That educational institutions have become centres of persistent tension is not refutable. Equally undeniable is the marked deterioration in teacher-student relationship which is an ominous sign of a society in decline. In fact, in this age of virtual teachers, coaching centres, private tutors and online learning, the teacher is no longer required as the source of all knowledge. Also, the devaluation of the teacher’s role has brought about a significant erosion of reverence shown by students to teachers. Heckling of teachers, principals and Vice-Chancellors is now fairly common. With teachers more interested in making money, indulging in petty politicking or busy promoting their own careers or raising their demands, the emphasis on teaching has shifted from human resources development to material management.
Students are placated through suggestions and photocopies of notes. These make them happy in contrast to the traditional insistence on homework, practice, library work, regular study and so on. That the advisability of shirking hard work during the learning period does not pay off in the long run becomes evident only when the ill-prepared students move on to the next stage and cut a sorry figure in terms of calibre. Disenchantment with such education and the teachers is only very natural. There was a time when students would become wiser through learning and education was supposed to add value to their lives.
A teacher was considered an embodiment of service and sacrifice as he was committed to the development of his students’ personality and their overall well-being. With the march of time, materialism gripped society and teachers also began to seek their identity in worldly possessions. The concept of trade unionism gave a fillip to this trend and students were largely forgotten in the process. Teachers tended to consider themselves employees, not guardians of their students. All this created a gulf between teachers and the taught. students. In recent times, increasingly witnessing such ghastly crimes as molestation and rape of minor students by teachers, luring of teenagers into sinful relationships, it is small wonder that the students have developed a mistrust and disrespect for teachers.
Inciting students away from classes into active politics, using youngsters as mere numbers in processions, harnessing them to be instrumental in their own interest are also on the increase. Society is now facing the results. The true basis of education, as Sri Aurobindo said, is the study of the human mind. The days of the Gurukul system were last in evidence during the early stage of Visva-Bharati, the dream of Rabindranath Tagore that sought fulfilment amidst the invasion of organized instruction in India by the European system of education.
The latter along with the material overtones overshadowed our traditional ethos of cultivating the mind, the soul and the inner self which helps the process of man’s perfection. In the reckoning of Matthew Arnold and John Stuart Mill, education contributed to the social rather than the economic development of society. But with the rapid pace of industrialization, education became inextricably linked to economic growth. Education became a commodity; the father-son relationship of the teacher and the taught came to naught. Education, as organized today, is essentially a social enterprise.
It has become a formal undertaking in which students have to be admitted, teachers have to be recruited, administrators have to be appointed, grants have to be given and a dozen other tasks to make the enterprise of education profitable have to be carried out. In consequence, the individual initiative gets depreciated and the formal part plays a major role. However, the fact remains that the task of a teacher is not mere communication of facts or the mechanical imparting of knowledge. The aim of education is to help a student grow into a person who can think independently. Here lies the importance of teacher-student relationship.
The teacher is not a prop to which the growing plant clings; he is like a gardener, watering the plant and nurturing it to grow higher. A good teacher is admired by his pupils primarily for stimulating the learning process. The student depends upon his teacher for his academic success even as he depends on his parents for his living. Whereas the student has a growing personality, the teacher has a grown-up personality, and the two come in formal contact with each other. While at the intellectual level they are expected to cooperate, at the level of personality they might clash. It is therefore desirable that the teacher should have an understanding of the pupil’s personality in terms of growth, development and experienced. A natural leader of pupils becomes seasoned, ripe and mellow and over time a friend, philosopher and guide.
Socrates used to bombard his students with questions most of which he himself answered. But the questions served an important purpose. They stimulated the students to think and elicited responses from them. It was an effective way of animating the mind. Unfortunately, a teacher is often impervious to the fact that that a student has a mind of his own. Often intellectual egotism leads him to reject or discourage students’ opinion altogether. A student’s perception can stimulate new lines of thought in the teacher and offer him new insights. To teach is also to learn.
To say that the principal role of a teacher is that of a friend is nothing more than mouthing a cliché, but a cliché is often the best expression of what is commonly felt and its all too familiar shell should not make us throw away its kernel of truth. It explains why one teacher is remembered more than others by generations of students ~ not for brilliant classroom histrionics, but because he had reached the mind through the heart.
(The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata. He is presently associated with Rabindra Bharati University)