The Teachers are the Key to Education

The Teachers are the Key to Education
Fr Varghese Paul, S.J.

Recently on the occassion of India’s 58th Independence Day a fortnightly from Chennai, THE NEW LEADER, published a cover story on ‘Suggestions to Manmohan Singh’. The New Leader asked some eminent persons of different walks of life for ‘Ten Suggestions to the Prime Minister.’ The cover story published the suggestions of 7 people. All the 7 persons representing different professions without exception have mentioned education as one of their suggestions as top priority for Dr Manmohan Singh’s government.

Let me mention as examples the suggestions of three persons. Swami Sachidananda Bharathi, the founder of the Dharma Bharathi National Institute of Peace and Value Education has two suggestions. First, “Introduce urgently ‘Citizenship Training’ and ‘Value Education’ in all schools and make them an integral part of Teachers’ Training Courses and Programmes in the country in order to lay a strong foundation for national integration and moral regeneration.” Second, “Make school education a national priority and make primary education compulsory and free for all children. Set apart at least 5 per cent of the total national income specifically for this purpose.”

An eminent journalist and former editor of Bombay Mid-day and Free Press Journal, Mr Michael Gonsalves suggests: “Make primary education compulsory for all children and entrust the responsibility to a government agency.”

A professor of religions, Sr Shalini suggests: “Revamp our education system. Promote co-education of boys and girls in schools and colleges. Include sex education and psychology in the school syllabus.”

The suggestions of all the 7 eminent respondents can be reduced to two appeals: First, work for total literacy and second provide total quality education.

In both the cases of total literacy and quality education, one person stands out. She or he is the teacher. His/her contribution and his/her training to impart proper total quality education is paramount. But the naked fact is that in India the role of a teacher is not recognized and appreciated in terms of their social standing and their remuneration, especially in private institutions.

However, we continue celebrating Teacher’s Day on September 5 every year on the birthday of a great educationalist and philosopher, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. As a life-long teacher Dr Radhakrishnan has set an example of extensive reading and reflection for all teachers.

The teachers may not produce books like Dr Radhakrishnan who wrote on a wide rang of topics as a result of their reading and reflection. But the teachers without exemption are certainly expected to read and reflect especially on their profession to be competent not only in the subject of teaching but also in dealing with the pupils with love.

Education is an on-going process. The teachers who do not read, reflect and update themselves are out-dated people. They are to be discarded from teaching like out-dated machinery. Only those who read, reflect and go prepared to their class rooms to impart the latest knowledge and insights should be teachers. Only those who inspire their pupils through their lives and teaching should be called teachers.

I would like to emphasis here both the aspects of a teacher’s personal life and his/her teaching. Both are inter-related and are very important because true education, they say, is not taught but caught.

Teacher’s Day gives us the occassion and opportunity to look at our teachers. Are they happy and contented people so that they are able to do their best for their pupils? A basic need of a teacher is that he/she should be adequately paid. What can the people do to see that the teachers are not exploited by private educational institutions? What can we do to see that the teachers do a good job?

When I look at my school days, I realize one thing: I did very well in studies often standing first in a subject or even in the whole class when a teacher of a particular subject or a class teacher was very loving and competent. The loving teachers were also better teachers as they came to the class well prepared.

I remember one particular instant. Thomas Sir was teaching us English in the 7th standard. He always came prepared with text book and notes to the class. He taught us also very well. Still some boys must have found English difficult. So they went to the principal and complained that Thomas Sir was not teaching well in the class.

In the next class Thomas Sir told us frankly that the Principal has told him about the complaint: Then, without naming anybody he said that any student who does not follow this his teaching, should please let him know, he would be prepared to explain the lesson again and again in the class and if need be, even outside the class. By the way he communicated with us, we felt that he was more sad because some boys did not understand his lessons than because they complained to the principal.

The ones who had complained must have felt bad. Anyway, almost everybody said, “Sir, we did not complaint against you. You are teaching us very well. We follow the lessons well.”

For me a good teacher imparts much more that the knowledge of the text book lessons. He/she prepares the students according to their age for life. Through both his/her life’s message and through lessons taught a teacher communicates human values and ideals.

I believe that all teachers, whatever lessons they teach, should teach only in the Elite School of Love. In the elite school of love, the teacher is the most loved and respected person not only by the students on the school campus but also by people in the society at large. People accept him/her as a respected and loving person. These types of teachers and their students feel proud of each other.

