I spent the first evening of 2019 watching Bollywood's latest blockbuster, Simmba. In the film, a highly corrupt and unethical Inspector Sangram Bhalerao (Simmba) has a few shreds of goodness in him which enable him to turn over a new leaf. The fact that he had some values instilled in him can be attributed to a night school teacher's impact on his life who selflessly taught him when he was young.
There are innumerable people I have met in real life who often talk about how important some teachers were in their life. Some people talk about a course or a subject they never forget simply because of the teacher. Then there are some who were lucky enough to learn lessons from their teacher/s that go beyond the classroom just on how to live an honourable life.
A few months back, a dear friend Kenneth Serrao (an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and Founder & CIO at Alpha capital) asked a pertinent question at his daughter's teacher's day celebration. Aren't Teachers the real heroes? The entire conversation in popular culture today is around people who earn a lot of money. Ask someone who their hero is and the answer will be a Cricketer, a Film Star, a Business person or strangely sometimes even a Politician. Unfortunately, except for at a few elite schools and universities, teachers are among the most poorly paid professionals across the world. My own belief is that becoming a teacher is not an aspirational career option.
There is a huge gap today in how much someone earns and how much perceived value they add to the society, the country or even humanity. This gap has not gone unnoticed and it is the foundation of a lot of angst and unrest in the world today. Nowhere is it more clearly evident than when one looks at the salary of a primary school teacher and the colossal job they have been burdened with. It is a tough job to shape young minds in a positive direction. It takes hours of work to ensure that young children in rural India can do basic math or that they can read well. A good teacher can uplift an entire community. Another close friend Nabh Gupta's mother was a Principal of a school in Delhi. He often tells stories of his mother visiting low income households in their neighbourhood convincing parents across religions and communities to send their kids to school. My IIM Indore batch mate Prasid Sreeprakash worked in a slum for 2 years in Kandivili teaching kids while working with Teach For India and his stories would oscillate between being gut-wrenching and joyously innocent. This is life shaping, life changing work. Civilizations are built on these foundations.
There seems to be little appreciation or admiration for the contribution of teachers in nation building. A lot of people seem to forget that they earn salaries of INR 25 Lacs per annum because apart from the genetic lottery that afforded them a good education, tens of teachers working on salaries as low as INR 10,000 a month were putting in the hours to make them who they are. Don't tell this to them - you may become unpopular. People are allergic to anything that shakes their belief that they are singularly responsible for all their great achievements.
Of course it is not just primary school teachers. It could be your sports coach. Or your college professor. Or a coaching class faculty. A mentor at work. Or maybe even your own parent. There are so many people we learn from all our lives. Unfortunately there is no way to quantify the impact a teacher has in a currency that the world values. We are taught the 'multiplier' effect in Economics. A good teacher is actually the ultimate multiplier effect in a country's economy. Imagine the social and economic good that comes out of just one batch of students who are taught and inspired by a brilliant teacher. Smart nations like Finland understand this and have made teachers and the teaching process the centre of their society. Our own country has countless examples of teachers who have changed the world for the better. Prof. H.C.Verma from IIT Kanpur is revered by thousands of students for his life's work. I have personally heard Prof. Sandeep Desai multiple times on Mumbai locals asking for donations for his free schools for under privileged. Vimla Kaul, Rajesh Kumar Sharma, the Super 30 setup are some of the other inspiring stories.
India has a lot of burning social issues - lack of jobs, inequality, lack of skilled labour, rising mob vigilantism and a deep resentment towards a system where the vast majority just cannot move ahead fast enough where as the elite live the good life. India's human capital problem can only be solved if we start focussing on our teachers. Appreciate them, empower them and invest in them. Teachers are the key to securing India's future. Let's make 2019 the year of the Teacher.