The intangible in education

I realised much later that a good teacher need not necessarily excel as a parent.

The purpose of education has always primarily been to provide a sound foundation for a career. This is an undeniable fact. The youth of the 18th century were educated to be book-keepers, lawyers, doctors or engineers. Those who could not join these professions joined the military or the clergy – depending on whether they were fit to kill or to preach! And those who were not fit for even that, taught!

As a teacher of biology who has served in schools for 25 years, I often wonder what my contribution to the younger generation has been, for not more than two per cent of the students I taught have chosen careers related to biology. Perhaps, it was very little, almost negligible even.

But, while pondering over this problem, I found my answer in something seemingly unrelated to education – the dilemmas of my childhood, revisited as a father. I remember, with a certain degree of anguish, that I was never too close to my father. As a highly respected army officer, he did not dream that his son would decide to teach – and that too in a school! But added to this was the fact that my mother, who was closer to me and a confidante of sorts, actively encouraged me to choose the profession.

As time progressed, my father must have certainly felt vulnerable and cheated. But he also felt isolated and unappreciated. No amount of verbal assurances from my side really improved the situation. I felt that as a teacher, with a reputation for handling children and inspiring them, I would be able to create that wonderful rapport between me and my child. I was in for a rude shock!

Apart from the odd “feather-on-the cap” given to me condescendingly by my daughter, I am not the confidante to her that my mother was to me. The implications of this are perhaps too far-reaching to be discussed here. The issues arising from the crucial role a mother plays as well as the need for fathers to be empowered and “feel” more competent are equally important. The realisation that a good teacher need not necessarily excel as a parent came late to me! My mother, with fewer qualifications, proved to be a better parent than me.

The ‘tangible’ in education, such as marks or being a ‘topper’ has been over-emphasised, pushing teenagers to suicide. But the ‘intangible’ has been ignored. What is this intangible; this ‘something’ which cannot be measured?

Is it the ability to predict the implications of choosing a profession which may not be compatible with the demands of a family life, the ability to choose a career compatible with one’s aptitude, to choose one’s life partner, to accept another’s value system, to be a supportive parent, to appreciate nature? If human society is to become more humane, we cannot ignore the “intangible” in education, as we have done all these years.

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