Addressing life skills deficiency

The raucous and disruptive behaviour of members of Parliament, the invariably rude administrative conduct of bureaucrats, the casual corruption of government servants and the kiss-up, kick-down culture of the Indian middle class are indicators of a grave morality, manners and life skills deficiency in Indian society. For this lamentable condition of the country, the teachers community is perhaps as much to blame as other sections of society.

Should the work of teachers be restricted to routine lectures and classwork? Or is it also our responsibility to develop the moral, social and spiritual character of our students? It’s unfortunate but true, the country’s 7 million-strong teachers community has to also shoulder the blame for breakdown in the value systems and basic manners of the present generation.

One of the great failures of post-independence India’s teaching and academic communities is that our sorority has not been sufficiently involved in formulating syllabuses and curriculums. Right from the start of our nation-building and development programme, the teachers community should have insisted upon the inclusion of subjects and pedagogies which induce thinking and creative expression, and encourage joyful learning rather than rote learning and passing examinations. If we had done so we would have lessened the latent rage that seems to permeate through the young generation.

To build a stable and harmonious society, teach-ers, who directly commu-nicate with students, should have insisted upon curriculums that develop children’s life skills together with study skills and vocational education. In particular it’s strange and shameful that vocational education has been a blindspot of the education system for over half a century and has appeared on the radar screen of our educationists and academics who develop and decree school curriculums, only very recently. It should have been obvious to our education planners that for myriad reasons not everybody can make it into college and university and that vocational education and training would prepare school leavers for employment.

I am of the firm belief that if we can provide balanced student-friendly curriculums, their value systems, life skills and manners — necessary to build harmonious and accommodating societies — will automatically improve. Moreover to nurture youth who will build and develop the harmonious, cultivated and well-mannered India of the 21st century, we need to redefine the purpose of schooling and education. Parents as much as teachers need to understand that the purpose and mission of schools is not only to teach mathematics, science, English, history, geography and other subjects, but to also inculcate positive nation-building values and good manners in children.

Indeed, if we are to transform 21st century India into a stable and tolerant society, teachers, school boards and parents need to work in cooperation with each other. We need to speak the same language and share common goals. It is now abundantly clear that the nation’s moral fabric is permeated with wants rather than needs, and morality has been displaced by love of money. Good manners are considered passé and basic life skills are usually lacking even in highly qualified citizens, indicative of a gradual breakdown of the values system.

Once upon a time the Indian sub-continent was reputed and respected worldwide for the good manners, ethical values, and moral conduct of its inhabitants. Gurus and teachers did not impart mere textual learning but also spiritual knowledge that developed well-balanced human beings.

Teachers above all should never forget that we discharge our duties in the land of the Buddha, Gandhi, Tagore and numerous other great souls who had long ago espoused the cause of holistic education. They were great individuals who were not hesitant to speak the truth and walk down the hard and narrow path. We should never forget their teaching and idealism as we set about preparing the world’s largest child population to assume leadership positions in the 21st century.

As teachers we are privileged to pass on the knowledge of what we have learnt over the years, to our students. We also need to work with parents to make our students aware of the cultural values and traditions of harmonious interaction.

The teachers community needs to unequivocally acknowledge that the social worth and value of our students will be judged not merely by their academic competence, but also by their ethics, manners and morals. Unfortunately over the past several decades in the national obsession with examination results and high percentages, the essential purpose and objectives of education have become obscured. It is as much our responsibility to nurture well-mannered, tolerant and gender sensitive students with well-developed life skills as it is to produce students with excellent maths, English and science capabilities.

So let us begin anew this task and achieve it.

(Ashima Bath is former head of the English department and housemistress at The Lawrence School, Sanawar)