Teachers' Day and My Rumbling Thoughts

Rajendra Kshetri *

  Picture of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan at the Teacher's Day Celebration by Edn(S) Govt of Manipur on Sep 05 2009
Picture of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan at the Teacher's Day Celebration on Sep 05 2009

Fifth day of the Ninth month of every year since 1962 is celebrated/observed as 'Teachers' Day ' all over the country to remember and pay respect to Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, born on this day of the year 1888. Dr Radhakrishnan was the first Vice President of Independent India (1957-1962) and later on took office at Rashtrapati Bhavan as India's Second President (1962-1967).

Knighted in 1931, recipient of India's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna (1954), India's Ambassador Extraordinary to USSR (1949-1952), Member of British Royal Order of Merit (1963), Visiting Professor to many foreign universities, Dr Radhakrishnan was recognized the world over as an outstanding scholar, profound philosopher, eminent author, celebrated teacher, and a conscientious thinking-politician.

His works on Hinduism and Indian Philosophy ("The Hindu View of Life", Indian Philosophy, Vols. I and II ) made the world recognize him as the first Indian Philosopher to put Indian Philosophy on the world map. Professor Radhakrishnan's English translation of Gita " The Bhagavad gita" , dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, is still considered as one of the best translations even today, 74 years after it was first published in London, 1948. The 'Introductory Essay' that he added makes his translation unique and reader-friendly.

How September 5 came to be celebrated/observed as Teachers' Day reveals Radhakrishnan's sense of humility and humbleness. Story has it that when Radhakrishnan assumed the office at Rashtrapati Bhavan as the Second President of India in 1962, some of his students approached him for permission to celebrate his birthday, which falls on September 5, as a Special day, Dr Radhakrishnan instead made a request to observe the day as Teachers' Day to recognize the contributions of teachers to Society.

Today, sixty years after it was first observed as Teachers' Day, as the Country/State remembers/observes Radhakrishnan's birthday as Teachers' Day, I can't help but feel that it has become more of a token affair/celebration than an effort to improve quality of teachers and teaching profession.

There was a time, not too long ago, when India had produced some of the finest teachers who were respected and held in high esteem. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, regarded as one of India's most distinguished twentieth century scholars, is one such teacher. He was incidentally the first Indian to teach at Oxford University.

It is a matter of serious concern that post Independent India, modern India's standing among the international community of teachers is very low. Not only a poor commentary but a sad reality really on the part of the Country's education system and teaching community. How is that China which was way behind India in the sixties and seventies in terms of quality education and research is now well ahead of India.

It is indicative of the lack of quality/inspiring teachers in the Country that no Indian University could figure anywhere near the top hundreds of the world. What is wrong with the education policy of the Country ? What went wrong ? What ails the Indian education sector ? What is the reason ? What could be the reason (s) ?

Is recruitment policy /mechanism faulty ? Is reservation-based recruitment the bane of Indian education system ? Have teachers failed to discharge their roles and duties ? Have teachers failed to motivate, inspire, provoke, and unlock the curiosity of students, young minds of the Country ?

Have teachers failed to open new vistas to look, understand, appreciate, examine the emerging socio-economic realities and political phenomena taking place in the Country ? Are teachers not able to inculcate a sense of curiosity to students in the classroom ?

Are teachers not able to teach students beyond what is prescribed in the curriculum ? Are teachers not widely read/well read persons to guide students beyond the syllabus ? Are teachers not creating enough creativity to make students more creative ? Are they not able to train young minds for creative thinking ?

These are but some of the rumbling thoughts/questions that crossed my mind all through three decades of my teaching and learning experience.

What kind of teacher(s) do we need then ? Who could inspire and motivate the young minds who are, to use an often used cliche, the future pillars of the Country ? What kind/type of teachers do we have in the Country/State today ?

Broadly speaking, I would categorize two kinds of teachers. 'Teachers-by-accident' and 'Teachers-by-choice'. The tragedy, in fact a misfortune, in our Country/State is that majority of teachers could be said to have belonged to the first category. This may be one of the most important reasons why India is not able to regain the lost glory that Dr Radhakrishnan had gifted to the Country.

Come September 5. Radhakrishnan's birthday. Teachers ' Day. It takes me down memory lane. I have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of the best and inspiring teachers.

I still remember vividly how terribly bad/poor I was in Hindi (a compulsory subject upto Class VIII), not able to score double digits in examinations. My poor performance in Hindi continued till a certain teacher appeared on the scene. Ojha Chaoba (may his noble soul rest in peace) , a newly appointed Hindi teacher and a very good story teller, brought a sea-change on my Hindi performance.

He somehow inspired me and sure enough I was inspired to no end. I have had the misfortune too of being taught by another teacher who taught us literature (Manipuri as Major Indian Language). This teacher was telling us, how could I ever forget, about Hemingway's novel "The Old Man and the Sea" fetching Nobel Prize for literature.

Obviously, we all had no idea about Hemingway and his novel and naturally we believed what the teacher said then. The novel, he said, was not worth getting the prize as the story depicted was merely a simple ordinary story of an old man going out to the sea for fishing/angling.

It was not until my graduation days when I chanced upon the novel and read, re-read that I realized how terribly mistaken and wrong the teacher was, and how we students-young minds-had been misled, misinformed, mistaught and ill taught. I have had to undergo a self process of unlearning what had been learned (during my formative period) and relearning all over again. This of course is another story.

The two anecdotes I mentioned above is just to drive home the point how crucially important the role of a teacher is in shaping, moulding the young formative minds. It is easy to be a teacher ('teacher-by-accident') .

But it is far from easy to be a Teacher who can inspire, motivate, inculcate sense of curiosity , critical thinking in the right way, widen mental horizon of students and open doors to the outside world ('Teacher-by-choice').

If T-E-A-C-H-E-R , a word so sweet, can be taken as acronym of/for Talented, Educated, Adorable, Charming, Helpful, Encouraging and Responsible; how many of we teachers in the Country/State can claim to possess and/or have possessed at least some of these attributes, if not all ?

I don't know (your answer is as good as mine). But I could say with a certain sense of certainty (and you all will agree with me) that Professor Radhakrishnan possessed all of these qualities and much more. He always preferred to be addressed as a 'teacher', and not by any other high sounding titles. He was first and last a 'teacher' who inspired thousands of young minds the world over. "Teachers ", he believes, "should be the best minds in the country".

A celebrated teacher he was , and witty too. On one of his travels abroad, Dr Radhakrishnan was once asked "what's the difference between a Station master and a School master " and he replied " while a Station master minds the train, a School master trains the mind".

Happy Teachers' Day. My fellow teachers. Are we minding the students in the syllabus-centric classroom ?

Are we teachers training the young minds beyond classroom??

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor of Sociology at Manipur University, Imphal and
Author of 7 books including his latest "Letters from the Republic of Dust" This article was webcasted on September 05 2022 .

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