An educator's legacy
This Teacher’s Day, we must not limit ourselves to simply glorifying the memory of Dr Radhakrishnan and must instead understand what his legacy truly stands for
We Indians are enthusiastic about celebrating days and dates of occasion and if they are one, after the memory of an Individual then there is no dearth of enthusiasm in glorifying that individual. However, when it comes to following the ideals of that individual after whom we celebrate a particular day or date, we seem to lose our fervour and desire. One such brilliant instance can be cited in the context of celebrating Teacher's Day in our educational institutions. Many of us have been witness to the celebrations of Teacher's Day in our school and college life. We cherish such pleasant memories, though not sure, whether we sincerely remember our teachers or what they taught, particularly beyond the prescribed curriculum. This year, unfortunately, COVID-19 has put to rest any plans to celebrate teachers day.
It is widely known that Teacher's Day is celebrated to mark the life of our former President and a great educationist himself, Dr Sarvapally Radhakrishnan. It was in 1962 after he became the 2nd President of India, that he expressed his desire – "Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teacher's Day".The nation aptly responded to this wish to henceforth observe the day as Teacher's Day. Dr Sarvapally Radhakrishnan was himself a teacher, a philosopher, a thinker and a democrat who in his teachings and lectures advocated the value of a teacher in helping us to unleash a free creative mind that can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature. It was exactly how Dr Radhakrishnan perceived the end product of education. He had an illustrious trail in his teaching career in which he was associated with the then esteemed institutions, both home and abroad, ranging from the likes of Calcutta University to that of Oxford University. It was also stated that he also taught the members of the British Royal Family. But it is not just the record of where he taught that makes him a tall luminary in the world of education. It is what he taught that really matters, for his teachings are the consecrated formulary of his belief and of what he stood for. It would also be appropriate to try and gauge his legacy in the yardstick of present educational trends and demands.
In his introductory essay to the Bhagavad Gita, Dr Radhakrishnan states "The teacher refines and reconciles the different currents of thought".This statement itself testifies to the timelessness of Dr Radhakrishnan's concept of a teacher. This is applicable to all ages and to all places, in various domains of education. This is also in tandem with the basic principles of education, namely, access, equity and quality. The teacher in Dr Radhakrishnan had a prophetic vision, his analysis and understanding of what had been ailing our civilisation is true even today. Our present education system, despite the best intentions of many, is faltering in many aspects. We have definitely achieved a giant leap in digitising education; in using technological aids in the teaching-learning process. However, even then, we cannot ignore the fact that more than the machinery, we need humanity in order to ensure holistic development.
We all know that as vocation teaching is placed on a different level, a teacher is not just a teacher in a classroom because teaching cannot be confined within the corridors of educational institutions alone. Therefore, a teacher has to share a different kind of responsibility as he is connected with the formation of the human mind, its thought and intellect. In his speeches on education, philosophy, science and religion, Dr Radhakrishnan emphasised on the awakening of the human soul, for an enlightened mind alone can understand the obligations and responsibilities to humanity at large. This enumerates the social responsibility of a teacher which is perpetual or else a teacher ceases to maintain the very ethos of his vocation.
There is a very famous Bob Dylan song 'The Times Are Changing'. True, but even in changing times some things remain primordial in their essence, though certain functional modifications always take place. Education is one such element whose essence carries an age-old fragrance, maybe from the days of our ancient sages and their 'Gurukul' system of education. Dr Radhakrishnan believed in the conscience of education with freedom of the human spirit and human dignity. Teaching, as we all know, is universally regarded as one of the most dignified vocations. Hence, the torchbearers of education have to preserve its dignity, or else the entire system would crumble. It is not the intellectual part alone that determines education and teaching; there is a moral part and at times, perhaps, it is a stronger determinant in vindicating the social purpose of education.
The outlook of the society towards educators and teachers have been changing and unfortunately, at times on a demeaning note. It is pertinent that any such negative impression has to be reverted. Dr Sarvapally Radhakrishnan was a visionary and perhaps apprehending the changing panorama of the society's attitude towards the educators, he had long back categorised the importance of love, empathy and understanding in the act of teaching. The recommendations made by the Radhakrishnan Commission on education in 1948 clearly suggests teaching that life has a meaning and also to be acquainted with social philosophy which would govern our educational institutions.
Today, teachers are teaching in a world bound by the desire of fast-track growth. This elevates fear, anxiety and insecurity in a student. Teachers are expected to alleviate such mental reactions. In his life, in his work and in his conduct, Dr Sarvapally Radhakrishnan exemplified himself as a great educator, a dedicated teacher who demonstrated a philosophy of teaching where a teacher would gladly learn and gladly teach and this learning and teaching are not just about syllabus but about life itself. He vouched for an educational ambience where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Can we really deny and disregard this legacy? Well, the answer is perhaps best judged by posterity.
The writer is an educator based In Kolkata. Views expressed are personal