Ustad Utsav


Published on 7th September, 2014 in Mid-Day

I wonder if Teacher’s Day was renamed Ustad Utsav, would it make a difference to our teachers, students or our education system? Would it raise the same kind of alarm that has been created by the suggestion that it may be called Guru Utsav?

Why does any suggestion of a ‘Hindu’, or is it ‘Hindi’, translation fill one kind of intellectuals with visions of Nazi Germany and its pogrom of indoctrination, just as any suggestion of ‘Islamic’, or is it ‘Urdu’, translation fills other kind of intellectuals with dire visions of Jihadi warriors?

We want to save our children, protect them from Right-wing indoctrination, but are we comfortable with Left-wing indoctrination, or Secular indoctrination, or Scientific indoctrination, or Global indoctrination, Minority indoctrination, Liberal indoctrination, or Atheistic indoctrination? Because that is what education is turning into – indoctrination!

Education is no longer about opening the mind; it is about shaping the mind. Literature and history are turning into propaganda.

Modern educationists may reject the old traditional models of education where teacher was all-powerful and venerable, but modern systems are often in danger of creating models where the teacher is being rendered powerless, at the mercy of clueless students and ambitious parents and greedy management. While a lot of attention is being paid to capacity and capability issues (Teach India, for example), and access issues (Right to Education, for example), what is being overlooked is shifting power games in the education space.

Yes, it is true that traditional schools gave too much power to the teacher, be it in the guru-shishya parampara where everyone was asked to bow to the teacher, or in the missionary schools with the principal, usually a priest or nun, moved around with a cane. This had to be contained since it was, and is, rife with abuse. But modern schools – usually with high fees – are turning things on their head.

In many institutes, students are telling teachers what they want to learn. In a Film Institute, a teacher mourned how the new batch of students are not interested in watching films of great editing masters and just want to figure out how to edit a YouTube video that will give them a million hits and a billion dollars. Management institutes mourn that they are not being appreciated for the knowledge they impart but for placements they secure. A teacher can lose a job if the student appraisal turns out negative.

Knowledge is now being seen in terms of money and power. There is the assumption that teachers in ‘traditional’ schools are dominating while teachers in ‘modern’ schools complain that it is students who are dominating. The traditional teacher suffers from being perceived as stern, ruler-yielding task-master. The modern teacher can survive only by getting subjugated by students, parents, management and regulators who leash them with rules and demands. Students feel terrified of being victims of physical abuse in traditional schools, while teachers are terrified of being accused by students and their parents of being physical abusers in modern schools. Then there are those ambitious parents who feel by giving large sums of money to teachers, their children will transform – without any effort – into geniuses.

Rather than shallow arguments about Indian teachers versus Bharatiya gurus versus Hindustani ustads, more attention needs to be paid to these insidious problems ailing our education, overlooked in great measure by ‘activist-saviours’ on all sides.