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Millennium Post

Once a teacher but a student forever

Teachers’ Day came and went by, conferring on Prime Minister Narendra Modi a brand new sobriquet – probably one that had been hitherto enjoyed by Jawaharlal Nehru (Chacha). Modi has reconfigured himself as the taskmaster par excellence, adding another layer to his multifaceted identity, that of the teacher-in-chief, with a direct access to the demographically diverse student community, through the television.

His messages to the early learners covered many grounds and managed to make a staid, now monotonous annual event into a springboard for debates on education, skill development and a comprehensive future of holistic, inclusive growth. Introducing Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and his enduring legacy, Modi emphasised the importance of teachers in our lives, the lasting impact they have on our impressionable student minds and how as role models, they should be loved and respected by us. Situating the teacher-student relationship as one of the building blocks of nation building, Modi, however, also inflected the bond with markers from the current times. Hence, the jokes about ‘Google Guru’, which may give information but not knowledge, or that depriving students of digital technology could be deemed a social crime.

Thus Modi’s speech and his later interaction with students underscored the changing nature of school education itself, which should be reflected in the new curricula, and which should be made more interactive to suit the young scholars better.

It is significant that PM Modi changed the Teachers’ day focus from those imparting education to those receiving it. Inasmuch as his underscoring of the pet projects, such as education for girls, toilets in every school, compulsory primary education, promoting digital literacy, skill development, among others, is concerned, this was a successful speech. Modi has been able to drive home a crucial point that democracy needs educated citizenry and skilled workforce.

Therefore, his initiative to interact with students and encourage them to be both playful and creative with their learning and attempt imbibing lessons beyond textbook knowledge is a commendable gesture. However, if there was one thing amiss about the move it was his trying to be an Uncle Sam for our little pupils. It is obvious that Modi wants to make sure that every claim to fame that the Indian National Congress has ever banked upon is suitable deflated and appropriated by his sarkaar.

His shot at history is also deletion of history, insofar as his taking on the mantle of Chacha Nehru and what he meant to children (naturally achieved with a lot of photogenic hugs and smiley faces of children accompanying him) is concerned. Notwithstanding his refusal to introduce a biography of himself in Gujarat school curriculum, it is clear that Modi wants to change how students, tomorrow’s voters, approach education. For Modi, the entrepreneur in everyone must be encouraged at the expense of the analyst.          

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