In this age of rather pronounced nationalism, one may say that all saanskritik (cultural and value-based) things originated from India. Teachers’ Day is one such exclusive example that’s solemnly observed on September 5, the day Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was born. A teacher par excellence, Dr Radhakrishnan was every inch a teacher who was a Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions & Ethics at Oxford University.
‘Shikshanam shrenitam, rida shesham’ (Teaching is the noblest profession and the rest doesn’t matter): Buddhist philosopher Nagarjun's Sutram in Pali was Dr Radhakrishnan’s motto in life. You know, why Socrates is so revered? Much more than being a philosopher, he was a teacher, a pedagogue at that, all his disciples and students looked up to. All great ancient civilizations put teachers on a par with the deities.
The Vedantic laconic formula, Shiksham vadanti brahmasmi (a teacher is the way to god) prompted Kabir to say, ‘Guru Gobind dou khade, kaake laagoon paaon/Balihari guru aapno, Gobind diyo bataye’ (a teacher and god are standing cheek-by-jowl; who should I pay my deference and reverence to?/ I shall fall in the feet of my teacher, who showed me the way to god).
The point is: A teacher is an architect of a nation, nay civilization. Weaned on oriental ethos and brought up on moralistic teachings of our great teachers like Yagyvalkya, Vidur, Ajita Keshkambal, Makkali Goshal, Indrabhuti Gautam, Lopamudra, Gargi, to name but a few, we can realise the sacredness of teaching and the sacrosanct bond of Gurukul way of imparting knowledge where students would imbibe the lessons of life directly from their erudite teachers. So, there was a veritable umbilical bond between teachers and students.
Alas, here is a paradigm shift, thanks to the ongoing pandemic. The exalted interactive proximity between teachers and students has been ruthlessly replaced, nay usurped, by online teaching. Zooming is the new buzzword and virtual classes are new normal. To put the things in perspective, online teaching may appear to be a new concept because the disruption of regular classes has ushered in online teaching to atone for the loss and absence of the conventional classroom mode of education. Several universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, California, etc. introduced online mode of teaching on an experimental basis a decade ago. But it didn’t succeed. The reason being, lack of interactive proximity and overall insouciance that made teaching dispirited and lifeless.
When Berkeley, California and Princeton Universities conducted online teaching sessions just for a lark in 2012, it literally couldn’t take off because in the words of Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton, “I’m not being respected as a teacher!” Though stated in a jocular vein, it carries a universe of relevance in its womb. In a classroom procedure, a teacher is held in high esteem. But the same teacher while conducting online classes, loses that degree of respect, so much needed for a reciprocal development of a teacher and his/her students.
The flippancy of online teaching and the frivolity of the whole process may not be helpful in consolidating the time-honoured teacher-student equation. “The genuine reverence shown by students towards teachers in the classrooms is the key to cerebral evolution of both students and their teachers. It helps build a lifelong bond on which students can create a rampart of educational and psycho-emotional base,” tellingly opined Italian genius and the father of Semiotics (the science of signs and symbols), Umberto Eco of Bologna University, Italy. A kind of indifference creeps in online teaching, making it perfunctory but hardly parental because teachers are traditionally viewed as the second parents.
In such extremely matter-of-fact scenario, the much-adored teacher-student bond has gone for a toss. I may sound like a Cassandra, but the fact is, this ‘dry-boning of education’ (Dr Edward W Said's apt phrase) may jeopardize the very basis and crux of interactive discourses that enliven the atmosphere of a classroom. Nonetheless, teachers are trying tooth and nail to rein in indisposed students in online classes. Hats off to them.