen that large chunks of 12 Science students right after their Board examinations rush to medical and engineering coaching centres (for this 'Crash Course' and that, where majority of the students ultimately crash) and sit in the said examinations. Some really earnest ones make it, but the truth is that most are there just to give a shot so that if lucky, Lady Luck would bless them. So, that laughably is nothing different from buying a lottery ticket in the hope of hitting home run (yeah, who doesn't love money?)

The thing is that most parents perceive securing a seat in a medical or engineering college for their sons and daughters as hitting their own sort of home run. (Have they ever asked this question: "Son (or daughter, as the case may be), so what are you good at? What are your plans?") Now that this is a lottery where everyone is allowed, why not give it a shot (even though one might not possess the requisite level of competence to face such public examinations where only the genuine talents succeed)? That's their justification.

The biggest downfall of this "lottery" is that those students (and they are quite a number), who are hell bent on getting selected but never are, get themselves admitted in some non-functional college to avoid academic break. Such colleges have earned quite a reputation for themselves; I believe the reader is well familiar with the names. (My question to the Education department of the state government is: How can you let these fraudulent colleges even exist, let alone admit students, right under your nose?)

The students of these colleges (are they students at all, really?) write their exams using their guidebooks and also employ a very productive team work aided by the esteemed invigilator, who faintly resembles a teacher (but is not). The result: Year after year, hundreds of students pass out as graduates without ever having opened a single page of their B.A. /B.Sc books. And not surprisingly, most of them (empty brains, if truth be told) would go on to become even private school teachers, government employees and so on (that's the famed 'connection leiraga twba' stuff in work, where merit is just a term) even though their employability is highly questionable. The moot question is: Can we expect anything substantial from them? I don't.

All this clearly reflects the sickeningly narrow mentality of our society as a whole. On a more positive note, it has to be acknowledged that there are another crop of parents who are more open minded (and I dare say, stronger) in the sense that they support their children when they choose unconventional career options, be it fashion designing, music, theatre, journalism, film making, etc etc..

If Ratan Thiyam had been forced by his parents to waste three (or more) years of his life trying to succeed in medical entrance exam (or whatever), would Manipur have been fortunate enough to be enriched by his theatrical and artistic contributions? Would his creativity have flourished? The answer would be an assuring 'NO.' Well, I can state many more illustrious Manipuris, but the point being we need to widen our vision of the horizon, and start looking for new avenues. Yes, we do need doctors and engineers (ones who solely chose these fields by choice, aptitude and passion, not by family preference. I do not want to die because a half-talented doctor generously prescribes 5 tablets instead of the required, say, 2 tablets!) But, mind you, we also need top-notch singers, actors, writers, painters, teachers, thinkers...

At this point, I am reminded of that damn beloved 1989 Robin Williams movie 'Dead Poets Society'. The character of Mr Keating played by Robin Williams essentially encapsulates the noble and inspiring qualities a teacher should possess. Who can possibly forget how Mr Keating shared to this bunch of bright, impressionable students his infectious love of poetry and life, and through that taught them not to conform always but to strive to find the true calling in each and every one of us. In one iconic scene among many, he prods his students to "seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." "Carpe diem!" in Latin, that is.

Sadly, the notion of an inspiring or even a life-changing teacher seems to be lost on us. It's as if we no more believe in the once revered relationship between a teacher and his students. We hear from our elders stories of dedicated teachers of yore (of Manipur, yes) who used to regularly home visit their students to keep tabs on them and to share a cup of tea with the parents. Such was the warm, cordial and loving relationship! That era has gone, and now if you look at a typical classroom, it would unfailingly give an impression of a robot teaching (more like dictating to) a bunch of robots. It's that mechanical. Sorry and very sorry.

On a personal note, I still remember the personality and leadership qualities of Sir Mathew from my High School days. He is the only teacher till now who has left an indelible impression on my young mind. Well, not quite because I do have Miss LouAnne Johnson, Mr Braithwaite and Mr Keating and....

And they whisper ceaselessly," Dare to be yourself. Dare not to conform. Dare to be different. Settle for nothing less than extraordinary. Find your voice, your calling...

Carpe diem!"
I hear them.
Do you?


* Rajkumar Panthoiren wrote this article to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at panthoirk94(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on April 17, 2015.


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