I completed my primary education from a school that no more exists: Heroes Memorial Inter College. Situated in the capital of India’s most populous state, it was made in the memory of heroes and whoever fits in your definition of one. With about the strength of 400 students—that started to leave the school at a surprisingly exponential rate—the man who ran the school had to eventually close it. I was also among those who left. Sometimes, I think what if I wouldn’t have left and completed my 12th grade from it—would I have saved it from turning into an abandoned building that no one cared for anymore?

Heroes Memorial Inter College means a lot to me. It taught me things that are still benefiting me. The credit goes to Asthana Sir. Even though he was officially an English teacher, he would still tell us “fun facts” about the History of World War II: as to how there were many non-Jews victims of Nazis but they seem to have slipped out of our memory. Being an erudite man, Asthana Sir was—and perhaps is—the most underrated teacher I know. I was even sure about it during my graduation days. As I had to learn and earn at the same time, I took admission in Indira Gandhi Open University. Therein, you have to attend classes on the weekend. It was when I sat in the first class, I found myself searching for another Asthana Sir. Naturally, I couldn’t find one. I think he is one of his kind.

While there is plenty of work available when it comes to the impact of online classes on students—and rightly so—its impact on teachers is something that is not given the attention it deserves. Like many other things, the current education system is also based on neoliberal principles. It assumes that all the actors in the society are in the same position—ignoring sociological and political interplay of factors—and they will eventually adapt to unprecedented changes. Online classes are one prime example. The model of online classes—once again based on neoliberal principles—assumes that all the teachers and students have all the resources available. Teachers have the resources to create online lessons and deliver them despite the rapid changes in the course. On top of it, there is no training provided to teachers as to how they can cope with such a radical change: from standing in a classroom where they can directly interact with students, they have to connect with students while sitting behind an augmented screen. Moreover, the pandemic has given extra challenges to female teachers who earlier had the facility to have domestic workers. We need education policies unanimously centered around both teachers and students. We need systematic change. As another upshot of neoliberalism, a lawyer in India can have no other source of income other than litigation and they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. There is an underlying assumption behind it that all the lawyers will always have cases to handle.

Asthana Sir was a strong critic of neoliberalism. He used to say that free-market capitalism will not leave anyone free—even the few whom it is favoring. I remember how once he went against the school administration to allow a fellow student to write with a pencil because his pen ran out of ink during a major exam and Asthana Sir didn’t want him to embarrass himself. He didn’t assume that all the students in the class will have an infinite supply of pens during an exam.

I hope we care for Asthana Sir—and all the Asthana Sirs in the world—a little more.

Ahmad Khan is a freelance writer, poet, and an IT consultant


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