Friday, 27 June 2014

Encounters with Education - 1. Teachers Turn Tutors

In the June 26, 2014 episode of the TV serial Mahabharat (Star TV), Acharya Drona rues that his character flaw of courting the Court (royal students for self; a kingdom for his son) disqualifies him from being addressed as “Guru”; he is a mere “shikshak” – someone who taught students skills. A Guru goes beyond imparting “shiksha”; the Guru is a mentor and a moral ideal.

Gurus are revered by Hindus, worthy of the same respect as the Holy Tridev – Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. Gurus hold special significance in India – Kabir’s words “Guru Govind dono khade, kaake laagu paanv? Balihari Guru aapke, Govind diyo dikhay” can be interpret in two way: when in presence of Guru and Govind (God), touch the feet of a Guru because (a) Guru shows the path to Govind, or (b) Govind signals the devotee to first touch the feet of the Guru.

Guru is now an commonly-used English word; a guru counsels, advises or mentors, or is a leader in a particular field. Two related words are Teacher (one who teaches or instructs, especially as a profession) and Tutor (a teacher without institutional connection who assists students in preparing for examinations). 

What we have in educational institutions today in India are very few, if any, Gurus. I would say we have very few teachers as well; the majority of the ‘teaching staff’ are tutors. Pressure from Management, parents, students, and peers (and perhaps her own limitations) has created a new measure for success as a teacher: the marks/grades her students score in the final examinations. Being a guru is a luxury that she simply cannot afford.

Some people have embraced a dual role openly, interacting with the same students during and after school hours as teacher and tutor, respectively. What differentiates the interaction is the prescribed administrative work in school as a ‘teacher’. 

Rare is the child these days who does not head to tuition classes before and/or after school. In my city, the +2 stage ("Junior College") is more an intense coaching class than a "regular" college. Clearly, most parents believe that 'teachers' are simply not enough for a child to learn the subject - a teacher may talk deep and wide about a topic, but it is the tutor who will distill the essential essence for acing the exam!

And as teachers become tutors, students become more effective in scoring marks by providing ‘model answers’ to ‘important questions’ that are practiced scores of times as classwork, tuition-classwork, and homework, and less capable of reading, comprehending, parsing, and expressing any subject matter without the guiding hand of the ever-present and obliging tutor.

In the next few blogs, I will share my experiences with teachers/tutors as a parent and as an instructor.