TEACHERS DAY or STUDENTS DAY?Live televised Modi’s Pathshala an instant hit, but teachers’ issues still on fringes as India celebrated yet another Teachers Day on September 5

In a welcome change Prime Minister Narendra Modi went live on national television and webcast for a good one and a half hours on September 5, the birthday of former President, philopsopher & educationist Dr Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, which is designated as the national teachers day in India, and interacted with students across the country. An estimated 9.51 crore children in addition to the 1000 students drawn largely from Union HRD ministry’s own school network (KVS, JNVS, CBSE)  who were in audience in Delhi cantonment’s Manekshaw Auditorium watched the PM speak and answer students ‘authorized’ questions. And PM Modi provided valuable, mesmerising lessons. But then many people including teachers wondered should students have been the focus of the Government on Teachers Day?

HE CAME, mesmerised the audience with his talk and interaction and perhaps conquered the hearts of a vast majority of people including young children. Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried forward his Gujarat modelled and now well-entrenched practice of interacting with students on Teachers Day to Delhi and as Prime Minister sought a national audience of students. And his close confidante union HRD minister Smriti Irani facilitated it deftly much like she played her hand in scrapping of Delhi University’s FYUP in July this year. Her ministry sent out a circular saying, “All schools may make arrangements to assemble students from 2.30 pm to 4.45 pm in order that the children may view the prime minister’s address on TV…. A feedback would be taken immediately after on the number of children and schools who were able to view or listen to (it).”  She much later clarified it was voluntary after a lot of criticism poured in, however, by that time CBSE and many states had already went ahead in directing the schools. In the end by the ministry’s estimates more than 9.51 crore students in about 8.5 lakh schools watched PM’s first- of- its- kind interaction on TV.

This mega event dwarfed the traditional celebration of teachers day in most schools as school administrations became occupied with making arrangements for TV screens and ensuring student attendance in the after school hours. And while several schools made it even with the use of transistors (radio sets), there were others who botched it up. For instance, Dwarka Delhi-situated Vishwa Bharati Public School, a CBSE affiliated school, which made it mandatory for senior classes from Class VII upwards to attend, locked up students in their classrooms after the audio system connected to TV failed. “As we assembled there was only one TV set for the whole school including teachers. Even before the program started, we couldn’t hear anything from TV and then naturally we started talking about the failure of sound system among ourselves. After some 10 minutes of the start of the telecast we were ordered to go to respective classrooms and kept there till 5 pm without allowing us either to go home or play in the ground for nearly two hours. I wished I had stayed back home and watched PM from there,” says Tejas a class VIII student of the school.

Prime Minister’s interaction with students was indeed lively, inspiring and educative but the Government could have chosen Children Day or even National Education Day for this well meaning exercise. It was very long after India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru freely interacted with children (earning him the title of cha cha Nehru) that a PM had a freewheeling conversation with so many students from across the length and breadth of the country (Leh to Port Blair, Bhuj to Manipur and Dantewada). In fact, Modi’s interaction has been linked to US president Barrack Obama’s Back to the School’ speech at Wakefield High School, Arlington, Virginia in 2009. That had also evoked strong reaction from both ends.

Modi instructed the students on a variety of things. He told them to work hard as he himself was a workaholic and a taskmaster who made others work too. He instructed them to sweat it out in outdoor sports at least four times a day, read a lot and not just be a Google worm who expends the whole energy on collating information.

That was about ‘students’ day’. What about the Teachers Day?  Till last year, September 5 was about felicitating your teachersa rare day off for them. In a reversal of roles, students got a taste of the role and perspective of teachers through some half-serious playacting. It was a day of fun, a preserve of teachers and their wards. This year, not anymore.

Well PM Modi gave a brief speech and paid all teachers a tribute, there were no specifics, announcements or action plans, The All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRE), consisting of some of the most reputed educationists, strongly protested against what it has called the Government of India’s attempt to officially “intrude into the calendar of educational institutions.” Calling the Prime Minister’s decision to address all children across India as nothing but “marginalizing the teachers and the students”, the authoritative organization says, “Misfortunes as they say never come alone. Now Chief Ministers are also joining the race to politically indoctrinate the students/ teachers on Teachers Day.” According to Economic Times , “It would have been in the fitness of things had he decided to look into the problems faced by the teachers who are grossly underpaid in India. In sum, one can safely say that the prime minister sold the teacher community short.”

The President Pranab Mukerjee in the customary presidential speech at the National Award function in Rashtrapati Bhavan put the national expectations and appreciations from teachers very eloquently and said, “India today needs many more competent and willing teachers to dedicate themselves to improving the standard and quality of education being currently imparted. Teachers have a vital role to play in the process of upgrading the quality of education which is a direct consequence and outcome of the quality of teachers…As teachers you devote countless hours of selfless service to the nation in nurturing our most valued resource  our children. Society and the country have high expectations from you. I am sure you will live up to these expectations in ample measure. I once again express my deep appreciation and gratitude to all of you, across the length and breadth of the country, who are imparting knowledge and learning to our future generations with dedication and sincerity.”

Ashish Dhawan, Founder and CEO, Central Square Foundation, which is also running a school leadership initiative, spelt some basic requirements for raising profile of teachers in the country by saying ” The quality of our education system cannot exceed the quality of our teachers. We need to ensure that we attract the best talent into teaching, provide excellent training and recognize our teachers appropriately.  To achieve these goals we need to make teaching an aspirational career, strenghten our Teacher Education Institutes and and provide adequate opportunities for career progression to our teachers. We believe technology can help us create scalable solutions that will equip our teachers with better content knowledge, pedagogy and classroom delivery skills. We must  also complement our investment in teachers with foundational skills for our children through initiatives that better their reading.”

Well the importance and place of teacher/mentor will always remain unchanged in the human civilization, but need of time is to recognize the critical role of teachers in fulfilling the socio-economic development objectives of education and provide an emergency kind of response to make India rich with good teachers everywhere!