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John Dewey’s words- “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself” seem to find resonance in Mr. Rajarshi Bhattacharya’s speech on the occasion of the National Progressive Schools Conference Valedictory Session on the 23rd February 2013. Mr. Bhattacharya is the Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development.
The first thought is about the critical role of teachers & principals, and their shared responsibility in shaping our nation's future.
How and why is that role critical?
One school teacher during her entire service career has the wonderful opportunity to teach two successive generations.
Two successive generations.
If a teacher starts teaching a student at the age of 26 years, then within the next 30 years she gets the unique opportunity of teaching the next generation of her first student, i.e., two generations of one family.
In addition during that period if she teaches a single class with 35 students each year, then during the course of a 30 year service career the minds of nearly 1000 students, covering two generations would have had the opportunity, through their teachers knowledgeable, sensitive & caring environment, to construct & deconstruct knowledge & to shape its scholastic, co scholastic, intellectual & value framework into an ever expanding horizon,……… a horizon where, in the words of Tagore, —- "the mind is without fear and the head is held high——- where knowledge is free— where words come out from the depth of truth.
One thousand minds.
The aspirations of one thousand families.
In the environment of just one teacher teaching a single class.
Measured in time, these aspirations travel forward to the next 120 years.
That is the magnitude of the responsibility of the teacher, and the Principal, and their shared critical role in shaping the children’s aspirations for the future.
This brings me to my second thought which is about ASPIRATION.
Because, every family aspires for good quality education for the child.
Because, every child in class is a bundle of aspirations, which range from the simplest ones during early childhood, to more evolved ones in later classes.
And teachers have to deal very sensitively with these constantly evolving aspirations.
If every child has an aspiration, so does every teacher.
So then what is the aspiration of both the student and teacher, i.e., what is the aspiration of the School?
Or, further still, since every child, every teacher, and every person in the country has an aspiration, what then is the aspiration of 120 crore Indians?
What is the aspiration of the nation?
The aspiration of the Nation is enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution.
Why have I brought in this thought, & travelled from the child's aspiration to the Nation's aspiration?
Because, aspiration is the starting point of the journey to achievement. Both for the individual as well as for the Nation.
In that journey, the individual has to resonate with the Nation, and the Nation has to resonate with the individual.
That is the framework for encouraging and sustaining this journey of every child, of every family.
Consequently my third thought is about the choice of the pathway for this journey from Aspiration to Achievement.
On this aspect, let us begin at the Nation's level.
At the Nation’s level, from the Constitution, I find that the Nations chosen pathway in this journey has two essential gateways
First is the Cycle of Accountability, and second, is the Conscience.
The cycle of accountability is through the executive answerability to parliament, & parliament answerability to the people through the democratic electoral process. In addition there are various other checks and balances.
If the nation has a cycle of accountability, what is the cycle of accountability of the individual?
In the ideal situation, the individual’s cycle of accountability gets completed through her accountability to her own conscience.
That is the highest form of accountability.
If the individual has a conscience, then what is the conscience of 120 crore individuals in our country? i.e., what is the conscience of the Nation?
The conscience of the Nation is the conscience of the Constitution.
That Conscience is what I refer to as the Second Gateway in the choice of the pathway for the journey from aspiration to achievement.
But what is the Conscience of the Constitution?
To answer that question, we travel to 9th December 1996, i.e., the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the First sitting of the Constituent Assembly.
On that day, the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, in his address, had quoted the historian Granville Austin to state that the Fundamental Rights & Directive Principles, i.e. Parts III &IV, are the Conscience of the Constitution. To that now add Part 1VA i.e. Fundamental Duties.
So, on my third thought, the choice of the Pathway for the journey from Aspiration to Achievement is through the Cycle of Accountability and Conscience.
But why have I spoken about the Nation's pathway in the journey from Aspiration to Achievement?
That is the subject of my fourth thought.
I have spoken about this because, to achieve the aspirations and goals of our Nation, as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution, every child should have the opportunity to imbibe into his or her conscience, the conscience of the Constitution.
And every child should have the environment to construct her own knowledge, her own conscience, her own internal cycle of accountability, through her own system of checks and balances.
The environment and opportunity for that construction is provided by the teacher & principal in school.
Hence the RTE Act & the Common Core component in school curriculum, includes the Constitutional Obligations to nurture national identity, and promote values, in this journey from aspiration to achievement.
Herein lies the critical role of the enabling environment provided to the student by a quality teacher & the school, to enable the child to construct her own pathway for this journey.
My fifth thought then is about Teacher Quality.
The main parameter governing educational progress is teacher quality. Even with the best of infrastructure, a school can become a joyful learning environment only if it has the soft skills of quality teachers—— those who are sensitive to the varied socio-economic backgrounds of the children, their aspirations & specific needs, & who allow & encourage the process of self development and creation of a thinking & constructive mind.
In essence, those who earn the respect and abiding affection of the students.
Countries are concerned about the declining propensity of youth to join the teaching profession, & India is not alone in grappling with this deficit problem. The RTE Act has given a major push for appointment of professionally qualified teachers, & for their improved conditions of service including remuneration. In the last two years over 680 thousand teacher posts have been sanctioned & the concept of Teacher Eligibility Tests introduced to filtrate quality.
In addition, the concern for quality in teacher education institutions, has led to some initiatives & a group of experts is developing a framework for accreditation of the teacher education institutions.
However, the concern & desire for quality is intense. While in- service & continuous professional development programmes are being reformed there is an immense quality expansion required.
Teacher Quality is therefore an all encompassing pre-requisite for a child’s journey from aspiration to achievement.
But the teacher and student both are in the environment of the school.
And the environment in the school is dependent greatly on School Leadership.
Hence my sixth & final thought is about School Leadership.
A predominant factor in the determination of the character of a school is the quality & character of School Leadership.
If one teacher in her career span can set 1000 minds free, one principal has the capacity to influence many times more.
Quality School Leadership is therefore an essential requirement.
However, this has, so far, not been within the core of our strategies.
We recognise the need for quality development in this area, as School Principals need a high degree of managerial skills, commitment to holistic school growth, to empathise with the concerns of teachers & children, & lead by example for solutions.
The National University of Educational Planning & Administration has recently established a National Centre for School Leadership & will shortly launch a Programme in School Leadership for government elementary & secondary schools.
This too is an area which requires huge quality expansion.
I am, therefore, very encouraged to note that the Vision of the National Progressive Schools Conference (NPSC) includes some of these six important elements and I quote two of them:
To respond to ones inner voice through conscious thought and action and awaken the same among children.
To be committed to the responsibility of nurturing a generation with values that respects the other, and have the attributes of ethics, empathy, cooperation and social sensitivity.
That indeed is a glorious vision.
Respected principals and teachers.
Through these six thoughts today, I have tried to visualise the journey of a child.
A journey from aspiration to achievement.
A journey through the chosen pathway of her individually constructed cycle of accountability and conscience.
A journey enabled by the critical role of teachers and principals.
This is the journey towards shaping our nation’s values for a sustainable future.