World Teachers’ Day—Educational systems need a new awakening


Every year in India we celebrate 5th September as the National Teachers’ Day and just a month later the world observes 5th October as ‘World Teachers’ Day’. The theme this year is: “Teachers at the heart of education recovery”. It was UNESCO that established this day in 1994 to celebrate and recognize the immense contribute of all those in the noblest of all professions. Teachers toil hard supporting the services of the parents by inspiring, guiding, educating, skilling and mentoring every child. For the future of humanity rests upon the shoulders of today’s children and youth. Indeed, much of the wrongs and tragedies to which all humanity is a witness could be traced to the kind of upbringing and education a child receives.

All would agree that education is regarded as a panacea to a host of individual and societal problems. It provides knowledge, truth, beauty, power, wealth, peace, security, love and ecstasy and most of these virtues, we in India are taught came from the teachers, as per the Guru—Sishya parampara. With the universalization of education there was a systemic transformation of society and old patterns of learning and teaching had to be recast. Access to knowledge was no longer confined to a select number. Knowledge is the foundation of progress of any society and for that matter civilization, as we know. The education of children, both boys and girls, opened the flood gates for generation, application and diffusion of new knowledge. The role of the educator, ‘guru’ changed from being an epitome of all-knowledge and mentor for life, into that of a facilitator. Technology became a dominant feature in the process of learning. The character of relationships within families–moulded by assumptions centuries old—was perceptibly altered forever.

Therefore, what kind of teachers are needed to ensure a sustainable future. How should the teachers approach their work and interact with families and fulfil their expectations? What attitudes and ethical qualities should teachers develop through participation in the civilizing process of the general population? What aspects of culture should they foster to ensure that children grow up free from prejudices and the destructive societal binaries of “us” and “them” or “we” and “they”? What elements of education are needed to provide for the wellbeing of all humanity not simply for people in one’s own country? Answers to these questions would help to perceive the educational scenario more profoundly and realistically.

A teacher should be a learner. By remaining in the learning mode, the teacher keeps pace with contemporary times and is protected from the false sense of pride in one’s knowledge and skills. Such a mindset would further assist in raising the teacher’s capacity as a protagonist of social change who learns to apply with increasing effectiveness the new knowledge and skills. This understanding of the social reality from a wholistic perspective and seeing each child as potentially the light of world and fellow human beings as gems of inestimable value in shaping social structures that are being constantly impacted by the dual process of integration and disintegration across the planet.

The quality of teacher education, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, and empowerment of teachers is a complex process. Every country is challenged to raise the competency levels and provide motivation to the teachers. Understanding the social reality with higher and higher degree of accuracy has to become an explicit element of the methodology of learning-teaching. As the world returns to some kind of normalcy after the devastation caused by Covid-19 in the past two years, I believe that the theme this year: “Teachers at the heart of education recovery” is most relevant. It was quite clear that despite best efforts for pupil—teacher interaction through the virtual mode, the physical presence of the teacher and the school environment are vital in positively shaping the lives of our children.

A major challenge that most societies face, especially those with high density populations, is the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). In this connection, it is useful to look at the data provided by UNESCO on India before the Covid-19 pandemic regarding pupil—teacher ratio and the recruitment of teachers. As per the report at least 16% of the schools in Goa and Telangana were managed by just one teacher. Whereas 14% of the total number of schools in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand were single-teacher schools. At the national level, 7% schools are single-teacher schools. UNESCO analysed two data sets: Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE+) 2018-19 and the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-19.

In contrast with the global scenario, the report further states that India’s school system lacks enough teachers and struggles from poor student-teacher ratio while up to 69% of its teachers are working without job contracts. The report, which drew from government data of 2019-2020, said while the overall number of teachers (around 9.5 million) looks perfect to maintain a good pupil-teacher ratio, it does not show segmental disparity. For instance, the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) at senior secondary schools is 47:1 as against 26:1 of the overall school system.

“The national PTR average for all schools was 26:1 in 2018/19 (UDISE), and ranged from 23:1 for elementary schools to 28:1 in composite schools. These PTRs look well within the norm suggested by the RTE (Right to Education) Act at the country level, but does not indicate if the PTR is met at the school level. Among primary-only schools, 22% of them have PTRs greater than 30:1. On the whole, secondary and senior secondary schools have PTRs between 43:1 and 47:1,” the report said.

Moreover, contractual rather than regular teachers’ jobs “presents further complexity” and the problem is equally alarming in both private and government schools. “The overall proportion of teachers in private schools who report working with no job contract is alarmingly high at 69%.” “In the government sector, the overall number of school teachers with contracts of more than three years’ duration is a high 67%. However, 28% of primary and secondary school teachers are found to be working with no contract. In the early childhood education sector, only 49% teachers report having contracts of longer duration than three years, while 35% report having no contracts. In the special education sector, only 13% report having contracts of more than 3 years’ duration, and 80% have no contracts,” the report showed

National Education Policy 2020 addresses a number of the above issues such as the role of teachers to make India atma-nirbhar, service conditions, teacher competency, and pupil-teacher ratio inter alia. It is hoped that with the commencement of in-person educational activities, the new policies will be implemented at the earliest, thereby providing a much-needed boost both in terms of the structural reforms and a new curricula framework.

Underneath the present strife, chaos, and confusion in the world, today’s teacher, as a global educator, should perceive the next leap in human evolution. The incredible web of communication, not to mention the recent launch of 5G in the country, promises that all humankind could collectively evolve by accepting the positive fruits of globalization and becoming active promoters of tolerant, inclusive, secure, peaceful, and sustainable societies.

To this end, the words of Sri Aurobindo aptly sum up the role of the teachers: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires, but the ideal teacher awakens.” May the new awakening ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

A. K. Merchant is an independent researcher and social worker serving on some of the non-governmental and semi-governmental organizations, based in New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.


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