The world urgently needs educators who believe in creating responsible, empathetic and informed citizens.
An article in The Hindu dated October 14, 2018, stated that “A society that is gifted with educators is a blessed society “. This comment beautifully captured, in one line, the essence of how our society can be transformed. India is in dire need of educators who can pull its people out of the obsolete education system the British left behind.
How do we differentiate an educator from a teacher? At a superficial level, those two words might appear to be synonyms. They are used interchangeably. But there are many differences between them. Teachers are instructors and their main focus is to deliver content to students, irrespective of whether the students are interested in learning it and irrespective of whether they actually learn it. Teachers look to prepare students for exams, and their success depends on how well their students have performed in them. Their impact on a student’s motivation, happiness or life is limited. Teachers teach, but do not inspire their students, or enable them to create a different world.
Educators, on the other hand, do not merely teach. Their knowledge, instinct, expertise and experience go beyond confines of school-books. Their aim is to not only prepare students for the examination but also to equip them with qualities that will make them successful in life. In the words of the famous author and economist, Gurcharan Das, “good educators help make the crucial distinction between making a living and making a life”.
Interestingly there is no equivalent word for ‘teacher’ in the Hindi language. The Hindi word ‘Adhyapak’ is derived from the Hindi word ‘Adhyan’ which means ‘to learn’. Hindi language (and perhaps our heritage) is far more evolved when it comes to defining (and making) the distinction between teaching and learning. A teacher may teach but no learning may happen. It’s no surprise that in most schools, teachers teach without any concern for students interests and natural disposition, things that need to be factored to make real learning happen. On the other hand, an educator ensures learning truly happens.
Characteristics of a good educator
● Good educators believe in the power of critical thinking. They strongly encourage the spirit of questioning things as they way they are; as it is a natural process for the development of students’ ability to system. They do not believe in blind adherence to the norms, and try to inculcate the same in their students. Students are encouraged to ask questions, and in turn, use their own thinking process to arrive at answers. This is a difficult and slow process for the educator and is highly rewarding for the students as it ensures they develop a mind of their own.
● Good educators provide a safe and non-judgmental learning environment. They encourage their students to explore their true selves, and to follow their dreams. At this critical developmental stage of their childhood and adolescent years, students require the right mentors and guides. A good educator attempts to truly understand the concerns of a student and tries to help address them. A good educator will never say or do anything that affects the self esteem or morale of a
student. Looking back, the issues that we faced at school seem trivial, but at that time, they meant the world to us. Humiliating, undermining or degrading a student, simply ignoring him potentially leads to serious trust issues and harms self-esteem. Good educators provide students a safe, progressive and open environment to voice their concerns, and try their best to solve them.
● Good educators promote (and live) the concept of critical reflection. According to the famous Professor Jack Richards, critical reflection is “an activity or process in which an experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose”. This means that a good educator will use examples from his own life experience (or from real life experience of others) to explain a concept, event, or theory.
● Educators truly believe in the power of enabling learning. They believe that education has the ability to transcend boundaries, and to bring people closer, be it in a community, a nation or in the world. They believe that educating is a two-way process and are equally open to learning from students. They are mindful of their personal prejudices and do not let them get in the way, be it in their relationship with the student, or during the learning process.
● Great educators possess a lifelong quest for search of truth. They are spiritually aware and intellectually curious and want to create the same conditions for their students. The famous philosopher, thinker and author, Noam Chomsky, wrote in his essay: ‘It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and
expose lies’. Democracy can only succeed if citizens are intellectually aware critical thinkers.
● Great educators lay emphasis on personal integrity and justice and always lead by example. They do this while not being judgemental or patronising. Even in times of crisis, they stand by their principals and convictions.
Education needs a revolution
The Indian education system needs a revolution. It is too focused on delivering content in an uninteresting and unengaging way. Instead, education needs to focus on helping students to find new and better ways of doing things. It needs to create an environment of questioning, experimentation and innovation. It needs to ensure students become masters of their choices, rather than ending up as puppets of the system. In this age of misinformation, disinformation and fake news, we need intelligent citizens who can distinguish between right and wrong. Educators can develop intelligent students who will go on to become intelligent citizens.
It is only through creating superstar educators that a nation can bring about an education revolution. India needs to dream big and think about creating a completely new teacher training mechanism. One that ensures that all teachers become educators. The first step is awareness and the next step is to convert the awareness into a dialogue. We all are stakeholders and we need to begin now.