IN ancient times, teachers performed the roles of companion, guide, philosopher, ideologue, mentor and facilitator. They performed their duties through dedication, compassion, humility, love and affection. They helped sharpen physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual faculties of the learners to enable them to productively engage with the emerging world order. The guru-shishya relationship revolved around high ideals, morality, mutual trust, responsibility and accountability towards each other. Thus, the guru used to be the most venerated person for the shishyas and society as well. The history of education is replete with several examples of the guru-shishya relationship to cherish and emulate — Vasishtha-Rama, Sandipani-Krishna, Arjuna-Dronacharya, Govinda Bhagavatpada-Adi Shankaracharya, Chanakya-Chandra Gupta Maurya, Ramkrishna Paramhans-Swami Vivekananda, Socrates-Plato, Plato-Aristotle and Aristotle-Alexander. Such great teachers and their disciples influenced philosophies, ideologies and perspectives to observe and change the world since time immemorial. Aristotle said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them.”
True teachers are the beacons of light that lead learners to success, glory and a contented life. They involve the learners in the knowledge-gaining process. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
There is serious concern across the country over the quality of higher education necessary for ensuring greater social and economic development and enrichment of the civilisational discourse. It is recognised the world over that one of the contributing factors in this context is the student-teacher relationship. The McKinsey Global Institute says that out of the 56 skills identified for learners to become successful in the emerging world, 14 are focused on interpersonal relationships and grouped under ‘fostering inclusiveness’, ‘collaboration’, ‘empathy’ and inspiring trust’. A positive relationship between a student and a teacher creates a conducive environment for wholesome learning and helps build trust for each other to bank upon in trying times. Studies have shown that those teachers who develop a good rapport with students ensure better student engagement in learning. Contrarily, a strained student-teacher relationship contributes to learning loss, adversely impacts mental well-being and hampers social, emotional and spiritual development of learners.
The learning-teaching process is a multi-domain construct which includes social, inter-personal, emotional, leadership, cognitive and psychological aspects. It is true that the behaviour of the teacher modifies the behaviour of students and vice-versa. Thus, individual behaviour is not the only determinant of the student-teacher relationship but also the interplay of behavioural traits of both.
As an inquirer, a student often has to be on the same page and in a symbiotic and synergistic relationship with the teacher. This association can be nurtured by dedication and commitment. Coincidently, today with the easy retrieval of information from the public domain, students do not solely depend on teachers for information. Thus, the student-teacher relationship is becoming tenuous. Therefore, teachers need to be fully learner-centric than merely focusing on lecturing. They should understand the learning needs of students and mentor them accordingly. In this scenario, moving beyond classroom interaction between the teacher and the taught is needed to understand each other and develop a constructive bond. Teachers need to appreciate that today’s learners are under tremendous stress to secure a safe future as they have to survive in a highly uncertain and volatile world. Therefore, students’ convenience of learning should be their priority. Educators and higher education institutions need to work on a strategy to strengthen a continuous dialogue between the teachers and students.
Unfortunately, the prevailing student-teacher relationship is less based on discussion, debate, disputation and acceptance and more on denial. The relationship essentially has to be inclusive in all aspects and its meeting point has to be equidistant from the viewpoints of both. Obviously, the onus of arriving at a consensus is greater on the teachers.
The modern construct that education is a commodity, the teacher a service provider and the parents are clients is the root cause of the deteriorating student-teacher relationship. Resultantly, the respect for teachers, which was integral to the ancient education system, is on the decline. In the current learning ecosystem, teachers for whom teaching is a vocation are outnumbered by those for whom it is an occupation. This is evident from the indifferent, impersonal and non-professional approach of some teachers towards the learners. In order to arrest this trend, people should enter the teaching profession by choice and not by default. Those who have faith in the guru-shishya parampara and are ready to implement its essential traits in letter and spirit should embrace this profession. Even if someone has landed in it by default, s/he should accept it wholeheartedly and strive hard to perform accordingly. Teachers need to appreciate that teaching is not all about disseminating information generation after generation. It is, in fact, about developing an honest academic, social, emotional and empathetic relationship with the students. We need to customise our ancient guru-shishya parampara to address the strained student-teacher relationship. Michel Foucault said: “I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.”
Let our teachers make windows from which the fragrance of fresh ideas will enter and nourish the minds of our budding scholars.
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