Let all teachers remember that by their calling they are not just teaching a few pupils but through their profession they are contributing to nation building. And we all need to remember that the teachers are the key to education and support them. Let us pledge that support on this Teachers’ Day.

Ode to an Old Friend

At 89 he is hardly able to move around freely and yet his spirit soars high. His adventurous spirit takes him to Mount Abu. His love of people and nature burst forth in poetry. He is Bother Amaro Mattos of the Society of Jesus in Gujarat. I had the privilege of knowing him from the late 1970s. When I took the editorship of DOOT as my first job as a newly ordained Jesuit priest, Brother Mattos used to send me news reports from Vadodara related to the Rosary Parish Church or on important events of Rosary School.

My association with Br Mattos has continued uninterruptedly even when I went to New Delhi as the Executive Director of a South Asian Church News Service SAR News. Brother Mattos was then my only reporter from Gujarat. Over the years our professional relationship has ceased but our friendship has grown with the exchange of letters and occasional visits.

Recently I had the opportunity of spending a few days at Mount Abu with Brother Mattos. My love and appreciation for him has grown by leaps and bounds at Mount Abu. I watched him with admiration sitting alone in the Church and playing his favourite tunes to the Lord on his mouth organ. Occasionally he also played his mouth organ for us, a few fellow Jesuits enjoying the
holidays with him.

“Varghese, I have a copy of my poetry book for you,” said Brother Mattos when I reached Mount Abu and accosted him for first time. “That’s great,” I said simply responding to his infectious smile and the simplicity of a child. Then, Brother Mattos gave me his second collection of poems entitled “THE PSALMS OF MY LIFE”. There are 39 poems. They reveal Brother Mattos as a wise and contented man in love with nature, God and His people.

Most of his poems are his prayers like the following stanza of his poem entitled “Moments Brief Yet Blissful”: May I find thee in ev’ry moment of my life – In sorrow, pain, distress. Even in joy that overflows heart’s brim. I know of your loving presence that wills it so And I own it to you before hence I go! Wide be the range of my wanderings. Another poem entitled “Moments Sweets And Amiss” reveal the wisdom of Brother Mattos and his prayerful attitude. Brother Mattos advises us in the poem to pause for a moment. When you are too busy to do so; then you will find peace, he says: Moments there are, just sweet and never amiss Midst the world’s pain or bliss; Take time on the run, pause a moment To catch up some meaningful thought on the wing That may help a change for the better in the next move, To bring you to that point wherein you’ll find Doubts, fear sorted out by assurance that reminds That God’s grace is in full evidence!

Brother Mattos knows that he has lived several decades in hope, commitment in efficient services as an educationalist. He has acquired knowledge and wisdom as well as experienced love and joy, which has faithfully passed on to his hundreds and thousands of students over the years.

And yet Brother Mattos is not a spent force but he is replete with new energies and a new spirit of love and joy. Today his mission, as he revealed at Mount Abu, is one of being rather than doing, one of witness rather than of action. In his being and witness he reveals God’s faithful love. So he sings: Every moment in His Divine Service Is one of unique grace -Let each footstep of mine lead me on Nearer to Thee, O Christ!”

It is a great pleasure to converse with Brother Mattos. He will have words of appreciation for you and for others whom he knows. But you will never hear a complaint or a disparaging word about another person. Once in his room at Vadodara he played a special tune for me on his mouth organ. Then, he read out a few new compositions of his poems. I do not know the literary quality of his poems, as I am not qualified to evaluate them, yet I can appreciate his poems as Brother Mattos communicates his wisdom and love to me through them.

What is marvelous for me is that even in his old age his grace is undiminished. His love for people and nature is as deep as ever. He is a man with no guile. His love knows no malice against anyone. What St Augustine wrote of old age is literally
true about Brother Mattos: “When we grow old, we do not lose what we were before; we build on it. It is too late to change much in the later years of our lives. We need not worry about being graceful in old age, if we were graceful as a child and as an adolescent and as a youth. And so, now that we have come of age, we should stop worrying about how we will be a year from now and begin trying to be as pleasant as we can be today.”

