The environment created by teachers and their relationship with students largely determine how effectively holistic development occurs among the students in an actual or virtual classroom.
Our traditional Guru-shishya tradition in which the guru or teacher lived with his protégés and imparted to them knowledge, skills and ethical education embodied this belief. When this beneficial tradition was replaced by the formal educational system, the teacher-student relationship became variedly understood and implemented.
If teachers act as facilitators and create a positive ethos that fosters intellectual curiosity, emotional maturity and spiritual growth, students can explore their true potential in a safe environment. They feel accepted and free to ask and answer questions without fear of ridicule and criticism.
However, while teachers in primary classes generally foster the all-inclusive development of their wards in the manner of substitute mothers, in senior classes, they often become professional transmitters of information intent on 'covering the syllabus’ to the exclusion of their wards' intellectual, moral and spiritual development.
Moreover, traditional teachers retain an outdated didactic method of teaching, whether in a physical or virtual classroom, in which a learner is considered a passive recipient of facts and information to be learnt by rote and expunged during an examination.
Progressive teachers, of which there are too few, foster the ability to learn in students instead of making them passive learners, that is, encourage them to ask questions and derive their own answers via experiential learning, or learning 'through reflection on doing'.
This involves using learner-centered methods, such as research projects, experiments, situational or co-operative learning and on-the-job training or internships, to acquire skills and knowledge.
Positive interactions between teachers and students can motivate students to achieve academic success. Students who share a strong bond with their teachers develop self-confidence and perform better than those who have a conflict with their teachers.
Research studies have corelated emotionally supportive teacher-student relationships with a boost in achievement and improvement in behavioural issues at all levels of education from primary to high school.
A progressive approach to education makes students learners for life and equips them with life skills such as effective communication, critical thinking, information technology and decision-making so that they can deal effectively with the challenges of life. It also blends academic content with moral and spiritual education that builds character and an ethical compass.
Cultivating good values such as altruism, humility, honesty, courtesy, co-operation and sacrifice and positive social attitudes among the youth is a shared responsibility of parents and teachers to enable the young to survive in the external world of deceit, injustice and criminality.
In these days of Zoom video lessons and online classes, teachers need to work twice as hard to create deep interpersonal relationships with students, especially new students one has never met in person and is unlikely to meet in person in the foreseeable future.
The limitation on some aspects of non-verbal communication needs to be substituted by effective use of social media to create and maintain a strong visual presence. Extensive planning and preparation is required to make the live lessons interactive and engaging, and ensure that they are fun without losing educational value.
However, while teachers exert themselves to meet the demands of the academic curricula using virtual media, the nature of the media limits the possibility of conducting productive value discussions and developing a moral and spiritual backbone among the students.
Character building, especially imbibing values by example, which is the foundation of a civilised society, is impacted adversely. Students miss out on physical activity, spiritual and value education and peer interaction for social development, which may result in lack of socialisation and lack of distinction between vices and virtues.
Also, the economically weaker section of society and children in remote rural and tribal societies are unable to access classes due to lack of infrastructure. This excludes a large and important section of society from the salutary benefits of an uplifting education that opens the door to all-round development and future success.
We hope that with the development and dissemination of a vaccine in the near future, education will be accessible to all and the teacher-student relationship, which is the basis of a progressive and holistic education, will be strengthened by renewed physical contact.
(The writer is the author of Slices of Life and Skiens, who has been a teacher for close to two decades)