Education has been known to mankind since times immemorial. The word education is defined as ‘the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university’ as also ‘an enlightening experience’. Are the two meanings given afore contradictory? There are many purposes of education. During Vedic times, education was used to transmit Vedic knowledge, knowledge of the shastras, puranas, medicine, astrology, mathematics, all done progressively. There was not one university or an academic body certifying education, nor syllabus. It was done in an open set-ting, a democratic manner, in which centres functioned, either as gurukuls or schools of teaching. Many gurus were sought after, by those who were keen in learning as per their wants, needs, and more. Gurus were recognised through word of mouth, reputation built up through practical results achieved, like many rishis of yore. Education and knowledge were given high importance by those who lived by the tenet of the Vedas, and who wanted to pass on their knowledge, values and learnings to others. Experts in martial arts and shastra vidya taught the princes of royal families, soldiers, and their commanders.
Then came gurus like Shushruta, Varaahamihira, Dronacharya, Bhaskara, Naaraayana Bhattadri, all scholars in various fields, who practised and taught their trades to eager students, who went on to consolidate the now – well – known practices of surgery, astronomy, weaponry, mathematics, priesthood, and so on. From the gurukuls have evolved the learning centres like the Takshashila university, and, later, mammoth universities where education is de-livered in various ways, mass customised, to a lesser or a greater extent.
Education encompasses many things now, as opposed to the simpler interpretation of ‘creating, generating and transmitting’ knowledge and information. Over the years, education has come to occupy a position of primacy, and a status of authority of genuineness and authenticity, suitable for practicing trades, crafts, occupations in society. So, we have various ‘degrees’, ‘certificates’, ‘attestations’, which are issued by many institutions, schools, colleges, tuition classes and individuals. From a function of carrying the traditions, taking forward knowledge and building on foundations already laid, modern education is largely looked upon as a tool for employment. In any field, a degree or a certificate is looked upon as an instrument of ‘guarantee’, an authority of ‘stamp’, a ‘declaration of ability’ in a certain field.
Modern educational institutions have evolved a format for backing up the credibility and authenticity, of the use-fulness of the education, which largely consists of class-room teaching, field work, self-learning, assisted learning, and, the latest, online learning. Two major concerns of modernday education need to be addressed up-front.
“The increasing debate about the role of a teacher in a classroom, and, by relation, the role of a classroom, especially in higher education is a subject of much debate and discussions in many symposia, seminars, conferences and academic forums”
The increasing debate about the role of a teacher in a classroom, and, by relation, the role of a classroom, especially in higher education is a subject of much debate and discussions in many symposia, seminars, conferences and academic forums. Why is this question being raised now, when, across civilisations, a teacher has always been held in high esteem, and, held beyond the reach of ordinary debates? Almost, like, a teacher is a representative of God, sent to the earth to educate the masses, and, thereby, enable civilisation to carry on. Especially in India, in the past, and to a large extent, to this day, reverence to teachers is a fait accompli, a de rigueur, a ground zero to be established for the learning process to go on smoothly.
The kathopan is had has a shloka in its shanti path: ? ?? ?????? ??? ?? ??????? ??? ?????? ??????? ???????? ??????????? ?? ??????????? ?? ??????? ??????? ??????? ?Which basically calls for a joint effort between the teacher and the taught, to collaborate for a fruitful educational experience. It urges the student to show reverence to the teacher, while the teacher is asked to keep the interest of students foremost while teaching. Mind you, in those days, customer first was not known. So, from the humble gurukul, where a chosen few were taught the three R’s, in a rural setting, we have come to the current, where teachers are becoming more and more acutely aware of the situational differences, between the past and the present. The primary driving force for this is the increasing industrialised way of life, where human civilisation is constantly at war with the natural elements for attaining continuous and ever expanding ‘growth’. The dominance of employment, money, material wellbeing and commerce in day to day life in society has changed the dynamics of education. Increasingly, business is driving the outputs from educational systems. And since business is often perceived to be under VUCA, educational systems are feeling the pressure. And teachers, who are at the forefront, are put to enormous strains, to meet the constantly and continuously differing demands from the communities they serve.
Another significant development which calls into question the legitimacy of classroom teaching by teachers is the increasing use of in-house online training by corporates. For example, companies like TCS, Wipro, Infosys and others have developed a very large body of knowledge for online training for company employees, urging them to ‘learn at leisure, learn at their convenience’, without any inputs from teachers. Many years back, many companies would invite external or internally trained faculty for doing the same work, but fewer are doing so now.
Second, the newly risen Frankenstein, the online learning syndrome. This is one development which is going to turn education into a mass market masala. Relentless pressures on students to ‘qualify’ themselves with degrees and certificates, has led to the newly emerging ‘online teachers’ community. This community has not been trained, it is developing on its own, through trial and error. Some argue that online teaching is just an extension of classroom teaching with some modifications. Some are well aware that major changes need to be addressed, and new de-signs evolved, to make the online teaching transformation a meaningful substitute for the existing classroom-based teaching.
Already, in India, classrooms are crowded, and the student – teacher ratios are quite unfavourable. For example, according to the DISE report of 2010, the students teacher ratio in schools was about 34:1. This number has been improving over the years starting with 47 in 1995 to 40 in 2000 and 34 in 2008. In 2017, the ratio has remained the same in primary education. In secondary and tertiary education, the ratios are: 27 and 24 respectively (source: Statista, 2020. https://www.statista.com/sta-tistics/603889/pupil-teacher-ratio-in-india-by-school-type/). The same ratio in US colleges is around 13 to 14 in 2019. (source: https://www.univstats.com/corestats/student-fac-ulty-ratio/). With such unfavourable ratios, untrained teachers and administrators who are trying to evolve a new educational system by ‘seat of pants’ methods, a bewildered student community which is unsure of what to do, and an equally ‘Alice in Wonder-land’ community of employers, who are more and more driven to use the Aladdin’s Lamp to identify suitable candidates to man positions of responsibility, the online educational system is in the throes of nucleation and birth. How to go about this systematically?
To begin with, the issues to be addressed include, transmission and delivery of knowledge, which does not seem to be an insurmountable problem. However, the issues of holding tests, exams, evaluation, issue of certificates are all fraught with huge gaps in design and implementation. Presently, there is no mechanism available with any school or college to deal with these problems, and governments and academics need to get together to define the new rules of engagement for the new world order. In view of the primacy of education to the entire global community, sooner solutions are found, the better. There are some schools and colleges which have already developed some amount of knowledge and practices to suit the environments in which they operate, a more comprehensive effort is called for.