Enjoy old Age

“Fr. Varghese, when are you retiring?” a friend, who came to greet me on my birthday on May 31st, asked.“Instead of coming to Gujarat if I had remained in Kerala and if I had selected teaching profession like my brother and my eldest sister,my uncle and my aunt, then I would have been celebrating today a decade of my retired life. In Kerala the retiring age is 55 years. But today at 65, I am working full-time and some times over-time in my office. So I do not even think about retiring”, I said.
“The average life-span of an Indian today is little less than sixty-five years. I have completed 65 years. Now I have crossed the average life-span for an Indian. So whatever time I get now is like grace marks given to a student to get through an examination. Now whatever days or years I get,I consider them as God’s special grace to me,”I said to another friend who wanted to know my age on my birthday.

“Old age is the crown of life and it is also the last scene of our life,” said Shakespeare commenting on old age. But I consider old age like an ‘arangetram’. I found the word ‘arangetram’ in a Gujarati invitation card which I received. But I think that the word is not Gujarati but Malayalam. ‘Arangetram’ means the public exhibition of classical dance, which a student has been studying and practicing for several years.If a person spends most of his life very busy doing a lot of things, then reaching a respectable senior age, may be compared to ‘arangetram’. So old age is an ‘a rangetram’ of the dance of life,which a person has been doing all his life.

Usually ‘arangetram’ is performed at a young age. So, when I compare old age with ‘arangetram’ the old age disappears in my mind as old age and I experience the energy and restlessness of a youth. So I feel the restlessness and the impatience of a youth to pursue new goals and more achievements.Today the salaried people retire at 55 years in Kerala and 58 to 60 or even 62 to 65 years in other states. But many people do not retired on account of their age. Perhaps, they may get away from the job, which they have done all their lives but now they look for new fields for engagement and thrive in them.

As an observer of human life, I see some people suddenly getting old within a week or a fortnight after their retirement from service.They do not know what to do with their lives. So there is no freshness on their face. There is no enthusiasm in their voice. On the contrary, they appear lonely, gloomy and dejected. They are like the snake charmer whose snake has just died,and has lost his only means of livelihood. They sitidle whole day as if they are just waiting for the arrival of ‘Yamdev’, the god of death.

But the life of many people retired from their service or business,are filled with activities and they are full of life. They are able to enjoy life and they do enjoy living their old age. They do not retire from life even when they have retired from their old job. They look for new ways of leading and enjoying their old age.They look at the old age as a new opportunity to live a full life.

It is an opportunity to pursue those goals and achievements, which they always wanted to do but could not do during their life of service or business. Old age is a time to make one’s dream a reality. It is an opportunity to do pleasant and enjoyable things with a lot of leisure without being a slave to the timing of one’s
wristwatch or the wall clock of one’s office.In my youth I considered a person old at the age of 65. But at my 65 years I have discovered that adding years to one’s life have nothing to do with old age. An attitude of mind makes the difference. It is true that after certain age the physical strength of a person begins to diminish
with the years. He/she experiences certain limitations. Aging is a natural phenomenon. But with advancing age a person gains more and more valuable experiences. He/she becomes seasoned and mature. He/she looks at life in a new and true perspective.

Even though the physical strength diminishes with advancing age, the spiritual and mental powers need not diminish automatically. In fact,as age increases a person can develop his/her spiritual and mental powers. A friend of mine is pursuing doctoral studies at the age of 70 plus.People do ask my friend, “Sir, why do you pursue th
e doctorate studies at your advanced age?” “I have been a student all my life even when I was doing business and making money. Now I believe in continuing my studies till I die,”my friend says to his solicitous inquirers.

In old age we get opportunities to make progress in different areas of our lives. We can widen our knowledge by reading books and travelling to new destinations. With small and big services at home and outside home we can share our joy of serving with the people concerned. We can visit peoples in our neighborhood,who are confined to their homes, or the people in hospitals and in prisons and thus make life meaningful to us and to others.With selfless services offered to orphanages or voluntary agencies,we can share our joy of selfless service with many people.We can do a lot with our good will even when our movements are restricted with old age. We can smile and appreciate the people who look after our needs. Accepting joyfully the pain and suffering, which may come on our way due to old age, we can share our joy and contentedness of life with people who are with us at home and with those who visit us. Even when we feel loneliness and abandonment, with our good will and prayer we can get in touch with ourselves and with deep inner life we can cherish others and bless them.

In old age we need to be sure of one thing that we need not be a slave to our old age. While welcoming our advancing age we can be master of our old age by enjoyi
ng all the benefits of advanced age. In this our attitude is very important. Let us keep our attitude always positive and creative. The English poet Robert Frost comes to our assistance here. Let us cultivate the attitude of poet Frost. He says,“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep.And miles to go before I sleep.

