Teachers are revered by all communities, nations and civilizations. In India, 5th September is celebrated as Teacher’s Day.
The celebration is to honor the birthday of India’s second president Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a teacher par excellence. It is doubtful though, that Dr Radhakrishnan could have imagined what teachers many decades after him would be like, or how the whole play-field would have transformed.
The ‘Future’ in Alvin Toffler’s Futureshock is not some comfortable light years away. It has arrived and is staring us disconcertingly in the face. The ‘shock’ has come to the party too- along with its first cousin Information Overload, Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the gang. Talk about a full house!
A few days ago, I got an email quoting the principal of a well-known college on what the principal thought would be role of teachers in today’s ‘futureshocked’ world. His words triggered my imagination.
A classroom can no longer be limited by its traditional definition of a room devoted to learning/ teaching. A classroom happens whenever and wherever a learner is in the mood to learn. A crowded local train, a corporate office in the break between tasks, a solitary walk in the pre-dawn hush… can all turn into a classroom at a moment’s notice. Learning can happen anywhere. With more resources and information at our finger-tips (literally) than any other time in human history, the word classroom has been compelled to expand its boundaries and take on new dimensions.
Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.
Human knowledge has not only grown exponentially, it is no longer owned exclusively by a select few. Some of the knowledge has also become a function of perspectives putting an entirely new spin on things known before. Viewed through a new perspective, even old knowledge is transformed and appears new. With as many perspectives as there are people, is it any wonder that knowledge- even in a single discipline- is no longer a single channel fed by the exuberant intellect of a closed group? Knowledge has become a web of many interconnected channels overlapping multiple disciplines simultaneously. Complexity is the rule, not the exception.
The complexity is fed by the quantity, not only quality, of data. It is further multiplied by an unprecedented number of application areas as human creativity finally breaks out of the box. Who could ever have imagined that transparent glass can be anything more than a partition or table’s top? Ten years ago could we have imagined that a glass tablet will respond to touch and make magic happen?
Everything is tied to everything else. Today when you pick up one end of the stick, you don’t pick up the other. You pick up an entire system of branches emanating from the end you thought was linear. To say this creates confusion would be an understatement.
In yesterday’s world teachers did not only impart knowledge; they were frequently the experts- many times one of the select few available. In today’s world, knowledge is freely available. The availability of experts is not controlled by the physical distances. Knowledge, information and insights are shared freely as they were never before. All this adds to the already unmanageable knowledgebase creating an information overload.
Today’s learner feels swamped and overwhelmed. Navigating this complex web can be, and IS, daunting. Getting sucked into trivia is very easy. You may begin your learning/ reading with something very relevant and to the point. You never realize the tiny digresses- an imperceptible degree of separation, a minor shade of difference, a sliver of nuance- which land you in a vortex of information completely off tangent to your original quest. Many bleary eyes and throbbing heads later, you discover that you have spent countless futile hours tramping and skidding along the information highway, getting another dose of Overload.
Whenever I have got overloaded, my head full of images, videos and reams of text, I have prayed for a filter. I have wished there was someone who could select the relevant information for me so that I would be spared the forages into the quicksand of almost alike. I have wished for a guide who would, with judicious and intelligent selection of my learning material, help keep me on track. I have wished there was someone to tame Google. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Google has a ghoulish penchant for spewing trivia at you. One can almost hear it giggling away in glee. When an innocent Futureshock is typed in the search box, it throws out something like About 3,130,000 results (0.28 seconds)..! “Hey..!” I have felt like screaming, “How on earth have you generated over 3,000,000 results for this? It’s just ONE blessed book, dammit..!”
I would dearly love a guide who will weed out the richly bizarre and keep me focused on the strictly mundane. There are times, I’ll have you know, when mundane feels very good. Specially, when you are on a deadline and have the entire company breathing down your neck with a heavy cold in their collective head.
Who can this navigator and guide be but the teacher? Perhaps teachers will be called learning enablers in the classrooms of tomorrow. The learner of tomorrow will not need to be given information, he will need to be steered away and protected from too much of it. The teachers of tomorrow will need to have the dedication of a lifeguard who doesn’t hesitate to thwack you on the head and knock you cold when you panic.
There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.
~ Robert Frost
There is a lot more to teaching than just equipping the learner with skills/ knowledge. The primary job of a teacher is not to be a technical manual wedded to an encyclopedia. Unfortunately, many teachers are just like that. This is how ineffective and downright lousy teachers ruling today’s classrooms are manufactured, aren’t they?
I speak of the ideal teacher.
An effective teacher is one who guides you to the best resources and tools needed to make a beautiful house with the lumber of your life. An ideal teacher can show you that you have the capability to make a temple with it instead.
An ideal teacher can see the seeds of greatness lying dormant under the grubby surface of your persona. He can show you that the size of your potential is far greater than the unconfessed, puny fear they have seen lurking in your eyes. He can lead you gently and lovingly by the hand and show you to your place in the world- a place you never imagined existed. He can lend you their faith and belief in your capability when your own has received one blow after another and is all but dead. He can give you a vision for your life.
The most compelling shift in paradigms happens when one realizes that the word ‘teacher’ too has been redefined. It no longer denotes an individual- with or without spectacles slipping off his/ her nose- ruling a classroom (old definition) with an iron fist supplemented by a wooden scale/ stick. With this shift in paradigm, one experiences exactly the state of overwhelmed confusion at too much change in too short a period that Toffler refers to as futureshock.
Tomorrow’s Teacher can be anyone. It could be your boss, co-worker, classmate, parent or your child. It could be a virtual acquaintance, a nameless man standing on some forgotten street holding up a crudely painted cardboard broadcasting an eye- socking message, a passionate blogger you happened to have read randomly while surfing the net in the wee hours of the morning. It could be a sunrise or a hoary old banyan tree full of innumerable birds returning home in the dusk. Whatever and whoever causes you to understand life better and deeper, pushes you out of your comfort-zone and take a decision to take a new look at your life can be called a teacher.
Two questions have always been a part of my personal inner compass:
1. What is the transformation quotient of a passionate, inner vision in the life of a human being? [How effective is a vision in igniting the fire of transformation in the life of a human being- and thereby in raising the bar for all humanity?]
2. Is the primary duty of a true teacher to give knowledge to his student or to plant a vision in his eyes? [How effective is a teacher who empowers his student by helping him discover the meaning and vision for his life, compared to a teacher who supplies the knowledge and skills his student thinks he needs?]
At some point in the past, these two questions met, merged and melded together in some subterranean crucible of my mind. The answer was as simple and bold as the dreams of a child.
As long as men retain their restless urge to rise above their circumstances- even good circumstances- and reach the pinnacles of greatness, teachers will not become redundant. No matter how tech-enabled the world of tomorrow becomes, teachers will be needed. As long as mankind has the desire to be more than they have been, a teacher will be revered. Tomorrow’s Teachers- like those of yesterday- will continue to ignite minds. These ignited minds will light up tomorrow’s skies so that new flight paths can be charted, new worlds discovered and new frontiers conquered.
Each one of us can choose to be Tomorrow’s Teacher, isn’t that exciting?
Note: A deep debt of gratitude to all my teachers; past, present and future. Thank you teachers! Happy Teacher’s Day to you!