• Orienting Teachers Towards New Horizons of Education

    February 26, 2016

    Naina Dayal

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    Image: M.C. Escher, ‘Wild West’, National Gallery of Art

    In the beginning

    The UGC website informs us that all teachers in higher education across disciplines must attend an Orientation Programme to enhance their motivation skills and knowledge, learn the right kind of values, and also be eligible for promotion. To this end, over ninety college and university teachers from all over India assembled at the Centre for Professional Development in Higher Education, University of Delhi at 9:30 a.m. on 17 November, 2015 for a UGC-sponsored four week Orientation Programme. We were immediately told that sessions would be held from Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., and that attendance was compulsory.

    At 10 a.m. we were herded into a large auditorium where we listened to recorded Sanskrit chants about the great worthies of the Indian tradition (from Ram to Rammohun Roy and Raja Ravi Verma, from Kannagi to Kabir, from Bharat to Bhatkhande and Birsa) for over an hour while meditating on the image of Saraswati seated on a lotus projected on the screen behind the empty chairs of the chief guests of the inaugural function. There was an important lesson to be learnt even before the Orientation had officially begun: it is perfectly acceptable to follow Indian Standard Time, so long as one worships Mother India’s illustrious sons and daughters, mythical and real. Just in case the participants missed this important point, the chanting in the language of the gods was followed by a very loud Bharat Mata ki jai in a language that many more of those present could understand.

    Once the eminent guests arrived, the Orientation began with a hymn to the goddess of learning and the first of many lectures about British exploitation, the colonization of the Indian mind and the glories of our traditional values. The audience was told that Indians have been misled by the Congress narrative of the freedom movement for too long, we must move away from their Nehru-centred version, and also, incidentally, promote patriotic tourism in the Andamans by joining a dedicated group of nationalists there – for the small sum of Rs 16,000. We must reject the Western narrative of women’s empowerment – our mothers, wives and sisters ran micro-industries of pickling, knitting and making mithai long before the anyone in the West thought of feminism; and they were constantly increasing their skill set, for instance, by learning how to pickle a larger and larger range of vegetables and fruit.

    Learning to be champion teachers and attaining success

    UGC-sponsored Orientation Programmes are expected to help participants better their teaching skills. So, there were several sessions on how to use the spoken word effectively, and non-verbal communication thoughtfully. We were, for instance, repeatedly told that we must not keep our hands in our pockets while teaching and maintain good personal hygiene. There were tips on how to deal with students who are not interested and show poor listening behaviour, for the young have little time for teachers in their thirties and forties. We were taught about critical success factors for personal growth: we should have a well-defined purpose in life, aim high, develop a positive mental attitude, avoid procrastination, take chances in life, control desires, be open-minded, introspect, learn from our mistakes, believe in god and have faith in ourselves. In all this invaluable advice for teachers, there was only one thing missing – emphasis on knowledge of the subjects we teach.

    We were also encouraged to become involved with administration, and a very successful principal of a renowned college was invited to speak to us on this subject. He told us that the heads of institutions face harassment from many quarters – teachers’ unions, students’ unions, karamchari unions, the UGC and the management. Administrators must gain the trust of these troublesome groups. This can be done, for instance, by installing centralized air conditioning, giving teachers laptops, creating a fund for them to attend seminars abroad, rewarding teachers with as much as Rs 1,00,000 for publishing their work, and with more money every time their work is cited. By the end of his tenure, teachers had such faith in this principal that they had stopped grumbling, they no longer demanded staff council meetings to discuss their grievances, and everyone was happy and content.

    All in the family/party

    A former governor spoke to us at length about 14 Cs that we must cherish and impart to our students – confidence, courage, credibility, capability, compassion, concentration, creativity, co-ordination, communication, competence, co-relation, character, culture and commitment. He encouraged us to develop not only our intelligence quotient, but also our physical, moral and emotional quotients. He suggested we should become far more involved with our students’ lives. When he discovered that the participants did not know their students’ birthdays, he chided us for being cheaters not teachers. This accusation angered some of our colleagues, and as their anger showed no signs of dying down in the next few days, we were shown a film about anger management made by a member of the governor’s family. From the credits of the film, we realized that we often have the good fortune of hearing the filmmaker’s brother speaking on TV about another of the major themes of the Orientation – the wickedness of the Congress Party.

    Some of our colleagues felt excluded as many of the lectures were in very difficult Hindi. They requested the organizers to ask the instructors to speak bilingually, and were upset when their repeated requests were ignored. Others protested when the Rashtra Kavi who had been invited by the organizers referred to women as maal. This, in turn, angered the organizers of the course, and the head of the institution threatened us with dire consequences if we made too much of a nuisance of ourselves – we could be failed, other action could be taken against us. And some of us had believed that knowledge should to be accessible to all, and make us into thinking people.

    Lessons from the past and for our future

    It is customary these days to seek inspiration from our glorious ancient Indian past. Our teachers at the Orientation Course encouraged us to do so – we must use environmental resources with sensible restraint, as the ancients did, revisit the Vedic age when women enjoyed a high status. Other instructors drew our attention to more recent figures who could serve as role models – Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati, Rabindranath Tagore, Bhagat Puran Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhai Vir Singh and Satyavati. When some of us pointed out that these inspirational figures had taught in very different contexts from ours, we were told that the classroom is a contested space. Recourse to the non sequitur in such situations was common in our Orientation – indeed, one speaker repeatedly told us that she is a good human being. Another important lesson was that teachers need not prepare for their classes – the allotted hour passes very quickly if teachers utter pointless platitudes, indulge in political propaganda, and make students chant Omkar very, very slowly three times.

    We are very grateful for all these lessons, and we thank the organizers for the insights we gained. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Naina Dayal teaches early Indian history at St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi.

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