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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A Look at Education System on Teachers Day

On Teachers Day in India, the author reflects on the vital role of education and the need for quality teachers in a society still grappling with casteism, superstition, and a lack of rational thinking.

Teachers Day is being celebrated today, 5th September, in India.

This occasion calls for a consideration of the education system in India, and the proper role of a teacher.

The Greek philosopher Plato in his book ‘Republic’ writes that the state is first and foremost an educational institution. According to Plato, with a good system of education almost any improvement in society is possible; if education is neglected, it matters little else what the state does.

At the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the American journalist Albert Rhys Williams, who was present in Russia then, wrote in his book ‘Through the Russian Revolution’:

”In Moscow I saw two peasant soldiers gazing at a poster stuck on a kiosk. ‘We can’t read a word of it’, they cried, indignant tears in their eyes. ‘The Czar only wanted us to plough and fight and pay taxes. He didn’t want us to read. He put out our eyes’.

‘To put out the eyes’ of the masses, to put out their minds and consciences, was the deliberate policy of the Russian autocracy. For centuries the people were steeped in ignorance, narcotized by the church, terrorized by the Black Hundreds, dragooned by the Cossacks.”

In India, while most people were illiterate during British rule, most now have at least primary education. In Unnikrishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993(1) SCC 645 and in Article 21A of the Constitution, free and compulsory education till the age of 14 was mandated for all children in the country.

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However making laws is one thing, implementing them is another. Education should mean good, high quality education, not of any kind.

What kind of education are our youth getting, and what kinds of teachers do we have in our school colleges and Universities, when most of our people are still casteist, communal and superstitious, instead of having rational, questioning, and scientific minds ? Despite having a certain degree of formal education, are their eyes not still ‘put out’, like the two peasant soldiers described by Albert Williams ?

Anyone who goes to many of the schools and colleges in India will note that hardly any proper teaching is done there, there is mass copying in examinations, tuition racket, etc. Often appointments of teachers is done not on merit but on extraneous considerations like caste, political connections, payment of money, etc. Teachers are often appointed on temporary, ad hoc basis and poorly paid. Many are themselves having little knowledge in the real sense, and are in the profession not as a mission but just to earn their bread, like the teachers in Dickens’ novels e.g. David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist and Hard Times.

In its historic decision in Brown vs Board of Education 347 US 483 ( 1954 ), the US Supreme Court observed that inferior education to children ” may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to be ever undone ”. On the other hand, good education liberates the creativity in human beings, helps them developing their full potential, and is an engine of change.

I am afraid there is little good education, and few good teachers in India today. So I regret I cannot celebrate Teachers Day.

Markandey Katju is an Indian jurist and former Supreme Court judge of India who served as chairman for the Press Council of India. He has also worked as Standing Counsel for the Income Tax Department.