As the nation paid tributes to Dr S Radhakrishnan this week, some of the prominent concerns and challenges facing the nation raised their heads again—the quality of learner attainments, work culture in educational institutions to the level of competence, commitment and performance of teachers. India can boast the best of schools and also schools without building, teachers, equipment and even drinking water. One also recalls what Dr Radhakrishnan said: “Education is a universal right and not a class privilege.” This is what Mahatma Gandhi had in mind when he proposed his model of education: basic education or buniyadi talim. This is what was intended when the Kothari Commission pleaded for a ‘common school system’. These propositions were expected to provide for the equality of opportunity, not only in access to education but also in success, to every child irrespective of social, economic or cultural diversities that abound all around in this country. As the decades pass by, diversities in education are on the rise. On one side are the ‘public schools’ that charge high fees, claim to be progressive, and cater to the class that can afford to meet their ever-increasing ‘demands’, on the other are government schools that perpetually remain deficient, deprived, ill-equipped and neglected in spite of numerous schemes launched by the governments. Worse, these are rapidly losing their credibility. In statistical terms, India has great achievements in education; the world recognises India’s cognitive capital with great awe. Not many, however, know that only around 30 per cent children in Indian schools get education of acceptable quality—roughly about 20 per cent from ‘public schools’ and 10 per cent from government schools. How can India raise this 30 to, say, 60-90 per cent? Forget other infrastructural inputs, where are the teachers? While around 10 million children are still outside schools, they are also short of 14-15 lakh teachers.
It is customary to recall on Teachers’ Day the great Indian tradition of creating, generating, disseminating and utilising knowledge. This naturally was a great and exemplary instance in human history, but there was another aspect which could become the guiding principle for those engaged in knowledge pursuit. In the words of Dr Radhakrishnan: “The age of Vedic seers was a period of vigour and vitality when India gave voice to immortal thoughts.” He wanted universities to ‘stimulate an interest in the sources of our civilisation, its art and thought, language and literature, philosophy and religion.” The need for the same is also articulated comprehensively: “Nations have a history as well as geography, they live and grow, not by the forces of wind and rain, sun and stars, but by the passion and ideals which animate them.” On the day dedicated to Dr Radhakrishnan, India, its teachers, scholars and academics must assess how strong is the passion and adherence to knowledge quest in our institutions, from the school to the highest seats of learning? It matters little whether any university of India finds a place in the top 200 of the globe, so long as Indian universities stick to the ‘search for truth’ in its real sense and commit themselves to the cause of human welfare, unperturbed by the race for commercialisation of knowledge. Towards this, Swami Vivekananda wanted Indian teachers to know the ‘spirit of the scripture’. It would help him internalise the real role expectation: “The only true teacher is he who can immediately come down to the level of students, and transfer his soul to the student’s soul and see through the student’s eyes and hear through his ears and understand through his mind.” Such a teacher would never need to demand respect, he would command respect from one and all, and would be true icon and role model. Nothing—IT, ICT or additional allocations—will make any significant difference in the education system unless India prepares such teachers across the board. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT