Image Credits: Parenting
‘Learning by heart’ has been an evergreen practice in the Indian context, with roots running deep into the Vedic period of our history. Enlightened Gurus took up students for a decentralized, but normative, educational journey that involved residence in the Guru’s own abode, and incorporating within oneself the mind-expanding inputs of knowledge and wisdom present in academic lessons and everyday actions of life. Naturally, this nature of interaction ensured the holistic growth of the child into an adult who was worthy of being termed a human being and capable of transmitting the coveted universal truths encompassed in Vedic literature. While the modern student may seem molly-coddled by the easements of the contemporary education system, one’s curiosity over how it was possible to learn so much with such effectiveness without present aids, remains unresolved. For a concerned educator, such a question must have been effervescent in his or her mind when, as if out of the blue, the self-confident visage of the modern education system was shattered by an uninvited maelstrom and laid bare to the invasion of the Covid-19 pandemic. All was not well, as it has become increasingly clear. But it was once, over the long-drawn course of our history, and therefore will I try looking back across countless timelines for advice on how educators should equip themselves against elements that corrode education.
Education in Eddy Currents
It would be inaccurate to assume that the education system was stable before Covid-19 caved in on it. Centuries of social marginalisation have permanently snatched the ability of countless individuals to avail emancipatory education, while a large section of those able to enrol themselves in the finest educational institutions have found their efforts channelised into rote learning, which is as permanent to reason as a film of dust on a surface is to a gust of wind. In such situations, only motivated human effort, nourished with an innately human desire for societal salvation from the jaws of disparity can carve out better alternatives for those students who are at the mercy of malignant situations. Such motivated participation of people in remedying the situation would translate into more positive futures for individuals. An educator, be it a school-level teacher or a professor at the higher echelons of education, is the most crucial element capable of carving out those alternatives. From famed teachers like Ranjitsinh Disale working in poor conditions for the upliftment of students to instructors in top educational institutions churning out optimistic new currents in methods of imparting knowledge, educators are the ones who define how knowledge is disseminated among individuals so that sincere efforts bear fruits regardless of disparity of privilege.
In our journey across thousands of years, humanity has witnessed a transition from the Gurukul system of education to a more compact and structured educational programme that has led to the professionalization of the teaching process. As true for most parts of the world, professionalization has opened avenues for capitalisation which has brought a metallic timbre to the erstwhile organic educational dynamics. As the world slowly descended into a never-ending rat race with despair driven into the post-education mentalities like corroded screws, the idea of learning by heart has taken the shape of substituting the heart with something that is opposed to liveliness in learning.
With teachers universally accepted as being at the helm of the educational process, much mud has been splattered on their image with the cumulative opinion emergent being that educators have become parasites draining societal resources and delivering only repetitions of the dull pages in ideologically manipulated textbooks through which students grow to become fodder for the state machinery or end up getting involved in anti-social activities, disillusioned about the uselessness of the living self. Even if the allegations are baseless, the miasma emanating from the accusations seem to precipitate corrosive stereotypes that may lead to educators entrapping themselves in this accursed model of teaching. The very desire to pursue teaching as a career option is dwindling among educated people as the profession gets ensconced in an aura of negativity. The human self is, in most instances, amicable to following a path of least difficulties, and, under the effect of such stereotypes, individuals aspiring to be enlightened educators tend to fall short.
Can the ‘Virtual’ be the Next ‘Reality’?
While this discomfiture continues to fester in the veins of the Indian education system, entrepreneurs have come up with the next step in the field of the teaching-learning process: Online education. Pick up a smartphone, open an application, and you immediately get immersed in a world of ready-made lessons claiming to be custom made for the modern student. Nouveau learning is embedded in an interface that allows the student to ‘learn’ through functions that appear to be a video game encapsulating him or her in an addictive frenzy. While the Hansels and Gretels are busy savouring delectables, the witchcraft lurking in the shadows will unveil itself as a capitalist ploy to extract money from tensed parents fretting over their growing distrust in the educators, should one look more closely.
This has proven a serious blow to the confidence of even the most dedicated educators who were already struggling with stereotypes and more material problems like low remunerations for hours of effort, mostly due to employers who are themselves believers of the stereotypes. As digital education continues to gather momentum, certain sections have questioned whether the institutionalised education system involving teachers was moving towards an ‘inevitable’ and ugly demise.
