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Saturday, March 09, 2013

A teacher who shares my world view

Ms. Devi Kar, senior teacher, ex principal and currently director of Modern High School Calcutta, winner of various awards and advisor to several high level organizations, is one of the few contemporary educationists with a public profile whom I respect. She recently wrote this essay in The Telegraph about the gross and sad and continuous decline in educational standards in this country (which sits very uneasily with the loud public tom-tomming of the idea of how wonderfully and rapidly we are ‘developing our human resources’). For those who have read all my earlier posts on education (look at that label in the right hand side-bar) and the post titled The crying need for quality’, it will be apparent that I might have written this article myself. Do let me know what you feel about it, especially if you are an ex student of mine, or a parent of a teenager, or simply someone who is keenly interested in which way education is going in this country.

Some of you might also be able to relate this article with the contents of this essay whose link Krishanu Sadhu sent me only a few minutes ago.


Sayan Datta said...

Thank you Sir for both articles. I have cut out that Devi Kar article from the newspaper. When we shift in the beginning of 2014, I shall probably get a bigger room to conduct my classes. I am thinking of getting one of those 'notice boards' so that I can pin the article to the board in the room where I will teach and get as many students and guardians to read it as possible, while continuing to try to mold myself continuously to the ideas presented in the article (which you too have harped on time and again) both as a teacher as well as a student. Thanks once again.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You will find it tough going, Sayan, I promise you that. Since the whole of our middle class, parents, children and most teachers alike, have now decided that education is basically a 'bad thing', so the less of it the better, and it's certainly not meant for anything other than getting a job somehow, only a certain class of instructors in certain subjects are going to flourish - those who have made a name peddling quick fix 'notes' and tips and shortcuts for getting through examinations - while all real education is going to fade away; unless there is some kind of change that can only be called 'revolutionary'. It's so tied up with the most fundamental philosophical questions, you see: what is life meant for? for instance, and 'why should anyone learn anything that doesn't immediately fetch some money? Right now, most people are not even prepared to understand those questions, leave alone ponder over how to answer them. Life means shopping; what else is there to aim for? So I, for one, being at the fag end of my career, have determined to deal only with very young children in the last few years of my working life; the rest of my time can be more 'gainfully' employed speculating on the real estate or stock markets.

Sayan Datta said...

Sir, you have said all that said all that needs to be said on this topic in your essay 'The crying need for quality'. I don't think anybody could have written it that way, with so much depth, clarity and foresight. The title is so apt too - carries the essence of the entire post.

Tough it is going to be - that's a given. This teaching job is becoming more of a personal journey for me with every passing year, the more I reflect and the broader my horizons become. So, I gather, there are certain things I need to do if only to sleep a bit easier, to give my work a little more meaning and to stop that suffocating feeling from enveloping and covering me from head to toe.

That said, I can also see how my financial responsibilities are increasing with every passing year and my family becoming more and more dependent on me monetarily. That is why I stopped just short of taking that risk...

It's a dilemma I would have been overwhelmed with only a year ago, but not anymore. I have to and will work out a way, maybe some sort of a middle ground. I will give myself some time, a year at least to two at the most, in which time I will reflect more, hopefully grow more and garner the ability to be more balanced overall. I can see a few results already. The mists are beginning to rise, though very slowly, and land seems to be nearer than before.

The idea of balance is gaining special importance in my mind with every passing day. I daresay, in very many situations, including this one, it's very easy to fall over on one side or the other, or to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Reminds me of that drunk on the horseback thing. Only I won't. I have very firm tethers in you, your blog and your writings.

Sayan Datta said...

Just one more thing, Sir. I understand very well about your decision to work with kids later on, while employing the rest of your time on real estate and stock markets. I am going to take a leaf out of your book and start teaching ninth and tenth standard students from next year on hopefully, and maybe progressively graduate towards teaching even lower classes later on. From what I understand, one hasn't really become a teacher if one hasn't dealt with kids. Reminds me of that thing about loving both Jack and Latin.

Asima said...

Dear Sir, I enjoyed reading both your and Ms Kar’s article. I cannot agree more with the view that education in schools nowadays is merely aimed at obtaining higher grades and not enjoying the journey of discovering new things every day. I am myself a product of such a system and am ashamed to say that while I definitely enjoyed gathering knowledge on certain topics, I sailed through a majority of subjects by just cramming before the exams in many cases. Later in life we come to realize as you have rightly said, good grades might land you a great job but how you perform in real life is solely determined by the quality you deliver.
As Sayan has mentioned, teaching is also a journey in self-discovery. Although I am not a teacher by profession, I consider myself as one from the day I became a mother. While going through the process of learning the alphabet and then broadening the horizon of learning in small steps one more time, I think constantly on how to help my son help himself. Those of us going through similar experience will agree that it is not an easy process. It is very easy to fall prey to the temptation of showing a six year old how to cram a few things and get good grades. Often times it is a very thin thread between having high expectations from your child to help him aim towards excellence or just to be the best in his class. It takes a lot of patience and a firm belief in the fact that in the end one’s worth is determined by the value he or she can add to the society. As parents we need to keep in mind that good grades in fact exceptional grades will come only by setting higher standards in quality and anything else will be superfluous and useless in real life.

Abhishek Anand said...

Respected Sir,

All the three links state very true facts.

Ms. Kar's essay presents the perfect slope down which are educational standards are speeding. We are probably doing everything possible to ensure that 'pressure' is reduced, but scarcely any attention is being paid for elevating the standards of education. Sadly, many teachers I know hold opinions different from that of Ms. Kar's. Though they do speak about the decline in educational standards, they pretty often use these phrases-"In a populated country like India...", "Whatever you say, you ultimately want to get a good job to..." and "Getting good marks is what actually matters as..."-and the emphasis shifts from the topic. Far too many of them are interested in helping us build ‘successful careers’. Many parents echo similar opinions. This is becoming a serious problem (serious as we are hardly concerned to do anything about it). Sir, I also believe that we need to change our education system in a manner so as to include many other important topics (like more discussions, more practical work and including subjects like sports). Many in Durgapur believe that in a populated country like India that is not possible.

We indeed need more quality than quantity. Your blog post rightly explains how lack of quality can spoil the image of a country. To improve, we must start from the basics-to be able to speak and right a language properly certainly top that list. I now understand that we are laying too much emphasis on things which are not most important. We need to change ourselves.

Before I comment on 'Is technology making us less human?’ I would like to quote Groucho Marx, an American comedian and television and film star "I find television very educating. Every time someone turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book". This clearly indicates how books are more useful as while reading them, we think and think more. The author of the essay is absolutely right. We are not using technology in a very good manner. It is much more useful when used as a dictionary rather than when used as a textbook. The author rightly disagrees with Ray Kurzweil's opinion. Technology is good as a servant, but harmful as a best friend. We could progress because we used our brains in the past, and any progress in future will happen only if we continue to do so, not if technology does that for us. To quote the great Einstein, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand