While recommending for blended learning (BL) in Higher Education Institutions in a recently released concept paper, the University Grants Commission (UGC) asked teachers to act as coach and mentor to students. BL has been described by it as a well-planned combination of meaningful activities amalgaming the online and face-to-face mode. The blend demands consideration of several factors, mainly focussing on learning outcomes and the learner-centred instructional environment.
According to UGC, BL shifts the teacher’s role from knowledge provider to coach and mentor and at the same time expects teachers to play an active and important role in students’ education. UGC’s belief in placing technology, a vital component, on the driver’s seat and thereby undermining teachers’ role in the whole process is unfortunately misplaced.
A teacher has been a guide to students for ages. During ancient Vedic times teachers used to transfer knowledge to pupils orally while making sure that it was received well through different personalized ways and means. It is a misplaced notion that technology in any way empowers a teacher, for if anything, it merely assists teaching as an external tool or aid, especially in a private coaching institute kind of setting. It is not justified to compare it with University/College teaching in any respect. UGC’s assertion on shifting a teacher’s role from knowledge provider to coach and mentor is based on a wrong premise when it assumes that BL would help in transferring the knowledge provider’s task from teachers to technology.
In transacting mutually known experiences, technology can only be one of the handy mediums of learning. But when it is employed to convey experiences of one to another who knows nothing similar to it, the conveyance through technology more often than not becomes difficult.
Therefore, it is not incorrect to insist that the teacher and taught should be fully attuned to each other before the teacher’s words can bring about the needed impact on students, and technology nowhere comes to the fore in the process.
Use of technology in teaching may be justified to the extent of developing study material in addition to transmitting it electronically to the students, which certainly may act as an enabler to make the entire process efficient. But it cannot replace a teacher in any respect; a teacher is both an indispensable and critical element to the entire teaching-learning process.
According to the Athenian philosopher Plato, the real nature of education is not about infusing knowledge into the minds of students as all have a faculty that enables them to learn. This faculty needs to be continuously developed to allow the person to contemplate the real world. Plato, through the allegory, observes that the role of teachers is to guide students to change their point of view more often than not from ignorance or confusion to reality. This requires a teacher to play the role of both a knowledge provider and mentor. Technology, according to UGC, appears to be the cynosure of all eyes by making the entire process of learning faster than Plato’s belief that learners obtain knowledge in steps, and the methodology of teaching must follow these steps to guide students.
In case of a student being a slow learner, it is imperative for the teacher ~ and certainly not for technology ~ to empathize and employ his/her teaching skills and experience to enlighten such a student on the path of progress. Technology has a very limited role to play in such circumstances and the teachers alone can correct misdirected perspectives of learners and lead towards the correct path by actuating their own learning abilities.
According to the Confucian school of thought, the role of teachers is to become models or to introduce models whom their students could emulate or follow. It has further emphasized that teachers modify their ideas and conduct whenever these are challenged by the insights of students during the teaching-learning process, continuously leading to self-cultivation. The role of teachers here is to enable students to grow up to become ideal persons. In this process, teachers individualise the teaching methodology to make it understood by each learner.
Confucius argued for gauging strengths and weaknesses of each learner and to suitably amend instructions based on logical analysis. As each student is unique in limitations and merit, the role of a teacher becomes critical to guide the student to reinforce strengths while overcoming weaknesses through critical examination, which no technology can manage, regardless of its degree of advancement.
According to the relational theory proposed by prolific author and scholar Martin Buber, the direct relationship-building and continuous efforts to recover these are vital for effective teaching. Trust is one factor which plays a crucial role in relationship building. The authoritative transmission of knowledge through technology cannot generate trust; learners develop trust in teachers as they live and interact with them. Buber further stressed on the integration of the teaching and counselling functions. Teachers pay heed to the hardships and impediments of students and motivate them to overcome obstacles.
Therefore, it is incumbent on teachers to participate in their students’ lives, which technology cannot deliver. Besides, involvement of teachers helps to empathize with students by seeing things from their perspective.
Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire suggests another teaching-learning scenario, known as the problem-posing educational system, in which teachers and students share educational content and learn collaboratively through a dialogical interaction. In the problem-posing educational system, according to him, it is the teacher who presents the problem, but the teacher and students teach and learn at the same time by critically investigating it together and relating it to their lives in real world situations. In the process, both evolve and challenge each other by sharing fresh perspectives, and reform their opinion and ideas constantly.
Thus, the role of teacher here becomes that of a co-investigator and collaborator with students to satisfy the latter’s curiosity. In the whole process, students are no longer learning machines but become truly human. Teachers give learners every right to disagree with their opinions on the basis of sound rationale. It paves the way for counter argumentative classrooms and promotes dialogical co-investigation leading to healthy democratic teaching. It may be argued here that technology by no means can achieve this.
Rabindranath Tagore also said that teaching and learning should not be a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food that is artificially prepared. Contrary to this popular and well acknowledged belief, making the education system technology driven would be a great disservice to students in one of the most vibrant democratic setups.
Gandhian philosophy on education stressed on co-relation between teaching methods and learning experiences which no intangible static tool such as technology can manage as it lacks human elements of motivation, compassion, and kindness that only a teacher can provide.
The role of education, according to eminent educationist and philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is to build wisdom and humanity in the hearts and minds of learners, in the absence of which all its professional, scientific and technological achievements would be meaningless. As education is nothing short of enlightenment that dispels ignorance and illuminates the individual, only teachers can provide a conducive environment full of enthusiasm, warmth and caring support to students, which no technology has thus far been able to provide.