Happy World Teachers’ Day

to all our teachers and gurus for helping to shape our destinies

Say Thank You! on World Teachers’ Day. Pic – Working Mother

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

A communiqué from the Ministry of Education announces that today, 5th October, will be a public holiday for all educational institutions. Interestingly, the Unesco website about this annual event since 1994 notes – in a list of ‘Ten facts about World Teachers Day’ – that ‘World Teachers’ Day is a global observance. It is not a public holiday.’ But here as far as I know it has always been a public holiday. Thank goodness that health services are classified as an essential service, otherwise one can well imagine what would happen to patients if World Doctors’ Day were to be declared a public holiday! Just my two-penny stray thought…to lighten our mood in these days of pandemic anxiety if not gloom.

Aptly, the theme of World Teachers’ Day 2021 is ‘Teachers at the heart of education recovery,’ presented by the United Nations (UNESCO) as the theme for teachers’ day ‘in respect of their determined and diligent efforts in the crucial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.It may be noted that the theme for 2020 was ‘Teachers: Leading in crisis, re-imagining the future.’

Like every other sector of human activity, education too has been forced to re-imagine itself to face the abrupt challenges that had been posed by the Covid crisis. In both education and medicine, the major problem was how to ensure safe contact between doctor and patient, teacher and student. New strategies had to be worked out to deliver care and educational contents respectively. Used to working under pressure and in emergency or urgent situations, for doctors the issue was about being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of patients flooding the healthcare facilities, which meant working long hours wearing cumbersome protective gear and being away from family, as well as being directly exposed to a high risk of catching the infection – which many did, and equally many succumbed to.

For teachers and students, it was the other way round: working at home, in the family setting, which posed different types of problems, especially for the students, in particular the younger ones in primary and lower secondary forms with working parents. Meals had to be available, and concentration and focus were obviously not the same when facing the screen as when interacting live with the teacher in class.

No wonder therefore that students of all ages were very happy to get back to their normal school environments once the decision was taken, meet up with their friends and teachers, and take part in their routine ‘contact’ activities, wearing mask. Was the excitement the same for teachers? It’s for them to answer…

Zoom learning needed some initiation for both teachers and students, and is now here to stay for good as an integral part of learning and teaching methodology. What have remained unchanged, though, are the basic goals of education, namely:

  • Learning for career development
  • Learning for life
  • Training

As dedicated educationists would tell us, they always keep these three aspects in mind throughout their teaching career. They would also agree that the fundamental role of the teacher is to light the spark of interest and curiosity in the students’ minds so that they would then go on to discover the subject for themselves, of course under the guidance of the teacher until such time as they are mature enough to cruise on his own. All students have come across teachers who are obviously passionate about imparting knowledge of their subject to their students. But perhaps equally if not more important is how this knowledge is transmitted – the pedagogy, to use the big word. This is a big challenge for the teacher, who faces students possessing different levels of intelligence and understanding, and of interest as well.

Many teachers complain that students are no longer the same, and we can hear similar echoes in other fields of human activity too which require face-to-face interaction between people. This is a new reality we are all exposed to, and it is not uncommon to hear teachers saying they wouldn’t advise their children to follow in their footsteps. But then, this is true of members of other professions as well – certainly in medicine, again ‘because patients are no longer the same.’

Be that as it may, the fact is that most of the teaching that is done in all schools all over the world is geared towards the passing of examinations. This becomes even more so as one progresses to the secondary level, at higher stages of which many students start thinking about their career options, and possibly then orientate their studies accordingly depending on the facilities and opportunities available. It goes without saying that once they are in a job, there is further learning to do to set themselves on a career path, but the trend nowadays encourages mobility in different settings, and skills acquired as one goes along may be utilized elsewhere too. So continuing learning – or being an eternal student is another of those dimensions which teachers must prepare their students for.

Many educationists will aver that in addition to transmitting knowledge and skills, character formation through imparting human values too is a major role of teachers. How far this is possible in this mechanical age of electronic gadgets which grab so much of the attention of students’ time is a moot question – but it is as fundamental to the quality of the future society that these very students are being prepared for. There are formal structures for teaching human values, but at all stages of the educational pathway, by and large it is the personal example set by the teacher which most influences for a lifetime the student. It must therefore start from the primary level, the age at which children are most impressionable.

From giving us a purpose to setting us up as successful citizens of the world, teachers inspire in us a drive to do well and succeed in life. Recognising this hard work of our mentors and gurus, through a World Teachers’ Day is a good way of doing so, perhaps an opportunity for introspection on the part of both teachers, to review any shortcomings, and students who may not have been as studious or respectful as they ought to be. And we must not forget either, the capital role of parents in this process, a responsibility they must assume fully, shared with the teacher.

So, saying, therefore, happy World Teachers’ Day to all our teachers and gurus for helping to shape our destinies.

* Published in print edition on 5 October 2021

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