Why Teachers First...
I am from a small town and went to a small school run by Sisters of Notre Dame. Since childhood, my teachers have had a great influence on me, they helped me have a perspective on certain life issues, which formed my core principals. I firmly believe that at school, we learn more than just the lessons in the syllabus. But unfortunately, the relationship between the teachers and students is changing fast. When people of my generation were younger, many of our immediate acquaintances were teachers.
The question of identity as related to work has changed so fundamentally that educated individuals will not willingly choose to be a teacher anymore – it's no longer 'cool' to be a primary school teacher! When we, at Sampark Foundation, decided to work in the field of education, and chose primary education, we were very clear that all our interventions would be through teachers. We wanted to empower and enable the teachers, who are, and should be, the source of inspiration for their students.
At Sampark, teachers are central to our entire program. They are the ones who introduce our innovations to their students and make learning in their classrooms a fun-filled activity; they monitor the progress of their students and help us assess the implementation and usefulness of our program. Teachers have been our real heroes all this while, fundamentally altering the classroom transaction even as they struggled with the burden of duties – from polls to polio.
In these years of working with Sampark, I came across some exceptionally motivated teachers—I met one such inspiring teacher in a remote, resource-starved school in Jharkhand. He was using diagrams drawn in the dust to explain concepts. Then a teacher in rural Himachal turned all the walls of his classroom into blackboards since children did not have notebooks to write in. Such teachers can be a role model for thousands of teachers who work in a similar environment across the country. If a teacher can be enabled, trained, helped and motivated, it can have life-altering consequences on the children.
And how do teachers create a culture for each child to learn as best as he/she can? I am not one who believes that teachers are born – I believe they are built out of life experiences – first you learn to be the best you can be, and then you learn the art and science of teaching. The world over, some of the best schools use textbooks for reference only. The actual classroom transaction is dominated by activities, discussions, tools, kits, toys and games. The ability to ignite the learning zone--the classroom—can be developed.
The Sampark's 'Teachers First' philosophy is a simple but sharp dictum by which we hope to bring the nation's focus on what really ails our education system, and work with, support and generally motivate the people who play a decisive role in shaping India’s future.