Updated: Oct 10
Whether it was a teacher with seemingly limitless knowledge and excellent exposition abilities, or a teacher who made the classroom a safe space for expressing one’s concerns and feelings openly, most people can recall one or two examples of teachers who made a significant and beneficial impact on their lives. However, students deserve teachers like this to be the norm and not the exception. Of course, the problems that the Indian education system suffers from are extensive, complex, and numerous. The lack of funding and basic facilities hampering equal access to universal high-quality education is a very prominent one. Still, in this article, we will direct and limit our focus on the role of a teacher and the challenges associated with making this role a positive one in a student’s life.
From Education to Meaningful Education
Understanding what makes education meaningful by analysing its components and goals is crucial to designing the role of educators. According to the National Education Policy 2020, “The purpose of the education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper, and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values.” A child’s present is as important as a child’s future and children deserve a happy, enjoyable, and fruitful learning experience. Thus, the purpose of meaningful education goes beyond just preparing a student for higher degrees or getting a job. Furthermore, if this purpose was truly respected, a lot of the issues observed today could be effectively dealt with. A few of the countless examples include the detrimental influence of superstitions, myths, and misconceptions in making important decisions; lack of proper understanding of nutrition, health, and hygiene; the deleterious effects of perpetuating fake news, misinformation, and propaganda; regressive social attitudes and practices, etc. Formal education may be for a limited time but it forms a foundation for life-long learning that is a major part of a thinking and feeling individual’s life. Also, to ensure an education system that produces responsible, and productive citizens with logical and critical thinking skills, we need teachers who are such citizens themselves. Good teachers produce good students who in turn, become good teachers. Therefore, it is a self-feeding loop, that must be set in motion and maintained.
The Role of Teachers in Meaningful Education
Teachers have a central role to play in meaningful education and even the National Education Policy, 2020, states that “The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens.” The key suggestions to make the teaching process more fruitful, as per the National Education Policy are summarized below and elaborated on later.
We should empower teachers to do their job effectively by providing them with decent working conditions and infrastructure facilities in school; ensuring a suitable teacher-to-student ratio, not burdening them with excessive non-teaching duties such as administrative work; affording them respectable pay and opportunities for continuous learning and professional development; and giving them enough autonomy and a good support system consisting of students, colleagues, administrative staff, and higher officials. Proper assessment and appraisal of teachers would lead to meritorious teachers reaching leadership positions where they can help implement best practices. Thus, teachers at all levels should be supported: be it early childhood education workers or faculties in higher education institutes. An example of where our system fails is when Anganwadi workers do not get paid on time and even have to dip into their salaries to pay for basic materials at their centers.
Teachers need to be well suited to their role, whether it be in early childhood care and education (ECCE), the preparatory stage, the middle stage, the secondary stage, or higher education institutes (HEIs). Consequently, teacher training at all stages and programs like B.Ed, M.Ed, and PhD, along with other certificate and diploma programs must be overhauled to reflect the values and true goals of impactful well-rounded education. Key aspects such as designing curriculum, teaching practices and methods, setting assessments, and continuous upgradation based on changing trends, technologies, and new illuminating research should be emphasized in these programs. The recruitment process should be adjusted accordingly as well. Teachers need to be well-trained in inclusive education to be able to impart education to students of all backgrounds and abilities. Parallelly, the teaching profession should be inclusive, welcoming people of varied backgrounds including native languages, physical disabilities, etc.
There must be systems of supervision, accountability, and feedback in schools and institutes to keep a check on the quality of teaching. Students should be encouraged to provide open and honest feedback and constructive criticism about their teachers.
Teachers should be aware that every student is different and has a unique personality. Thus, teaching methods must be flexible and teachers must be ready to adapt to the needs of individual students. Teachers should be active listeners and pay adequate attention to students when they voice their concerns or suggestions.
Teachers may also need to serve as mediators between students and their parents or guardians. By connecting with the students helping them deal with personal problems and keeping a check on their mental health, teachers can collaborate with parents in ensuring the healthy development of a child. Teachers are also essential for curtailing dropout rates by reaching out to parents understanding the causes of dropping out and working together to find solutions.
Teachers need to be objective, and unbiased and strive to give their students a safe space or express opinions contradictory to their own. While teachers sharing their personal thoughts and experiences can be advantageous to students, students must feel free to challenge their teachers at every stage. Teachers must be authority figures who are reliable and trustworthy and yet at the same time approachable and not antagonistic. Children should not fear their teachers and a culture of mutual respect and professionalism must be upheld by the instructors. It is often seen that inappropriate disciplinary methods and unprofessional taunts and language are used by instructors in the classroom. Many times, this is excused as being done to prepare the student for the ‘real world.’ However, we must realize that professional environments in the ‘real world’ are created by us and so, can be changed by us. If we treat our students with respect and instill in them the same values of respecting their colleagues and subordinates, we will have a better world to send our students into.
This may be a reimagining of a teacher’s role, or perhaps a re-establishment. Whatever one may call it, it is vital to fundamental reform in the education system.
About this article In her thought-provoking article titled 'Reimagining the Role of a Teacher in the Context of the National Education Policy, 2020', Manika Gupta highlights the imperative need to transform the role of teachers in the Indian education system. Gupta contends that exceptional teachers, possessing boundless knowledge and exceptional communication skills, or those who foster a safe environment for students to express their concerns and feelings openly, should not be exceptions but the norm. The article emphasizes that the Indian education system faces extensive challenges, with inadequate funding and basic facilities being significant hurdles to providing universal high-quality education.