The new teacher – the Internet

Gurubhyo Devebhyo Namaha – Teachers are often placed on the same pedestal as Gods and are revered as beings of high intellect and rationality. But the real teacher is a changing in this fast and furious world. It’s now the internet – there are learning apps, virtual classrooms, virtual coaching centres, and the like. So, what will happen to teacher’s day as we knew it? – the preparation by the students and alumni, the love displayed and rendered and the half-holiday? Will they disappear as the student of tomorrow pays obeisance to the virtual rather than the real? Ashwin S examines.

Many countries around the world celebrate Teachers Day. However, the date and the significance vary greatly. In India, September 5th is the day earmarked for Teachers Day, as it is the birthday of DrSarvepalliRadhakrishnan, the second President of India – He was the greatest teacher of his generation – a generation that needs revival today. But alas, it is not to be. Besides the token programme with chocolates and flowers organized by students and alumni, it is awaited mostly by the students for the half day holiday that they will enjoy. Teachers do however get the benefit of their students’ genuine affection – more in the breach than as a rule.

In Vietnam, the day is known as Vietnamese Educators Day and is celebrated on 20th November. The students visit their teachers’ homes and hand over gifts and flowers as a mark of respect. They also cook food, plan and organize parties for their teachers. Former students organize alumni meets as a means of showing respect to their past teachers.

Indonesians celebrate National Teachers Day on the 25th of November, as it is the founding day of the PGRI, the national association of Indonesian teachers. This is a community driven event where the members of the society come together to applaud and appreciate the efforts of teachers in moulding the youth of the country.

In China, September 28 is the day chosen to honour teachers, which coincides with the date of birth of Confucius, regarded as the master educator in Ancient China. The festival is celebrated in the temples and monuments dedicated to Confucius and includes cultural performances by drummers and dancers.

Diadel Profesore, the day of the teachers is celebrated by the people of Chile on 16th October, the day the Teachers Association of Chile was founded. An interesting twist in the tale occurs wherein students provide certificates and appreciatory notes to their teachers for a change!

Teachers Day in Malaysia is known as Hari Guru, and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. However, this day is a working day for all people, including teachers and students, thus showing the importance of hard work.

India - back then

India comes with a glorious traditional past, one that people from the west are desperately trying to emulate. Back in the days, Nalanda and Takshashila were universities of great repute, much akin to the reputation Oxford and Cambridge have now, as a result of westernisation and globalization. Even to date, scholars from the West have come down and tried to replicate the Gurukula system which was in practice in ancient India. The current generation may feel that the system existed due to lack of facilities and infrastructure. However, every bit of the practice had a scientific explanation to it. Right from having classes in the open, usually under a peepal or banyan tree (which ensured clean and fresh air flow, replete with oxygen), to sitting on the floor with the legs in a folded position (enhancing blood flow to the right areas of the body), our gurus had thought of it all! The teachers were in that position not because of clearing competitive exams such as NET/KSET etc. or by getting doctorates, but as a result of several years of real-life experience and tutelage under other experienced gurus.

The shloka ‘Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru DevoMaheshwaraha, Guru Saakshat Para Brahma, Tasmai Shree GuraveNamaha’ which roughly translates to ‘A teacher is akin to God. I salute such a teacher.” Though teachers were the fountains of all learning, Teachers Day was not celebrated prior to Independence, India had its own cultural version of the day, known as Guru Purnima. Although predominantly a festival celebrated by the Hindu community, this festival involves prayers and seeking blessings from the teachers (or even your elders, in the absence of a teacher). It still does celebrate the festival and that’s a relief.

India - the present

Currently, the Indian educational system is in a state of transition. It is grappling with the mentality of the past combined with the technology of the present. This does not bode well for the student, who is always in a fix when he compares what he can glean from the internet with the outdated content and methodology he is taught in class.

The new teacher – the internet

Despite several legal restrictions in place, the today’s youth have unrestricted access to all the content available on the internet, and are, often, more tech savvy than their teachers, family and perhaps even the cyber authorities! There’s a lot of learning material out there – on all subjects under the sun, from the ice age to the taboo.

Almost every teenager is present and highly active on the internet mostly via social media. It’s the new teacher. Research has shown that social media is a social manipulator, forming extremist opinions (based on the agenda setting theory) on impressionable minds who often do not question anything if it has social acceptance (known at large as the spiral of silence theory). In a bid for likes, views, comments and shares, the youth are tending towards narcissism, making social media their teacher. The multitude of mindless ‘challenges’ that keep getting viral on social media are a testament to this alarming trend of learning – to date, to challenge and to clear competitive exams!

