The Bold Voice of J&K

Teaching profession-facts, follies

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  Manu Khajuria

Picture the thrill and nervous excitement that accompanies a child on his first day of school. Along with the scrubbed, oiled, combed and uniformed student, the trepidation and hope is shared by his or her family. Each one is unsure of what lies ahead and yet hopes for a decade or more of a wondrous learning journey. A journey which will not only provide the required certifications but help quench the thirst of knowledge and natural curiosity and mould young minds to achieve their potential and go even beyond that.
The month of May however has been disappointing in this regard and a parent of a school going student will be full of nagging doubts.Teachers have been shamed by members of their own tribe. For many it will be a reiteration of what they have known since long and expected from if not a failing but a skewed system. The Director School Education has sacked a general lines teacher who got his job based on fake certificates. The said teacher not only got his appointment in 2003 on the basis of fake certificates but in 2009, when the case was being investigated he provided fake verification letter from JKBOSE to defend his case. It took 12 years for action to be taken against him.
In a second case, in an unprecedented move the J and K High Court asked another teacher to write a simple essay in an open Court. This was with regard to the allegation that this teacher had been appointed as ReT on the basis of fake certificates. The teacher failed to write the essay and was also unable to translate a simple line from English to Urdu and vice-versa. Many schools are staffed by teachers who get appointed not because of merit but through nepotism or corruption. So much for a Rehbar e Taaleem; the Leader/ Guide/ Coach of Education. The stories of fake certificates make the muddy waters even murkier.
It is worrying to think of the students who were under these teachers and there are probably many more teachers who are unqualified or inefficient. There exists minimal active character development in schools and additionally these sordid stories heighten a lack of role models for the students. Legal action has been taken against the teachers who have been in the news. APJ Abdul Kalam says, “Teachers must be role models, upholders of moral leadership”. The fact that children are watching them and learning, makes the damage done by the above mentioned incidents hard to reverse.
Benjamin Franklin said that investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Jammu and Kashmir was a shining example and leading from the front thanks to the education policies adopted by its Dogra rulers. Maharaja Hari Singh in particular had made primary and secondary education free for all in the State. He even made education compulsory for boys in all municipal towns in 1930. There were educational reforms targeted at Muslim youth considering the high illiteracy amongst them.
The agent who creates a connect between education and the student remains the teacher. The difference between a good and a bad teacher can be all that it takes to determine the future of the society. Undeniably it is a chicken and egg story. Bad teachers of today will make bad teachers of tomorrow.
The teachers have their own set of grievances. Very low starting salaries and delayed or non issuance of salaries forces some of them who bear the responsibility of running their households to moonlight. A job on the side in the city and a teaching position in a village leads to an increasing rate of absenteeism. It sometimes takes seven years to become regular and eligible for higher salaries. In the meantime he has married and has a wife and children to support besides his parents. To be expected to do so in as low an amount as Rs1,500 is unrealistic by any stretch of imagination.
Unlike the corporate businesses, teaching is not and should never be a profit making enterprise. It unfortunately is becoming a booming business and private schools which run like a profit making enterprise are mushrooming. However this does not mean that teaching as a profession should not be made lucrative to attract the best and the brightest. It would mean giving more to the teachers in terms of salaries, benefits and training and it would also justify better and stringent methods of teacher testing and selection processes.
There are many teachers who do not need the salaries to sustain themselves and sleepwalk through their tenures without making any positive impact on the students they teach. They get into the teaching profession because it is convenient and a respectable way to remain engaged, and allows one to earn some pocket money on the side.
These are the teachers who are seen finishing off their personal knitting projects during school hours. These might also be the ones who can afford to bribe their way into better postings. The teachers who are stuck in remote  and inaccessible areas where travel is a regular nightmare, are the ones who do not know anyone of consequence and are unable to dole out a bribe. This needs to be examined and the way corporates give Big City allowances to compensate the employee for the higher cost of living in a metropolitan, teachers posted in remote areas should be compensated adequately and awarded benefits like faster promotions and other perks. They should be recognised for their valuable service and contributions.
A teacher before he embraces this noble profession must fully comprehend his or her role and the power they yield to do tremendous good or much harm. Teaching can never be another ‘job’.
There are undoubtedly diamonds in the midst too; teachers who take to heart and act in accordance to what Henry Adams said, ” Teacher affects eternity;he can never tell where his influence ends.” The State must also do their duty in filling the glaring gaps. A lack of basic facilities in government schools like furniture, toilets and clean drinking water is unacceptable.
Many teachers are not equipped to impart education in the best possible way and with the most noble of intentions, because after all they are a product of the same problem riddled education system. The number of children with appallingly low levels of reading and Maths for their ages going for tuitions outside school even at the primary level, reflects a systemic problem.
However the society and State at large cannot escape their share of blame. The parent is a product of a society which places premium not on learning for knowledge, but on its ability to ensure a livelihood. The marks obtained and pass certificates are of paramount importance. How and what the child learns is immaterial as long as he passes and holds in his possession the certificate which will translate into a job in the future. There is no demand for quality education which will result in igniting of minds resulting in creativity and a love for learning. This is what will ultimately produce original thinking, leadership and enterprise. A lack of this is also the cause for many ‘uneducated’ graduates.
The weakening moral fibre in paucity of such an environment, will have a disastrous impact in the future and is leaving its mark even today as evidenced in the incident of brazen mass copying which took place recently in the 10th Standard exams in N M Higher Secondary School, Bandipora. Cases of bribing the invigilator are also not unheard of. When the end goal is a piece of paper, and the means to get it are above and beyond any moral code of conduct, we know that the future of our society is in jeopardy.
A spirit of enquiry must be a cherished quality in a student. The student must be allowed to ask questions. Memorisation should never be mistaken for learning. Let us not be made complacent by a number game; literacy rates neither create jobs nor necessarily effectively fill vacancies.Derek Bok, the 25th President of Harvard University states, what he says is common sense that, college degrees are not as important as the development of cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving abilities. This is a phenomenon corroborated by economists who studied the relationship between economic growth and education.
When the teacher, state and society fail their students they cripple the entire generation next. The state must review the education policies and address  the issues associated with it. The solutions must be inclusive of all the vested stakeholders, the student, teacher, schools and parents.

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