This is a note by late Fr Manuel Mascarenhas, founding principal of St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Kirkee
Most of us are concerned with education and we know how important it is for teachers to be effective in education. A prominent school principal told me that out of a couple of thousand applications that he had received over his 15 year career as a principal, he found not more than 25 candidates he considered suitable for his work.
An understanding of the system of education prevalent over the years would help us evaluate the type of teachers needed.
In ancient India the Gurukul system prevailed. Here the teacher was most important and guided his students in their conduct, value systems and behavior. Education was essentially ethical and sought to change the individual for the better. This one-to-one interaction for self-improvement was a life long process and the student was finally evaluated by the teacher only on the removal of possible blemishes in his character.
The pupil followed the moral code of the teacher. The teacher was expected to be an asset to society and the pupil followed him. He added a moral tone to society. Where it failed however is in paying too little attention to individuality, innovation and originality.
Later on, education began to concern itself with rules and regulations, for example the Maharashtra Education Act specified that children in standards 1 – 2 carry only 1.1 kg of books daily to school. Or 24,000 teachers in Malaysia who were expected to read at least 4 books every month for a year, and to discuss it with other teachers. This showed the policy of government to unify the system and to control it.
Towards this end the number of subjects to be studied was laid down. The break-up of subjects lead to a break-up of the problems (Rainy day, My ambition in life), so that it was no longer seen as one unified whole that has disparate parts that often refused to connect. Originality comes with boldness.
Finally with the arrival of computers, the teacher was freed from the compulsions of the syllabus. The learning opportunities available on the Web encouraged more student participation for when connected online, the student began to lose his fear of asking questions and stating opinions. With such individual instruction student interest grew and informed the teacher what topics were important and which had not been understood properly.
What do these stages indicate about the suitability of teachers? In the past education was largely ethical, later it tended to become authoritarian till in recent times with the overflow of information available teachers had to be enlightened not only with social problems like drugs, alcohol and violence. But with ethical considerations like honesty, justice and self respect as well. (How does a teacher judge a child good in maths but poor in other subjects? A: Good in GK, not in maths. B: Good in maths – preferred target. Whole child, not clever one. )
A better way to achieve the suitability of teachers would be to employ teachers as counselors who can help in identifying problems and in checking the intellectual and emotional health of the students.
The arrival of computers has however put a heavy responsibility on the present day teacher. Getting information alone is no longer enough. He needs to sift and prune this information in the light of his new knowledge. This will be the mark of an effective teacher: well read, thoughtful and critical.
New approaches will encourage a spirit of innovation. This could be checked in the teacher by educational credit cards for three-year terms or with a test of the student’s work. Also greater effectiveness can be achieved by research labs (as is existent in several schools today, like Springdales in Delhi). This will ensure that knowledge is productive. In the class of an effective teacher, there are few distractions because the lessons are prepared well, and hence absenteeism is less.
Another approach is the cultivation of values. Purely academic education alone cannot meet the challenges of our times. Values help to bring about an improvement in the child’s thoughts, interests and emotions and all aspects of a person’s growth and development. That teacher therefore will be an asset who can help in the child’s self-improvement. Moral history will come not only from past history but also from life around us. This can be a valid subject for discussion in schools. Education is a product of civilization and based on the equality of all. Enlightened students will be better able to govern themselves and others.
An interesting way to find how effective a teacher has been in instilling values is to see how his past students are faring in their life and work. When a teacher sees a student who in his school days seemed so unsure of himself, today feeling comfortable with responsibility, digesting complex ideas and weighing different positions, it will be compensation that he will derive from his teaching for in it he will see his personal vision at work, the source of his creative energy, bearing fruit in others.
Learning about values will increase the child’s confidence, creativity and self-respect. This will clarify his thinking and will not make him too complacent to accept whatever he hears from others or reads in books or newspapers.
Does failure constitute a rejection of the teacher? Not necessarily. Good teachers will not see failure only in the results of an examination, but in the light of a child’s relationship, not only to himself, but also to his family, school and society as well. A good teacher will make it clear that he considers something successful not because a child gets good marks at an exam, but on his physical, emotional and intellectual well being as well. Once this becomes the norm of success, all children without exception will receive a treatment tempered by love rather than criticism. Love will restore confidence and encourage the child to make greater efforts to prove himself in the eyes of a teacher whom he evaluates as a friend.
Failure at an exam may be due to many factors other than a low level of intelligence. Poverty at home, discouragement or humiliation, substandard explanations by the teacher in class, anxiety before the exam, lack of opportunities at home for studies, lack of appreciation of the qualities that he actually possesses and not only the intellectual ones, are some reasons that could provide the soil for failure. It is these social causes that must be considered because they occur in an atmosphere of moral despair. It is unfair therefore to evaluate an individual’s potential only on the scores of an exam.
A person may fail even if he has a high academic aptitude because of such cultural disadvantages like having to work after school to support his family or a dismally unhelpful neighborhood. It is in appreciation of these circumstances that a good teacher will evaluate his pupils. He will not look down on those who fail.
On the contrary, he will work towards changing the disadvantages a child faces so that she can improve herself. This improvement will refer not only to his academic performances but also his growth in maturity. We have heard it said that through sympathy and appreciation and a very sincere desire to help is the process of growing up into freedom since only the mature can be truly free. If the aim of teaching is to expand the child’s vision and to make her free – the teacher can take pride in providing the parameters that make this possible. That teacher is most effective who is relevant.
If a teacher in ancient India could place his experience of piety and character at the disposal of the pupil, then to limit his role today would demean him. From ancient times, knowledge was not his only concern. Down the years the teacher emphasized also the development of both humanism and spirit.
Another mistake is to believe that the teacher who is always up and about must be a good teacher. This is a half-truth. A person who has no time for himself is not a thinking person, and will not achieve much.
It would be very wrong to label a not-so-active person as a failure. Quiet, a type of inactivity, means being framed in space. Only in space are events and people significant. A tree shows itself better against the empty face of sky. A candle shines brighter in darkness. A teacher must remember that his life often lacks this quality of significance because there is too little empty space in it, too many activities.