Millennium Post

Role of teacher as a moral educator

Teaching is a calling where one has the power to impart not just knowledge but skills and right attitudes.

Moral education is one of the most ubiquitous terms used equivocally both by students and teachers. The term takes the shape through ordinary and informal contacts we have with other people. Morality is a progressive process that takes shape over a period of time.

In one of those poignant moments when I had sought to question whether the new found "scientific" education systems in schools and colleges is doing more good than harm, I was reminded of an anecdote, that I heard from my maternal grandfather, who was a strict disciplinarian. Even at 93, he is not only self-dependent but is also a great source of strength for many. His zest for life is unmistakable!

He had once passionately spoken about his school and college days. In fact, he had inculcated his strong values from his teachers who were his role model during his college days at the famous DAV College in Lahore. Reminiscing his college days, he had said that on the first day of college, he was greeted by an ordinarily dressed person at the college gate. Later he learnt that he was the Principal of DAV College but from his appearance, he could have been easily mistaken for a college peon. The fact that the principal of the college was standing at the gate, greeting all new students, left a deep impression on his mind. Simplicity with a deep sense of discipline and honesty is how we might describe Shri Mehar Chand. He probably had only two sets of clothes – one to be worn and the other to be washed.

Every fortnight, the principal used to call the barber to the hostel and get his hair trimmed. However, his routine was unshakable and it took time for us to realise that we, the students also must follow suit. We soon realised that his ordinary lifestyle coupled with 'unspoken' actions were actually meant to instill in students 'morals' that education otherwise cannot teach. My grandfather remarked that "majority of us developed a deep sense of admiration for Shri Mehar Chand, and aped his minimalistic and simplistic lifestyle. As a result, the education we received includes moral education as well."

The principal and teachers not only knew all the students but also addressed them by their first name. The very thought of private tuitions by external tutors was shunned as the teachers took upon themselves to ensure their individual learning capabilities. As a result majority of students scored a minimum first class in and only a handful secured high second class. There were absolutely no third divisioners and the question of failing never came up.

Continuing with his college sojourn, during the Second World War, my grandfather recollects that the college was once visited by a senior officer from the British Army. The officer freely interacted with the students with the objective of motivating them to join the Army. The officer also lured the students with a healthy stipend that would be paid and that they could complete their degree along with their stint in the Army. Just when it had caught the attention of a few students, Shri Mehar Chand called for an urgent assembly and to the utter astonishment of the British Army Officer, advised the students against joining the Army. Shri Mehar Chand emphasised the importance of completing education first, before starting a career. He fearlessly told the British Army officers that the parents have trusted him and the college and have send their children to give education and therefore, before a student decides to avail the offer, he needed a written consent from the concerned parent. He also highlighted the paramount importance of parents' advice in a child's life.

Even after retirement, Shri Mehar Chand continued his selfless service as the warden of the college hostel. He shared the same food and also stayed in one of the hostel room meant for the students so that he could get insight into the difficulties faced by the boarders. He even continued with the same modus operandi of disciplining students! In his tenure as the hostel warden, few students had once scaled the roof of the hostel building to play cards. When Shri Mehar Chand came to know about it, he had no intentions of catching them red-handed or scolding them for their act. Rather, he wanted the student to realise that breaking rules or an act of indiscipline is incorrect.

Without a word, Shri Mehar Chand simply took a cot and laid it at the exit point from the roof, waiting for the students to climb down and confess after realising their mistake. On the other hand, when the students came to know that Shri Mehar Chand was there, they waited so that he tires out and leaves. However, they could not defy his patience. Accepting defeat, they climbed down and vowed never to repeat such an act of indiscipline.

Having been a teacher myself, this unique anecdote of my grandfather has opened up new doors of awareness. It is time we should begin to see how classroom work can be coupled with moral significance. There is need to infuse everyday classroom teaching with ways in which a lesson is taught that can contribute to the learning environment. These activities are generally not thought of as having moral significance. They are normally described as issues of classroom management, curricular focus, instructional method, and so forth. However, in actual practice, they embody ongoing moral lessons about how to treat other people, how to treat oneself, and how to regard the process of education. Teaching is not a mere profession but a 'calling', where one is given the power to pass not just knowledge but skills and right attitudes.

Vedic literature is supposed to be a part of our daily life and has nothing to do with employment opportunities. It would be relevant if we can have it as an essential subject in school. Vedic education is the core of India's cultural heritage. To be called educated, one must preserve and expand his cultural heritage. Vedic ideals of education can help maintain discipline in modern educational institutes and create cordial relation between teacher and student. The practice and utilisation of Vedic knowledge can indeed assist us in many ways. Vedic education is the solution to all problems which we find in this world. Character-building by proper development of the moral feeling is the aim of Vedic education. Therefore, the aim of education, whether literary or professional, should be to make the student fit to become a useful member of society. Education ought to develop man's ideal nature by giving him a sure moral feeling and enabling him to control his original animal nature. The aims and ideals of Vedic education were to promote simultaneous and harmonious development. Vedic education not only emphasised social duties but also promoted social happiness.

(The author is Chief Finance Officer, NIELIT. Views are strictly personal.)
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