Teachers Day: Only Collaborative Efforts By Society & Govt Can Help Teachers Evolve In Their Field

Walking under my umbrella this morning, the sight of children scurrying on their bicycles wearing raincoats, parents in a tearing hurry ushering their children into their vehicles to drop them off to school, college, or coaching institute, reminded me of the Formula One race. Despite advances in technology, everyone seems to be in a race.

I asked myself why this race? Are we living in the eighties? What did we learn from the pandemic? Is our education system not in tune with the times? Are the teachers disallowed from using technology? Or is it a simple trust deficit?

A recent speech by none other than the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud at the 60th convocation ceremony of IIT Madras came to mind, in which he said, “Today, videoconferencing technology has transformed the way we communicate and work…During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court introduced virtual hearings, which to date allow litigants and lawyers from outside Delhi to appear before the Supreme Court. Courts across India held as many as 43 million hearings. These millions of hearings made us quickly realize how virtual hearings helped female lawyers who otherwise face difficulties appearing physically in court due to the gender demands of domestic work and caregiving.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, not just the Supreme Court, rather many sectors introduced the virtual mode of work culture. One sector that led much faster than other sectors is education. Whereas post lockdown, most of the education sector switched back from the virtual mode of work culture to physical presence.

However, the education sector could have taken advantage of this technology. Rather, many academics took a detour to the pre-pandemic work culture. This further nudges me to ask if are we missing the trust deficit or fear that technology will ruin us in an era of artificial intelligence, IoT, machine learning etc.

This also reminds me of a recent hearing of the Constitutional Bench in which Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud said that the Supreme Court is setting up its own cloud software for video conferencing to enable virtual hearings in all lower courts across the country. This is huge trust that the CJI is extending access to justice at the lowest level of our society.

It is often said that technology develops at a speed, that society can’t cope with. There used to be a time when a landline telephone was required to talk with each other. Even teaching in academics required the physical presence of faculty as well as students under one roof. But the pandemic changed everything by bringing the technology of the virtual world overcoming the telephone and physical presence into a small device called the mobile that became the classroom, connecting the students as well as faculty from any part of the world.

Historically, technology development doesn’t take place in a social vacuum but inside social reality. Some years ago in America & Europe, lightning often hampered churches because of their elevated architecture and metallic bells on top. Lightning is often called a supernatural phenomenon of demons. Therefore, during thunderstorms, the church used to toll the bells in the hope of repelling lights, and many bell ringers lost their life because of lightning. Then with a simple kite experience, Benjamin Franklin explained lightning is nothing but electricity that could be safely discharged using a conductor. It is an example of how scientific innovation can change supernatural phenomena of demons that were then unknown to architects or structural engineers but multi-disciplinary education transforming professions, how our cities are becoming safer due to technology and innovation.

Today, Artificial Intelligence is two words that are on everyone’s lips. It is fast-moving with its tools being deployed to enhance the productivity of computers and hardware in every part of society. In a relatively short period, AI and its associated tools are proving a computer can draft a leave letter, draft an assignment, prepare lesson plans, and even prepare questions & teaching notes. Even in the professional world of urban planning, AI tools like image processing can generate images from ideas of city planning instantly, something that often used to take years of debate and discussion.

We need a collaborative effort between cities, academics, and government, We need to work together. We need to listen to each other. We need to talk to each other regularly. We must engage in dialogue, with the belief and understanding that we are really part of one nation and represent a common mission of igniting innovation benefiting the common man in our society.

Then there used to be a society called Omella, comprising happy people. However, Omella’s prosperity depends on one child to remain imprisoned and in misery all the time. The residents felt sorry for the suffering of the child but they never rescued that child because they feared it would end their happiness and prosperity.

In our own world, sometimes we too pass the same phase, whether to ignore that child imprisoned or give it freedom. We must challenge ourselves on how we can deploy science, innovation, and technology to make decision for our happiness and prosperity in society.

On this Teachers Day, let us overcome those trust deficit that sets restrictions on innovations, technology, and communication. Today, sitting in Bhubaneswar, if a professor or teacher can take classes at three to four universities virtually without travelling, what is wrong with it? On the other hand, why must a student travel all the way for classes?

In my experience with professors in some of the world’s best academics, it surprised me how they taught in multiple universities within a week, even though they are attached to one university. This allows a teacher to develop skills as well as research. It is mutually beneficial to both student and teachers.

Once, some professors at a state university complained to Ronald Reagan then President of the USA, that they had no time to think since they had too much teaching. Reagan asked, “How much?” They said, “7 hours”, meaning 7 hours a week. Reagan is believed to have said, “7 hours a day doesn’t seem too much.”. Perhaps the time has arrived to move beyond structural timing in locking the teachers and move to the hybrid mode of teaching.”

Finally, while I was abroad, I came across Nobel laureates. I asked them what stops our teachers from pitching into the Nobel box? A majority said only building infrastructure won’t produce a Nobel, you need good teachers, a good tapping system of recruitment, with freedom of teaching, research, and development savvy academic atmosphere, rather than a Defense Barack of 8 am to 7 pm banking hour. Hopefully, one day, teachers will break the cycle and set new goals.

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