Without being overtaken by old age we specially need to keep another thing in mind. Some elders engage themselves in various activities much more than they were regularly doing during the time of their job or business. I think that it is not a good thing. People need rest in their everyday life. The elderly people need much more rest and relaxation than say, a middle agedperson. A person, who is fully occupied in endless activities in the whole day, will not find time and leisure to think and engage in creative activities.

The book of Sirach in the Bible says, “A law student acquires wisdom during his leisure hours;free from business he is capableof becoming wise”. (38, 24)

In our days, thanks to the discoveries and achievements, the average life span is on the increase.So naturally the population of the elderly people is also on the increase. So I dedicate this articleto the elderly people and I wish that their lives become more and more meaningful and happy.(contact the author: iss@satyam.net.in)

Media Challenges Amidst Cultural and Religious Pluralism

In a Multi-cultural and pluralistic religions situation of India the greatest challenges of the mass media recently was the pogrom in Gujarat. The mass media in English reported that there was a planned genocide of the Muslims in Gujarat following the gruesome burning of a compartment of the Sabarmati Express Train at Godhra on Feb 27, 2002, which resulted in the death of 57 the devotees of God Ram.

Day after the incident the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (The World Hindu Council) announced a national strike. But strike or no strike, many groups of people went around on the day of the strike and on the following days, weeks and months attacking Muslims all over Gujarat. Some people in the government machinery either supported the communal attack or sat at the fence.The minority community of Muslims was no match for the systematically organized attacks of the fanatical and fundamentalist groups. The results were more than 2000 Muslims killed and about a lakh Muslims were made refugees in camps in their own country!

The main targets the communal attacks was small and big business establishments as well as the residence of the Muslims all over Gujarat. Consequently the Muslims suffered also loss of properties worth crores of rupees and got crippled economically. In Ahmedabad alone more than 500 small and big restaurants and hotels owned by Muslims were raised to the ground.

These attacks on Muslims all over Gujarat were carried out as if spontaneous outburst of anger of ordinary people as a reaction to burning to death of devotees of God Ram in railway compartment of Sabarmati Express. But to any discerning observer the Gujarat carnage was a well planned and executed in minute details by the politicized Hindu fanatics and fundamentalists with the approval and sometimes open support of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the followers of the Sangh Parivar.

The Gujarat carnage threw up great changes to the media in the state. The reaction to the carnage varied from paper to paper and from one television broadcaster to another. Radio and Government controlled Doordarshan gave the ruling parties’ views. But the English press and the International Press and other media gave a totally different picture. A well known Gujarati columnist Mr Gunvant Shah was so exasperated with the English Media that he wrote in his Sunday column in “Sandesh”Gujarati daily.

“Tell a lie, but do it in English Write a lie, but do it in English Print a lie, but do it in English This way you will make threefold profits:You will be considered secular,You will be considered intellectual,You will be considered large-hearted.”
Sad to say that, like fishing in the troubled waters, some Gujarati language newspapers were concerned not with fair reporting of the daily happenings but only on the money they can make and the circulation they can build up by supporting and fanning the communal tension.The cultural and religious pluralism of India is very much in evidence in the north western state of Gujarat. This multi-cultural and religious pluralism made the communal situation worse and the challengers of the media even greater.

In the past the media especially the print media were mainly responsible for building up a society deeply rooted in tolerance and harmony in India.So during independence struggle the followers of different culture and religions came together. Hindus and Muslims, Jains and Buddhists, Christians and Parsis, stood shoulder to shoulder and they all unitedly opposed the British rulers for an independent India. The newspapers irrespective of their communal or political affiliation promoted communal harmony and a secular society in the face of cultural and religious diversities.

In a South Asian Seminar at Cochin in Kerala in February 2003 a speaker Dr Daniel Acharuparambil speaking on the theme “Media for Peace in South Asia” quoted Pope John Paul II:“The men and women of the media are bound to contribute to peace by breaking down barriers of mistrust, fostering considerations of other points of view, and striving to bring people together in understanding and respect.”

Here lies the great challenges of the print and broadcasting media. How can we break down the barriers of mistrust? How can we foster consideration of others’ points of view? and how can we bring people together in understanding and respect? The task for the mass media is indeed enormous. Herculean efforts are required.But the people in the media need not get afraid of the enormous task if one is prepared for a step by step approach. The first step is shed ignorance and prejudice against the people of other religions cultures.

