As we celebrate Teacher&’s Day and remember late President Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, one of India&’s greatest teachers, rakesh kumar goes back in time to look at what makes this eternal teacher-student relationship so special

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” ~
Albert Einstein

“What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello
“A parent gives life, but as parent, gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” ~ Henry Adams,


“Guru Govind dou khade, kaake laagoon paye… Balihari guru aapki, Govind diyo milaye” (I face both God and my guru. Who should I bow to first? I first bow to my guru because he’s the one who showed me the path to God.) This immensely popular couplet by poet-saint Kabir, written  way back in the 14th century, describes the importance given to a guru or teacher in India. Since ancient times, the relationship between teachers and students has been venerated. One could trace this down history, be it in Gurukul, Madarsa or the modern schools. This relationship has always been there. In every era, while there&’s a feeling of trust, respect and devotion, teachers have been known to influence their students by shaping their rational and moral values and hence, play an important role in moulding society as a whole. However, over time, this relationship has transformed along with a constant revamp in our education system.

Guru forever
If we can turn back time into the ancient education system of India, the guru, or teacher, enjoyed a position even above god. In the social hierarchy too, the guru is deemed superior to kings, who used to rise from their thrones to receive teachers. Our scriptures too mention such gurus as Narada, Vashishtha and Vishwamitra, who were revered by the kings. Even in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, this guru-shishya relation has been portrayed as a dominating factor. For instance, in the Ramayana, Rama obeys his guru throughout his education while in the Mahabharata, the relationship between Arjun and Droncharya is one of the most celebrated. Among other guru-shishya examples is the Dronacharya and Eklavya episode, where Eklavya chops off his right thumb as guru dakshina, or fee, to Dronacharya. Another quintessential example of student-teacher relationship is that of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya.

Spiritual education has been part of learning in India down the ages. In ancient India, during the Vedic period, from about 1500 BC to 600 BC, most education was based on the Veda (hymns, formulas, and incantations, recited or chanted by priests of a pre-Hindu tradition) and later Hindu texts and scriptures. Gurukul system was the traditional Hindu residential schools of learning, typically the teacher’s house or a monastery. The education was free then but students from well-to-do families paid “gurudakshina”, a voluntary contribution after the completion of their studies. At the Gurukuls, the guru would impart knowledge of religion, scriptures, philosophy, literature, warfare, statecraft, medicine, astrology and history. As per the tradition, the students used to stay at the guru&’s home and lead a life of saints during their formative age. The pupil would help in all the activities at the guru&’s home. During that time, the guru would behave as a parent to the students and the student behaved as a member of the teacher&’s family. “This was what created a strong tie between the teacher and the student, but also taught the student everything about running a house. This tends them to gain so much respect for the teachers,” explained Pradip Kant Chaudhary, a Delhi University professor. Another professor of Delhi University Dr Anirudh Deshpande argued, “If you are living with teachers for so many years and you are getting free education then respect is ultimately bound to develop.”

 Medieval age
Down the years, during the medieval period, from about the 10th century AD to the middle of the 18th century,  before the British rule. The Muslim education became part of Indian education system. The main objective of their education system was to develop a love for Muslim culture and religion. But at that time also, there was an intimate relationship between the teacher and the pupil, although the practice of living with the teacher was not as common with the Muslim as it was in the case of Brahmanic and Budhist periods. Primary education was imparted in Maktabs and secondary and high education in Madrasas.
 “That was time when education was confined to a very small section of Indian society. That was the royal or well to do family,” said Pradip Kant Chaudhary of Deshbandhu college. The students learnt some portions of Quran by heart as this was considered essential to perform religious functions. 
On the other hand, during this medieval period, the Hindu education system fared badly.  With the advent of Muslim rule, the Hindu education depended upon rich people, scholars and village communities. However, where there were no Muslim rulers, it received state support.
At that time, elementary education was imparted in pathshalas, which existed both in villages and towns. Usually pathshalas were held in the verandah of some house or under trees. There were also separate houses for pathshalas or premises of the temples were also used. The teacher wrote on palm leaves and the students traced over them with red pen and charcoal ink. “In absence of any written material, for priestly schools in India, the only method of transferring knowledge to succeeding generations was in the form of hymns. Therefore, it was restricted only to those who possessed brilliant feats of memory and capability to keep its extreme sanctity,” informed Prof. Rizwan Quiser from Jamia.

Rise of schools
With the arrival of British, the education system of India witnessed a drastic change. The ancient tradition of conglomerating at educational places ceased to exist in its original form and was replaced by more modern practices of schools, colleges and universities. From an open area, the teaching system was confined to classrooms.  The close relationship between the teacher and the student too underwent a little change.
 During the British rule in India, Christian missionaries from England, US and other European countries established missionary and boarding schools throughout the country. The initial objective was to propagate their religion on the sidelines of providing education. Later, as these schools gained in popularity, more schools were started and the network spread. This formed the foundation of modern schooling and the syllabus and calendar they followed became the benchmark for schools in modern India. This schooling system continued even after the British left the country and several non-missionary schools came up. There was a slight change in the relationship between the teachers and students during the British era. There was a slight distance between the teacher, usually a Christian nun or priest, most of them Europeans, and the local students. “At that time students even started questioning their teachers. However, the respect paid to teachers is still the same. Even in this modern era, teachers continue to share a close emotional attachment with their students,” informed Chaudhary of Delhi University.

Colonised education
Even after Independence, India follows the British education system. There are various boards of schools in India included, namely Central Board for Education (CBSE), State Boards, Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) and Madrasa Boards of various states. The syllabus includes a wide range of subjects, including languages, science, humanities, economics and, one of the latest entrant, computer sciences. “You can’t blame the British as having brought only harm to our country&’s age-old tradition. They have at the same time done well to our system too. They brought railways and gave a good education system to our country,” said   Prof. Quiser of Jamia.

Changing value
With changing times, the relationship between students and teachers has also come under the scanner. Showing disrespect to teachers or misbehaving with them has become common in today&’s society. Unlike earlier, these days parents are always stand with their kids. Therefore, one could list out several instances about confronting the teachers. “We respect our teachers from the heart as they play a vital role of moulding our career. But it doesn’t mean that we should start treating them like god,” said Bhavana Pareva, a final year student, from Delhi College of Art and Commerce.
Not only this, today&’s teaching profession is driven by selfish motives and profit. These days, teachers, especially in government schools, have been known for their absenteeism and lackadaisical attitude towards teaching. Moreover, there are several reports of how school teachers exploit students, going so far as sexually abusing them. As more and more news of this kind surrounding teachers and students come to the fore, one must agree that education has nothing to do with moral values and for sure the definition of the teacher-student relationship is changing and deteriorating.

Vanishing trust

While earlier the student-teacher relationship was based on trust, these days this seems to be missing somewhere. Unlike the past, now students don’t accept things at face value and have begun questioning. “I think the students should have the right to question the teacher&’s education. Unless they question how will they break the traditional teaching pattern,” said Chaudhary. Another professor Satish Deshpandey from Delhi University said, “We should not romanticise the ancient education system because that was a different time from today. We should change according to time.” Pooja Mehra, a student of M.Phil from Ambedkar University, blamed technology for the distrust on the teachers. “These days students rely more on technology than teachers. They crosscheck every thing on the Internet.”