Shajan Shamuel: Teachers are the answer for India’s sustainable poverty reduction

Aptech Ltd AVP Shajan Samuel
Teachers are or should be, the biggest influence on their impressionable charges, at least after the parents. Their impact on young lives is profound and long lasting. They shape the character, curiosity level and intellectual potential of their students . In other words, they help shape our society. India is in a skill emergency (50 per cent of the 300 million children enrolled in school won’t finish secondary school) and out of the 14 million students studying in 26,500 institutes of higher education, 58 per cent of them are unemployable. Input driven and hastily set up MBA and Engineering colleges are shutting down. The joke doing the rounds is “First you become an engineer and then decide what you want to become. ” The role of a faculty becomes critical in this dreary environment. We have 8.5 million teachers, but not many of them really know what they are doing .We have a nationwide shortage of 30 lakh teachers and several of those who do exist on the rolls, especially in our village pathshalas, don’t actually teach ; they show up once a month to collect their government salary and are AOWL most of the time . Indian education needs experiential learning that is hard to teach; inquiry directed, extended learning periods; a learner-directed, process-oriented mind-set; team/ diversity appreciation and multiple intelligences. The weakness of this classification became obvious at a recent policy conference. Both are stereotypes of traditional Indian and western schools. Indian teachers envy western schools because they encourage independent thought and creativity, while western teachers idealise Indian schools for their rigour and hard work. As with life, the truth is somewhere in between. But the scale of education in India indicates that the golden mean is hard to find. Our education policy simultaneously pursues excellence, expansion and inclusion. But can we be equal and excellent? Is vocational education for “other people’s” children? Are quantity and quality contradictory? Debating whether education should be a sword or shield drives a wedge between who I am (somebody who chose my parents wisely and got an elite education at St. Xavier’s Kolkata and went on to pursue a fast track management program at IIM Kolkata and what I do (work for a brand which trains students in new age media). My college curriculum included academics but was mostly about sports, music, painting, debating, dramatics, trekking, scout camp and much else. St. Xavier’s college and later on the stint at IIM changed the size and quality of my thoughts. All the two schools increased the surface area of my mind with non-academic stuff that was wonderful preparation for the world of work. That happened only because of my faculties, some of whose names and memories are still fresh even after 20 years. Unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment, but some academicians find the desire for a job-oriented education offensive. At a recent education conference, my argument about “learning for earning” was interrupted by an irate teacher who said that learning was not for “earning” but for “living”. But my point was that employers can “repair” somebody by giving them the skills of a salesperson, mason, manufacturing technician, accountant or retail professional, but they can’t make someone creative, confident, communicative or curious. That needs the magic cocktail of teachers, peers, parents and a learning environment that few schools offer. Ben Franklin observed that “teaching is the occupation that is the most reflected upon, cherished, praised, rejoiced, and canonised, and at our deathbeds, possibly the most remembered aside from our dear ones, yet the least rewarded, in terms of earthly goods, of all the worthwhile and necessary pursuits.” Franklin went on to say, “A gifted teacher is as rare as a gifted doctor, and makes far less money.” 20 days years back people used to join the nursing profession inspired by Florence nightingale today people join the nursing profession looking at the opportunity to go to Scotland, UK and many other countries to make money. A similar scenario today plagues the teaching profession, from being inspired by the likes of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishna and with the thought of being a social reformist, more are more people are joining the teaching profession, without passion and conviction. Incidentally nursing and teaching are the only two roles where one can impact people’s life and sadly both are being sabotaged with the only purpose of making money or filling in . Potentially great teachers become great teachers by the same route: through conditioning mind, through acquiring skills and through practicing amidst intense competition and driven by a nagging belief to create a transformation in the student. As noted by Piaget, the success of educational reforms ultimately lies with individual instructors and their capacity, individually and collectively, to implement “new ways of doing things” during their day-to-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment interactions with students. Faculties need to have an authentic desire to serve, not just narcissism about wanting to be at the top, are willing to settle for less as an investment in better things later. The widening chasm between job requirement and skills of the graduates have accentuated the role of a faculty to discharge their responsibilities with amazing proactivity. Every year the U.S. Produces nearly 15,000 teacher training specialists for a population of 320 -odd million ; the number in India for a population of 1.35 billion is barely 800-900 . Mentoring is a casualty of low teaching standards and the role of faculties as mentors is of paramount importance.The role of a faculty in contemporary times have transcended beyond Academic enlightenment to the students, faculties today are also required to help build character , discipline, install values and make the student rounded. Education is India’s best bet for sustainable poverty reduction and good faculties the only way. If we are serious about enabling our faculties and making them the beacons, then we must turbo charge the education ecosystem.  As Gabriela Mistral has so poignantly said. We are guilty of many crimes but our worst sin is abandoning the child; neglecting the foundation of Life .Many of the things we need can wait ; The child cannot . We cannot answer tomorrow. Her name is today. (This article has been contributed by Shajan Samuel  who is AVP of Aptech Ltd)