In India people are deeply religious of different religions irrespective of their But, Religions unit them. The perceived or imagined danger to one’s religion make him or her to fight to protect his or her religion. Writers and journalists need to be fully aware of this situation where there is much ignorance and prejudices.

One way to fight against the ignorance and prejudice is to establish contact and good relationship between people of different religions. In my Christian and Hindu environment and culture I see a lot of enmity against the Muslims. Seeing that this enemity is created mainly by the ignorance and prejudice, I have been trying to establish contact with a few Muslim brothers and learn more about their religion, Islam as well as to portray the Mu slims in my writing as human being not different from the people of any other religion.

In a concrete instance, I wrote an article in my weekly newspaper column that a Muslim man came to my rescue when my jeep had breakdown in a deserted road late at night,I got very good response to my article through a few letters and other personal compliments. In my article I praised the Muslim Samaritan for two things. First, he help me as a person in need without knowing my identity, my religion or my organization. Second, he help me in a situation when Gujarat was totally
unsafe for anybody especially the Muslims after the Godhra holocaust on February 27, 2002 and subsequent anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.

Another concrete step to break down the barriers of mistrust is my recruiting for the first time a Muslim youth for my In-Service Training in Professional Journalism programme. The trainee Mr Imran Asmat Shekhani is a good boy that he easily mixes with other two trainees: one tribal girl and a Catholic Dalit boy and my staff personnel too feel at home with Imran. This is also the first personal contact with a Muslim at this deep level for all my staff and trainee personnel and I am sure
that this interaction with a Muslim will leave lasting good impression on my staff and me.

Fostering the consideration of others’ points of view is something I took seriously in my profession as a journalist. The prevailing context of anti-Muslim feeling and enmity in Gujarat certainly calls for the consideration others’ point of view. In this context two books have helped me : Dr Sebastian Vempany’s bulky volume of 504 pages – book “MINORITIES IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA.”

The book’s portrayal of Muslims by the Islamologist has been so impressive and enlightening for me that I studied the book deeply and wrote a long review. A shortened review is being published by the “Third Millennium” quarterly from Rajkot.The second book is entitled “THE SHADES OF SWORDS” by an acclaimed journalist and author,Mr M J Akbar. The subtitle of the book “Jihadand the conflict between Islam and Christianity” gives a fair idea of the content of the book. In it Akbar “explains how jihad thrives on complex and shifting notions of persecution, victory and sacrifice.”

I found M J Akbar’s book a great help in considering the Muslim’s point of view about a host of things especially about current developments and trends in the world. In “The shades of Swords” Akbar as a Muslim reveals the Muslim’s point of view of history in contrast to Western and Christian points of view and I found it Akbar’s point of view very refreshing.

But in the multi-cultural and multi-religious context of Gujarat and for that matter, the whole of India, the biggest challenge to the journalists and writers is to bring people together in understanding and respect. While differences of any sort contribute to division and separation,understanding and respect bring people together.

Truth and genuine knowledge about various religions and different cultures contribute to understanding and appreciation of people different from one own religion and culture. Similarly journalists’ attitude of love and respect also contribute to bringing together the people of different religions and cultures. Here lies the challenges for writers and journalists.
A media person ‘has to tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth in love and charity.Communications of truth in love without religio-cultural bias foster understanding and commands respect. Such understanding and respect will certainl
y help people of different religions and cultures to came together in mutual love and appreciati on because knowing the truth helps people to breakdown the barriers of ignorance and prejudices.

A media person has to make positive efforts in his or her works to cover and highlight the positive sides and genuine qualities and achievements of people of different religions and cultures. Such efforts will certainly help to bring together people of different religions and cultures.In short, personnel in mass media can give leader ship to face and overcome the challenges possed by cultural and religious pluralism for peace and amity in the world.Here I suggest a few concrete steps.

First, study and understand sympathetically different religions and cultures.Second, speak, write, broadcast positively about different religions and cultures.Third, mingle and get involved with inter-cultural and inter-religious organizations and groups.Fourth, have an open mind to accept and appreciate whatever is noble and up-lighting in different cultures and religions.

And fifth, cultivate and foster friendship with people of different cultures and religions.This way a media person can not only become enriched but can also contribute substantially towards bringing people to face the challenges squarely amidst religious and cultural pluralism.