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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Recognizing Teachers As Nation Builders

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Recognizing teachers as nation builders

September 5 is observed as Teachers’ Day in honour of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975),
the second President of India, who was born on that day. But how did it get instituted? Dr.
Radhakrishnan’s 75th birthday on September 5, 1962 came within weeks of his being elevated to the
President’s post. He was flooded with felicitations from home and abroad, a testimony to his wide
reputation as professor and exponent of Indian philosophy. Those who wished him included
international figures like Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Daisetz T. Sukuzi, Horace Alexander, Arnold J.
Toynbee, Kingsley Martin, and Charles A. Moore etc. At home, politicians cutting across party lines
hailed his contribution to education and Indic scholarship. “But above all, he is a great teacher, from
whom all of us have learnt much, and will continue to learn”, stated Prime Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru in his message.

But Dr. Radhakrishnan wished that his 75th birthday should not be celebrated as such. It is should
the observed as Teachers’ Day in honour of the noble profession he had been attached with
throughout his career. The Teachers’ Day was instituted thus in 1962. The convention of collecting
funds for teachers in need started that very year. But due to the Indo-Chinese War erupting on
October 20, 1962 the money collected during 1962 and 1963 were put in defence bonds.

Every year the President of India gives away National Awards to teachers on September 5. It is
awarded to outstanding teachers of primary, middle and higher secondary schools in recognition to
their meritorious services. Not only is the academic efficiency recognized, but genuine
interest/affection towards children, reputation in local community and involvement in social life of
the community also considered.

These awards are being given annually since 1959, even before the Teachers’ Day came into
existence. In 1968, the scope of the awards was extended to the teachers of Sanskrit Pathshalas run
on traditional lines. In 1976, the scope was further enlarged to include Arabic/Persian teachers of
Madrasas. Further reforms in 1993 led to the inclusion of teachers from Sainik Schools, Navodaya
Schools and schools run by the Atomic Energy Education Society. Maximum numbers of awards
could go up to 350 during a year. The awardees are selected through three tier system of district
committee, state committee, and union government.

India has a long tradition of venerating the teachers. In the Vedic times, the students were taught at
teacher’s home, serving him in their free time. It was called Gurukul system, which was in principle
free of cost, except the student would pay a Gurudakshina (a symbolic fee in cash, kind or vow). The
emphasis was on moulding their character as much as honing their intellectual faculty. A student in
ancient India was identified by the lineage of his teacher. This gave rise to the concept of Guru-
Shishya Parampara i.e. mentor-disciple relationship. In later centuries the teacher would reside in
student’s home – like Dronacharya staying with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata.

The subsequent centuries saw the rise of residential universities, which were apparently copied from
Buddhist monasteries. It meant teachers and students met on neutral ground. The Taxilla University
in northwestern India (in present day Pakistan) was world’s first university. India had several
universities like Taxilla, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Odantapuri, Vallabhi, Pushpagiri etc. But their
destruction in the medieval era by foreign invaders left a great void in education.

Teachers again came to the fore with introduction of modern education in India in early nineteenth
century. The Hindu College (estd.1817), now Presidency University in Kolkata, was the first
institution of higher learning in the modern sense of the term. This institution played a major role in
the creating a modern national discourse. The youthful teacher who inspired it was Henry Louis
Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), an Anglo-Indian who lived merely for 23 years. He captured the
imagination of his pupils by inculcating rationalism and humanism of contemporaneous Europe in

He also wrote the first known patriotic poem of India viz. My Native Land –“My country in thy days
of glory past/A beauteous halo circled round thy brow/And worshipped as a deity thou wast/Where
is thy glory, where the reverence now”. Derozio was hounded out of Hindu College, by irate parents
of his pupils, who accused him of corrupting the morale of his followers. He passed away
prematurely shortly afterwards. But his pupil-disciples who were called Derozians or Young Bengal
grew up into leading lights of the society. They included likes of Radhanath Sikdar (1813-1870) who
trigonometrically calculated the height of Mt.Everest, orator Ram Gopal Ghose and writer Peary
Chand Mitra.

In western India it was Bal Shastri Jambehkar (1812-1845) who was pioneer teacher to a generation
of public personae. A teacher of mathematics at newly established Elphistone Institution (now
Elphinstone College) in Bombay his students included Dadabhai Naoroji, V.N. Mandlik, Sorabji
Shapurji, Dr. Bhau Daji. They were the pioneers of public life in erstwhile Bombay Presidency.
Jambhekar, along with Rugoonath Hurrychanderjee and Junardhan Wassoodewjee, brought out
English-Marathi bi-lingual newspaper Bombay Durpan (Bombay Mirror) in January, 1832.

Poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and political leader Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1945)
donned to role of educationists. Tagore through his Visva Bharati University and Malaviya through
his Banaras Hindu University represented two different approaches to national education. They
stand out as iconic teachers.

With increasing commercialization and professionalization of education, value system is under
threat. If education is seen as commodity, then role of teacher is reduced to mere service provider.
The rise of distance education and online education has made teacher content provider. But
professional and commercial achievements alone cannot be benchmark of success in life. Nor can
these alone lead to a happy society. Idealism and sensibilities have profound role to pay. Teachers
are best placed to instill and inspire those virtues. Every one of us owes something good to our
teachers. It is often the noblest part of us.

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