Teacher-taught relationship a reciprocal equation

2014-04-05

Republica National Daily

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Since ancient times teacher-student relationship has been the most venerated and successful vehicle for human transformation. Even Buddha sought out the teachers of his time. It is believed that he went to ´Alara Kalama´ and to ´Uddaka´, two famous teachers of the time, and stayed and studied with them.

Although today a disciple is only a student, the function of the relation remains the same -- imparting and receiving of knowledge. 

But at a time when there are matters of national and international importance crying out for creative solutions to the contemporary problems, how helpful is receiving only what the teachers have to hand over without inferring what we believe in? How beneficial can the existing rot-learning and hierarchical method of studying prove? Is it enough that students passively consume voluminous information and be able to vomit them within the allotted hours of their exams? Definitely not, argues Baburam Timsina, coordinator of Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)  program at Universal College, Maitidevi , Kathmandu.

“The teacher-student relation should be reciprocal; a teacher should be willing to entertain questions from students and acknowledge new ideas and thoughts students come up with,” he says. This, however, is hardly the case. As education gets more and more commercialized, teachers are bound by targets which hinder them from maintaining that special interpersonal relations. Timsina points out that since teacher has to complete the given number of chapters within the set deadlines, it gives the teacher and student little or no time to have that interpersonal dialogue, discuss an issue or entertain queries of students not directly related to the curriculum.

The teacher-student-time ratio comes up as another major setback in the process of attaining quality education in our schools and colleges. A typical Nepali classroom has around 40 students with a single teacher. It is almost impossible for the teacher to devote time to all the students within the set 45 minutes of lecture.

Another aspect of the problem is the inordinate rise in the number of educational institutions that have contributed to making the profession a money-making business. The management team of colleges and schools hire staff not on the basis of their qualifications and competencies but according to the institutional needs. Timsina elaborates, “A teacher who is willing to work on a low pay and odd hours is more likely to be hired than someone who has years of experience and can actually teach.”

This inconsiderate working pattern of educational institutions is having an adverse effect on students and consequently affecting their creativity and critical thinking skills. Suman Raj Giri, a second semester student at Kathford Engineering  and Management College , Balkumari, has faced similar instances a couple of times but is of the belief that more than teachers it is the system that is to be blamed.

He says that it is common for teachers to reject projects or answers of students saying it is “out of the curriculum.” “I, however, don´t blame them,” he says, adding, “At the end of the day when I apply for a job people are going to judge me on my academic scores and not on creativity and aptitudes.”

Arjun Neupane, treasurer, Nepal English Language Teachers´ Association (NELTA), blames the government for this educational fiasco. He says, “It´s a shame that our system is yet to categorize education as either service or business.” Also, the education policy, he says has more “flaws” than correctiveness.” The attitude of students and teachers towards each other is another thing Neupane holds responsible for this. “Students need to collaborate, correspond, and solve problems and they should not take teachers as service providers,” he argues. As for the teachers, he advises them to stress on collaboration and not competition.

Timsina agrees with Neupane here when he says, “A student who is ranked first in class although with very low score is prioritized over another student who is ranked third in class with very high score.” Teachers, he believes, should be trained as mentors, who welcome new ideas and education ought not to be delivered in a dictatorial manner as if it were a fixed body of unquestionable facts.

Educational institutes placing students in different sections according to their academic merits could be another major factor demoralizing children. Timsina confirms this as a major problem but believes students should be well acquainted to each other instead of isolating average performing ones from the high scorers. “Students should be able to share their knowledge and learn from each other,” he puts.

Neupane claims that things are slowly changing and teachers are willing to adopt new methods of teaching. Teachers these days don´t limit students to what they teach,” he affirms, adding, “Students are encouraged to look up reference books and make use of the internet too.”

Sonu Sharma, a current MBA student, also sees positive signs. She is happy that teachers these days accept creative solutions to problems. She claims that unlike in the past her teachers give her the space and permission to add creativity to regular class work and projects alike. “There is a lot of research based presentations in our classroom,” she claims. She deems students as partly responsible for the surface learning tradition here in Nepal and advises them to take the initiative and perform regular assignments creatively.

Time and tide are changing. With the ever improving technology, our traditional methods of learning are never going to suffice the demands of an increasingly globalized world. We need to constantly innovate new and powerful tools to encourage creativity in learning and problem-solving. This is because, if there is one thing that can actually change the world, it is education.