‘Teacher absent for three years’, runs a headline in one of the prominent newspapers of Meghalaya. This shocking news from a remote village called Jalwagre Songgittal in East Garo Hills was published days before the state is supposed to celebrate Teachers’ Day on September 5.
However, the case of Jalwagre Songgittal is not uncommon in the state where several schools, especially in rural areas, are facing the same fate. Many appointed teachers are absent for years and sublet their teaching job to a third person, many a time a relative, at a quarter of their salary. In some cases, the jobs are officiated for years with the tacit knowledge of the influential members of school managing committees.
There are also instances where teachers in village schools remain absent from work for 10-12 days every month, leaving students to fend for themselves. But the head teachers/headmasters are helpless because of local politics or the MCs are ineffective and parents and guardians do not monitor their wards and the goings-on in schools.
The district school education officers and their subordinates never take the trouble of inspecting the schools under their jurisdiction, which is one of their top priorities.
In Meghalaya, currently we have 56,085 teachers from lower primary to higher secondary and who are supposed to teach 9,46,111 students in 14,744 schools (lower primary to higher secondary). Of these, 13,709 schools are in rural areas. Of those, 8921 are lower primary schools. Who will keep track of them? It is only the district education officers who are assigned with the job to monitor schools’ progress or regress and who are paid for this work.
As we prepare ourselves for celebrating Teachers’ Day, we are still caught up with the fundamental question of who really is a teacher?
Some say a teacher is a person who shares knowledge with the ignorant, light with those in the dark, wisdom with the unintelligible and goodness with the bad and so on. All of us are in many ways teachers. But academically speaking, a teacher is one who teaches others not only on secular knowledge but also about moral matters. This gift of knowledge and understanding that he has to teach and make others know and understand is given by God. Even the Bible has clearly shown how Moses lived his life by teaching the Israelites the right way and led them to the promised land. So were the prophets of the Israelites who lived their lives by teaching them the right way to God. Then it was Jesus who spent His life by Teaching the Jews righteousness with examples by His life.
A teacher who only instils secular knowledge and does nothing on moral values is not a real teacher. A student who grows up by accumulating only secular knowledge and has nothing on moral and spiritual matters, then his or her education is not complete. Those who choose to teach others by taking up teaching as a profession have greater responsibilities on their shoulders. They carry the duty entrusted by God and parents to teach, to love their students and care for them.
It is also important that a teacher lives up to the values that he or she teaches the students and sets an example for the young ones to follow in the future. The absenteeism and apathy of teachers in many rural schools in the state will not only discourage students from being sincere and hard-working but will also set a poor example for their future.
It is a well-known fact that teachers in Meghalaya are fighting their battles for better payment and regularisation of jobs, which is disheartening. But it is also true that teachers should maintain high morality and ethics. The leaders among them should be the vanguards and show the right way to those who are shying away from their responsibilities.
Hence, let all of us observe Teachers’ Day with joy and happiness by appreciating their sacrifices and dedicating works and showing our gratitude to their tireless contributions to our society by building the state through human resources. Let us show our respect that is due to them and let us pray for them to have good health and wisdom to teach, to mould and to guide our children in the right path.
Let us also appeal to the Government of Meghalaya to accord due respect and recognition to them for the great contributions made and continue to be made by them in the time to come by showing respect towards them and by timely releasing their salaries and dues. This will help the teachers focus more on their duties and less on fighting for survival.
At the same time, parents and citizens of Meghalaya should call upon the teachers to stop truancy and give their best in the classrooms and try to avoid commercialisation through tuitions. Let us together rebuild a better education system in our state that is now in a shambles.
(The author is a senior journalist and an independent writer. Views expressed are his own)