#KikiChallenge is the latest fad where people get out of a moving car and dance to the tunes of Drake’s In My Feelings song, even as the car keeps moving on the road, while the driver films the co-passenger. This is not only stupid on multiple levels, but highly dangerous to the people taking up the challenge as well as other commuters on the road. No wonder most authorities across the world have banned this challenge. Owing to widespread outrage, Drake himself has removed the questionable video that started the challenge in the first place. However, many Indian celebrities and influencers including Nia Sharma, Adah and Karishma Sharma have attempted this and posted it on their social media platforms, thereby encouraging more youngsters to try it themselves.

#BlueWhaleChallenge literally took the world by storm, causing widespread havoc and anxiety among parents, with over 375 deaths reported worldwide. This challenge began on a Russian social media site VKontakte and soon spread across the globe. It involved the participants being assigned daily tasks for a period of 50 days, initially seeming harmless but increasing in the level of self-harm with every subsequent task until the final task on the 50th day, of committing suicide. Several youth in India too fell prey to this internet horror and the authorities had a tough time tackling these cases. The very fact that the youth would attempt such a meaningless challenge shows how dangerously effective social media and social sentiment is, in the current scenario.

#KylieJennerLipChallenge is an infamous teen fad that originated in the US, where young girls tried to replicate the luscious lip looks of Kylie Jenner, the younger sister of Kim Kardashian. How did they achieve this? By placing a shot glass on their lips and sucking hard on it and then pulling the glass away, to reveal a result that ranged from shocking to gross. While there may be no long-term damage if the act is performed for 15 to 20 seconds, longer periods like 45 to 60 seconds can cause permanent or long-term bruising and burst capillaries.

#IceBucketChallenge was a phenomenon that started with a positive intention, that of spreading awareness about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) also known as motor neuron disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, like most other social media challenges, it soon got reduced to something fancy, with people attempting it more for fame than to spread any sort of awareness. In fact, there were even cases reported where people had to be rushed to the hospital after things went wrong post dunking a bucket of ice water on themselves.

#PassOutChallenge again is an inexplicable phenomenon where people purposely strangle themselves till they get unconscious. This ‘game’ also called Space Monkey or ‘The Choking Game’ is played by people in order to get a euphoric high, a near-death experience. Makes no sense? Well, to them it supposedly does! Thankfully, this did not become as viral as some of the other challenges and hence, there were no major incidents reported out of the US.

So what is the role of the teacher in a generation where social media plays a greater influence than classroom teaching? “As teachers, we need to understand, adapt and evolve according to the times. Gone are the days where we could just come forth and finish the syllabus and expect things to work out fine. We now need to learn from the internet, identify and analyze current trends, and caution the students to the best of our abilities in case we find some disturbing trend.

The future of teaching

Technological advancements are a given. As the years pass by, older methods of teaching in schools are going to be completely replaced by more modern methods. In fact, in the Western countries, there are already experiments with teacher-less classrooms, using artificial intelligence, virtual reality and internet communication. While the model has proven to be successful there, there is no guarantee of replicating it with the same success here in India.
However, there are some institutions in India that are toying with these ideas and have been successful. Probably, the best way forward would be to have a two-pronged approach, with the right mix of human touch and technological prowess.

“Relying on technology in India is a risky business. Any issues in the form of technical flaws, server problems, connectivity trouble etc., could stall classes, making it difficult to complete the syllabus on time. However, that does not mean we are not open to change” says a Principal of a reputed institution in Bengaluru, who did not wish to be quoted.

However, the teacher fraternity isn’t too happy with this developing trend. “We have seen how dangerous AI and robots are, no matter the sector. Human interference is necessary at every step, failing which there can be dangerous consequences” says Vani, a teacher at a private school in Bengaluru. But then again, this could be a result of the teacher community feeling a tad bit threatened, about losing their jobs to technology.

Vox Populi

I conducted a short survey as I generally do, to see what the general population has to say about this trend. For a change, I received a mixed bag of answers, with some people welcoming the trend and the rest of them being critical of it.

“The internet is the future, you cannot avoid it. We need to improvise over time, as there are advancements in technology and cultural change. We did evolve from telegrams to smart-phones didn’t we? This is something similar” says Sanjay, a student at Canara College.

“Technology can never replace the value a teacher brings to the table. A teacher has a social, moral and cultural understanding of a concept, and has real-life experience with the same. This is why the role of a teacher is important. This is not possible with the case of virtual communication or even social media for that matter” says AnuradhaShenoy, a homemaker as well as the owner of Anya Cloth Shoppe.

“We all have our own conscience, our own rationality and sense of responsibility. Simply blaming the internet is not going to help. There are many benefits of the internet. In fact, the pros outweigh the cons. It’s just that the cons are highlighted to such an extent that the whole institution is made to look draconian.” says Ajay, a social media enthusiast.

All said and done, a time will surely come where a solid system would be in place, because of process improvement, and continual understanding of the core concepts of learning. Until then, we just live the way we Indians have for ages – Swalpa adjust maadi style!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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