A class of over hundred, attended by barely thirty. Of those, a few using their phones; several others using their laptops, logging on to Facebook or completing other assignments. A group of students taking turns at interrupting the professor, ridiculing her/him for not speaking fluent English, or simply trying to disrupt the class for fun.
Imagine one fine day when the professor decides to devote the entire class to answering questions from students. Isn’t that welcome? How many professors would do that on a regular basis? Ideally, what would students be expected to do in this case? Maybe go back to their notes, skim through and reflect upon what was or was not understood. Or simply sit back and listen to what others ask, as often they might have had similar doubts.
But would you believe it if more than half the class staged a mass walk-out because the professor will not be teaching anything new? What’s more, they sit right outside the classroom, chatting, lying down, as though they were in their hostel rooms, waiting for the next class an hour later? Unfortunately, this gross behaviour is becoming a new normal.
We live in times where technology has overpowered rather than empowered us.
The trend of MOOCs, video-based and app-based learning has gained unprecedented currency among youth. Google has become the new tutor. Our virtual spaces have expanded and practically encroached upon our public as well as private spaces. This increasing atomization has taken a toll upon all our personal relationships, including that of the pupil and teacher. The student no longer feels the need of a guru who would show her/him the path towards light. One finds comfort in the virtual space where one is not expected to work, think, read or reflect.
This tragedy that has struck our real world classrooms is a marker of our collective decadence as students. We no longer come to class as co-travelers in our journey towards knowledge and learning. We come as petty rivals and adversaries. We look at the teacher as dispensable; someone who can be replaced by an animated video or a far-flung tutor. We look at our peers with contempt. We mock those who are far behind in the race. We let our pride and arrogance take over our sensibilities. We critique the world but do not subject ourselves to scrutiny. Our reflexive capacities take a backseat in our quest to prove the other wrong and inferior. Once we enter into premier institutes, we forget to see ourselves as learners.
If we do not fulfill our duties as responsible students, we lose the right to demand for good teachers. If we act like we know everything, then we do not deserve good teachers. When we all are aware that our education system is in decay, it is also our responsibility to stop and think about how we are contributing to its collapse. We are not only stakeholders but also active agents in the system. In progressive university spaces that have challenged and diminished the power relationships among knowledge givers and takers, it is the duty of the latter to ensure that such spaces become cherished sites of productive exchange and collaborative efforts.
The nullified power dynamics must lead to stronger teacher-pupil relationships. The classroom must be a space of mutual respect and exchange of knowledge among a group of equal students and a teacher who selflessly shares her/his knowledge. This Teachers’ Day, we must question this gradual debasement of our studentship. We need to go back and think if our conduct is morally correct and righteous, in our path towards knowledge and education. One of my favourite teachers once told me – “good students make good teachers”.