World Teacher’s Day

All of us have fond memories of the teachers who have marked out lives in more ways than one. Will this hold true in future as well?

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Teaching is about the transmission of knowledge. In Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma we distinguish between two dimensions of knowledge: Higher Knowledge and Lower Knowledge. Higher or spiritual Knowledge is concerned with questions such as: Who am I? Where do I come from? What happens after death? Why am I born? What is the meaning and purpose of life? How should I relate to everything and everybody else?

Thank you teachers for being our guiding force. Photo – Getty Images/Thinkstock


In the Hindu tradition these questions have been answered by our Gurus of yore, the rishis who in states of heightened awareness during meditative practices received the Higher Knowledge from the Supreme Almighty, Brahman, who is the source of all that is and considered therefore as the Supreme Guru. This is expressed in the following hymn which is chanted at the beginning of any spiritual teaching:

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha

Guru Saakshaat Para BrahmaTasmai Sri Gurave Namaha

Meaning in English:

‘Guru is the Creator (Brahma), Guru is the Preserver (Vishnu), Guru Deva is Destroyer (Maheshwara)

Guru is the absolute (singular) Lord himself, Salutations to that Sri Guru’

Brahman brings forth the universe that undergoes change which takes place in space and time. Thus, is initiated a cycle comprising three successive stages: creation, preservation, destruction, and this concurs with our human experience that all that is created is preserved for a certain time and is finally destroyed. For example, a tree begins as a small seed, becomes a sapling, grows bigger into a mature tree and then comes to an end, that is, it dies or is destroyed, leaving seeds which renew the cycle afresh.

Etymologically, Guru derives from gu (darkness) and ru (remove) – the Guru is therefore someone who removes the darkness of ignorance and replaces it with the light of the Higher Knowledge. By extension, the term guru is also used for the teacher who transmits lower or worldly knowledge, which as its name suggests is about the knowledge (add competencies, skills) that is required to transact with and live in the world. Ideally, Higher Knowledge – which can also be looked at as wisdom – should guide the application of lower knowledge so as to lead to harmonious living.

Guru Purnima is a festival traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, to pay their respects to their teachers and express their gratitude.

The equivalent of Guru Purnima in our contemporary world is World Teachers’ Day, celebrated on 5th with the similar objective of honouring teachers for their significant contributions in transmitting knowledge and shaping the life of students. However, Teachers’ Day is celebrated on different dates in different countries, and is correlated to eminent personalities or achievements and milestones in the domain of education.

For example, in India, the birth date of the second President of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, 5th September 1888, has been celebrated as Teacher’s Day since 1962. Interestingly, on this day, teachers and students report to school as usual but the usual activities and classes are replaced by activities of celebration, thanks and remembrance. These activities include dancing competitions, singing competitions, mimicry of teachers, games and recitation of poems. Some students even plan picnics, shower teachers with gifts, flowers and handmade cards. All of this is a way for students to express their love and respect for their teachers.

In some schools, senior students take the responsibility of teaching in order to show their appreciation for the teachers. Compare this with Mauritius where instead, schools are closed so teachers and students have yet another day off. I joked with my niece who teaches English about what would happen if all doctors were let off on World Doctors Day!

The humility of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who became President of India in 1962, was such that when his friends and former students approached him and requested him to let them celebrate his birthday, he said that it would be his honour if 5th September would rather be celebrated as Teachers’ Day. This request of the second President of India showcased his affection and dedication for teachers.

It has always been maintained that the future of a country lies in the hands of its children. Teachers, as mentors, can mould students into future leaders who then shape the destiny of the nation. They also play a significant role in our lives to help us become successful in our careers and business. They gently nudge us to become good human beings, better members of our society and even ideal citizens of the country.

All of us have fond memories of the teachers who have marked out lives in more ways than one. Will this hold true in future as well?

This question is prompted by the first ever, unexpected and dramatic change in the mode of teaching and learning that was thrust upon students and teachers this year all over the world. The reason? – it’s well-known of course: the Covid-19 pandemic. When the lockdown took place, everything changed for everybody: children, families, teachers. Working parents had to seek out new arrangements for stay-at-home kids, and lucky were those who had the advantage of grandparents living together. Will this bring a rethink about the trend of nuclear families? – difficult to say, but let’s keep up hope at the very least.

I understand that teachers were given a crash course in online teaching, and this must have been harder for the older ones not too familiar with smartphones and Zoom technology, and had to willy-nilly get going so as not to keep the kids too idle for too long. I do know about children who became distracted and found it difficult to concentrate, and mum teachers who had to attend to collateral family calls that disturbed their teaching.

And that is why one would have thought that the Ministry of Education could have used the opportunity of Teachers’ Day to organize regional seminars – online if need be! – for teachers and say, older students, to share their online teaching and learning experiences during the lockdown, draw the lessons learnt and use these for improving future experiences. Especially given the possibility of a second lockdown – which has already happened in some countries.

It is never too late of course to cogitate in a structured manner on the subject.

Meanwhile, what shall I say but Happy World Teachers’ Day to all those brave souls who face tremendous challenges in these times to practise their art. How successful they are in this endeavour depends not only on them, but also on their students and the support of parents whose are, after all, the child’s first gurus.

As for my own Gurus on this day, Om Namo Namah…


* Published in print edition on 6 October 2020

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.