On Teacher’s Day, I would like to share a short excerpt from India’s second president, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s speech at a reception at the Royal Commonwealth Society, London, in June 1963. The words still resonate with me and motivate me to work for India’s progress.
He said, “I, an ordinary commoner, started as a teacher and worked almost the whole of my life as a teacher. That I should have been elected Vice-President and President of my country shows how democratic our Constitution is and how it has given opportunities to all the people, not merely to political workers, to rise into some prominence and serve the country to the best of their ability.”
I find a strong commonality with the path taken by Radhakrishnan and my own life. I started my career as a teacher. It is because of democracy that I am a Union minister today. There can be nothing as rewarding as empowering teachers to transform India. They, in turn, are then able to empower their students. Apart from being role models for students, teachers are the force which can change the future course of a country and its people.
Teachers have a unique role in shaping the three Hs — the head, the source of knowledge; the hand, to earn a livelihood; and the heart, learning to live as enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi. The value of teachers has been emphasised over the millennia and they have played a crucial role in shaping the intellect of students and making them productive members of society.
But along the way, the real worth of teachers seems to have got somewhat diluted. Therefore, it is absolutely vital for us to understand the role that teachers play in upholding and sustaining the socio-cultural ethos of the New India. This cannot be achieved by mere preaching; it requires structural reform.
This need for reform becomes all the more imperative given that we are facing the Covid-19 pandemic which has brought about serious challenge to the teaching-learning process. I am happy to note that these trying times have made teachers emerge as iconic leaders who have taken upon themselves the task of driving remote learning in the era of social distancing. The creativity and innovation they have demonstrated across schools and higher education institutes are incredible. The real impact on teacher training through the National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers Holistic Advancement/Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching could be carried on in these tough times as teachers were able to modify their lesson plans to conduct classes through digital means — such as Google Meet, Zoom, mobile phone, television, or radio broadcast. To help them in this task, they used several learning apps — Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), e – PG Pathshala, Free /Libre and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE) and National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), among several others. I commend the spirit they have shown while drawing attention to the power behind Acharya Devo Bhava which equates the teacher with god.
The pandemic has led to a re-evaluation of the role of teachers and their stewardship of the teaching-learning process. Under the leadership of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recommends rigorous training of teachers within a learner-centric pedagogy. Along with the development of quality lesson plans, teachers will be empowered to create high-quality online content and also use online teaching platforms and tools. The ministry of education recognises the importance of teachers and clearly envisions a role for them in building on the concept of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). The respect for teachers and teaching must be restored to inspire the best to enter the profession. This is how we can ensure the best possible future for our children and our nation.
Henceforth, teacher recruitment will be carried out through a more robust and transparent process. A common National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by 2022, by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), in consultation with National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs), teachers from across levels and regions, expert organisations in vocational education and higher education institutions. The standards will cover the expected roles of the teacher at different levels of expertise and the competencies required for each stage. Professional standards will be reviewed and revised in 2030, and thereafter every ten years.
The education policy is in part a realisation of Radhakrishnan’s vision. I am sure that 21st-century teachers will not be just conduits but co-constructors of knowledge and nation development. We have set the foundation to realise the goals of the curriculum while building an equitable, inclusive, and plural society. Our aim must be to transform the very dynamics for enriching the value of teachers.
Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank is Union minister for education.
The views expressed are personal