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic was a surprise, but modern digital communication technology allowed educational institutions to reconnect with students within a short span of time after the initial disruption. While online classes seem to have saved the day for education in general, the pandemic has shown how online education has far more negative consequences than positive ones. While some teachers have found it difficult to get used to the technicalities of the online communication platforms leading to a cumulative loss of ‘days’ in trying to figure out functions, online education is also not ‘egalitarian’ in any sense of the term when one considers the government schools in backward areas and public universities with diverse students where several teachers and students might not even have the digital facilities required in the first place.
Technical difficulties like network issues and power cuts are common problems that prevent classes from being conducted properly. A lack of accountability on the part of both the student and teacher has shown how the teaching-learning process has suffered a marked deterioration. Significantly, in this context, because teachers and students are separated by an electronic rift, the personal guidance of the mentor does not reach the student. It is not only frustrating for the teacher to speak for hours in front of a screen, sometimes without seeing the students’ faces, but also for the students, who find it difficult to develop a human connection with the teacher. After some time, as many students have faced, a severe motivation crisis sets in and leaves the student grappling with the overpowering negativity of the surroundings.
Manoeuvring the Learning Curve: A Two-Way Process
This has revealed to us how the idea of a teacher can be and should be modified. While talking through the screen, the educator needs to align his or her teaching methods in such a way that the student at the other end feels included in an environment that is nurturing and acts as a protective shield against negativity. The pandemic has, in a way, allowed educators to redeem their name from the accusations of the past by making it obvious that a student cannot be nourished without the physical presence of a teacher. It might seem to be a shamelessly exaggerated demand from teachers who, also as human beings, have had to suffer irreparable losses due to the pandemic. Every day, newspapers creep with the melancholic figures calculating deaths of educators and nothing seems to fill these gaps. However, the online classes, limited as they may be in their reach, allow a reciprocal relation between the teacher and the student.
For a long time, teachers have been trained to read their students like trained psychologists, but now it is the students who should attempt to help their teachers with mental reinforcement against the surmounting tragedy. While this may sound too perfect to be applied in the real world where the movements of the educators and students are determined by the meanderings of the syllabus, the socio-scientific validity of this mindset is upheld as people feel connected to each other when avenues are opened for heart-to-heart communication. While there is always the personal claim to privacy, teachers and students can still interact on a wider plane of subjects that can help both sides maintain their mental health.
The Gurukul system provided the teacher’s home to the students as an abode of not only learning but growing, and, in modern times, the teacher has to make the student feel at home by conducting the classes in the required manner. Gone are the days of capitalist assertions of claiming to provide productivity through its designs of professionalism. The only way to make education count in times dominated by superseding concerns is by emulating the idea of personal connection between teachers and students as established by the Gurukul system of education. Questions may arise over the extra efforts being made by teachers for the same pay and even deferred remunerations, but the process will be able to transcend the stereotypical work-for-pay relation and benefit the teacher’s self. The only way that education can be sustained through these challenging times is by revamping the two-way teaching-learning process and imbibing its true meaning.
This does not mean the burden of responsibility lies solely on the shoulders of the teachers. Educational institutions in particular and the Government in general need to speed up their educational reinforcement programmes so as to widen the reach of digital communication among the people at large while simultaneously taking every safe step that brings us closer to the resumption of physical classes. This will involve the provision of proper support to the teachers and the appointment of more teachers to disseminate quality learning on a larger scale. Sadly, several teachers in schools and professors in universities have been denied their salaries citing reasons which are as weak as the government’s efforts to remedy the situation. As long as our educators are not given their due, the country will not be able to function properly and the complications precipitated by the pandemic will only be further compounded. The Government’s efforts to implement the new National Education Policy of 2020 have been impeded by the same problem of lack of proper funds and the dearth of efficient mechanisms to put the resources to effective use. The government needs to channelise its best efforts in this direction so that the educational process is carried out smoothly.
It is still a bumpy road ahead. Educators and students are bound to get disconcerted by the turns of the times. However, one is reminded of Gandhi who promoted refraining from indulging in the fallacies of modern civilisational wonders and looking back at simpler times for inspiration. If our educators hold up the light high through their actions, we are bound to brave this storm.
By Antarleen Sinha (Guest Writer)
Antarleen Sinha is from Calcutta, West Bengal. He is soon to enter the final year of his undergraduation in History Honours at the Hindu College, University of Delhi. He is currently functioning as a research student for the History Department of the College for the Innovation Project 2020. He loves discussing paradoxes in modern history, especially about the Second World War, and reading well-researched historical fiction. He is an aspiring teacher and education activist who intends to promote learning in a way that is not a compulsion for students, but rather an enriching and immersive experience. He believes that education is the linchpin for national growth and individual salvation.