Teaching through the struggle to teach | Sunday Observer

Teaching through the struggle to teach

17 October, 2021

“In our more highly organised world we face a new problem. Something called education is given to everybody, usually by the State, but sometimes by the Churches. The teacher has thus become, in the vast majority of cases, a civil servant obliged to carry out the behests of men who have not his learning, who have no experience of dealing with the young, and whose only attitude towards education is that of the propagandist.” – Bertrand Russell

One of the shortcomings of current education systems, especially in mass education theories, is the definition and hence the expectation that the teacher exists only to teach the students facts. Teaching is recognised as a profession that will enhance students’ intellect.

However, the development of human knowledge and awareness will also have to go through the emotional framework where the mentality is vitalised through emotionality. There are born teachers and educators and they neither wish to be nor can be something else.

A teacher must acquire knowledge first and then acquire the ability to communicate that knowledge to others. Since the number of such people who are born with those latent abilities and natural guiding forces to be teachers is small compared to the numbers needed to sustain the mass education systems, the world has resorted to the factories of producing teachers as well.

Teaching is also considered as another profession people can get into after satisfying the minimum standards set by the managers in the industry and the policymakers at different times similar to any other profession such as, engineering, accounting, nursing or plumbing.

Minimum teaching

Teachers should be able to help students understand the fundamentals of thought and action so that the students can see the connection between the facts and principles clearly. They also should be able to counteract the mental inactivity of students by stimulating their thought mechanisms. Due to prevailing economic conditions some people become teachers since they couldn’t find any other employment, let alone the type of work they really would like to engage in as a way of living.

Teachers in most countries find themselves at the bottom of the salary scales due to supply and demand conditions in the labour market and due to the level of priority given to the profession by the policy makers and the society in general.

Many countries are struggling to come out of this cycle of low wages and lack of potential candidates with necessary talents, commitment, and awareness of being a teacher.

Moreover, education itself has become just another aspect of the service industry within the market economy where the decisions heavily depend on the bottom-line and political advantageous. There are enough and more factories in the form of universities, training colleges, and institutes issuing diplomas and degrees that can be used as the paper qualification to get employed as a teacher merely functioning as businesses that add numbers to the labour force of the country.

Those who choose the teaching profession without the necessary abilities and the motivation just because they need a monthly income to survive have proven to be extremely toxic to the development process of the young minds of a nation.

Such teachers, more often than not, are capable of pushing the students away from the subjects they teach even inculcating a general hatred towards the whole education process within the students.

There are politicians in some countries who promise to provide employment for those who support them during election campaigns and then hire thousands of people with minimum of qualifications as teachers for State run education system just to fulfil their promise to the constituents. Such politicians perhaps know that the type of teachers they appointed do not deserve anything more than the minimum wage that is allocated for their less than admirable services.

That probably is why teachers in countries like Sri Lanka have to resort to trade union actions and street protests in order to convince the policy makers that the salaries they are getting is not enough to make ends meet. There may even be some, among these policy makers, who would immediately kneel down and worship when they see their teachers at least to impress the audience with their pretended humbleness.

However, the struggle the current teachers are going through is seen as a trouble and would not hesitate even to label it as a conspiracy against the Government.

Problems of national interest

Since the children of most families in the country, including those of teachers themselves are affected by this struggle, it should not be considered as just a problem of teachers but as a problem of national interest. This may be a good opportunity for children also to learn why their teachers have to struggle like this. Perhaps, parents and other adults in their lives can make this an opportunity to teach them, age appropriately, about the economic, political, and cultural aspects of such struggles.

Teachers themselves could discuss the pros and cons of their struggle and the reasons why they had to resort to such actions that led to not conducting classes. Students should understand that a nation that cannot take good care of its children, teachers and the elderly cannot be considered as a civilised nation.

Teachers, unlike any other class of professionals, are the guardians of civilisation. Students and their parents alike should see that most teachers are over worked and are compelled to prepare their students for examinations rather than give them a mental training stimulating their innate creativities.

When the teachers have to struggle for their daily survival and to feed their own children, they will neither have the time nor the energy to develop their own knowledge in order to serve their students better.

Therefore, the nation should understand that the teachers are not asking for luxuries but the bare minimum to maintain a life without having to struggle so that they can concentrate on the mental and emotional well being of their students.

That perhaps is why Bertrand Russell has also said: “The thing above all, that a teacher should endeavour to produce in his pupil if Democracy is to survive, is the kind of tolerance that springs from an endeavor to understand those who are different from ourselves…those who have never travelled either physically or mentally find it difficult to tolerate the queer ways and outlandish beliefs of other nations and other times, other sects and other political parties.

This kind of ignorant tolerance is the antithesis of a civilised outlook and is one of the gravest dangers to which our over-crowded world is exposed. In all this the teachers are not to blame. They are not free to teach as they would wish. There ought to be a great deal more freedom from the interference of bureaucrats and bigots. The only way to prevent totalitarianism in our highly organised world is to secure a certain degree of independence for bodies performing usual public work, and among such bodies teachers deserve a foremost place.”

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected]