One of the earliest examples of the apparent disjoint between wealth and knowledge in the Indian social context comes from the story of the young Ashwatthama.
As Guru Dhrona’s son, Ashwatthama led a frugal life. He did not have the luxuries that his peers the Kauravas and Pandavas had. In fact, he had never even seen or tasted milk! A gullible Ashwatthama was once led to drink rice water by the wily princes who later humiliate and make fun at the poor boy’s expense.
The story of Ashwatthama is relevant as the stereotypical ‘guru putra’ even today.
Surprisingly even the great teacher & king maker Chanakya was also a poor man that his wife, Yashoda was ridiculed for her lack of resources.
The construct of great knowledge and greater poverty being wedded to each other is reinforced through many stories in the past.
Is it what makes teaching not an inspiring career choice for young people? In over 17 years of my engagement with young people, I cannot recollect more than 5-6 of my students who expressed their keen desire to take up teaching as a choice for living. I certainly don’t know of many parents who actively encourage their children to become teachers either!
Does that mean that all the mushrooming educational institutions in the country have teachers who never wanted to be there in the first place? What keeps them in the profession then?
How could teaching be made more interesting and inspiring for the teachers themselves? What can educational institutions, the society, the government do to keep those engaged in teaching motivated? How can teachers themselves keep up their morale and continue to deliver excellent classroom interactions?
The only national leader in recent times , who tried to address the teachers and the students in his countless reaching out missions was of course, the late President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.
For a craft that is emotionally, physically, intellectually and socially demanding teachers deserve better financial compensation, better social prestige and a higher moral ground what what they have today. I can almost hear the comment that ‘you earn your respect and that you cannot demand it’. Definitely yes, but a steady and solid financial compensation has a major role to play in determining social prestige accorded to any profession.
I am here reminded of that wonderful lady who had answered my innocent question as a young novice teacher, ” How many children do you have, mam?” “35” she had said without blinking an eye.
While every teacher who is hoping to make some mark today is competing with the modern gadgets, flitting attention span, increasing restlessness and the pressure of a demanding curriculum he/she would be better placed to handle the rigors of the job with a living standard.
Perhaps those teachers who intend to make a decent living out of their profession can learn a little from the street smartness of Tenali Rama who when asked to choose between knowledge and wealth, stealthily plucked both the containers of ‘payasam’ from the hands of the ferocious ‘Kali’ and gulped in one go.
If only life situations were as simple!