Friday, March 18, 2016

Misplaced Priorities?

8,000 nominees. From 148 countries. Brought down to 50. Then to 10. An Indian teacher, Robin Chaurasiya, gets selected as one of the top ten finalists for Global Teacher Prize. Read, again. Global. Teacher. Prize. How many of you knew that such a prize exist? And how many of you knew that two Indians, Kiran Bir Sethi and Robin Chaurasiya, have made it to top ten in 2015 and 2016, respectively? Well, what can you do if media doesn't report, right? And why would media report if you don't care?

Care. What does this word mean? While I was watching the live telecast of the finale, I had goosebumps to see a representative from India on the dias. Not that I am super patriotic or something. When I talk about India, I don’t really mean the geographical piece of land bordered by the armed men. I mean the society which thrives on this land and challenges and opportunities that it breeds for itself. And in that regard, it was thrilling for me to see Robin Chaurasiya sitting amongst some really amazing teachers from Palestine, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Kenya, Pakistan, Japan and Finland.

Robin didn’t win the award. And that’s okay. From what I have read, the winner, Hanan Al Hroub, from Palestine seems incredible as well. While I celebrate her victory for the work she does in the tough social, political and economic conditions of Palestine, I am also proud that Robin was in the top ten. And I wish to celebrate that too.

With all my excitement, I opened the newspapers excitedly next morning. The ceremony was mentioned nowhere. It came after one day (really? In this light-speed world of information?). A small section on Hanan in ‘world’ section with no mention of Indian representation. However, on three consecutive days, the same newspaper reported about our filmstars’ being the celebrity guests to this “teacher awards function”. The post event media reports were far and few. Those who reported talked about the trivia of Parineeti’s red carpet moment and Akshay’s selfie with Salma Hayek.

Since then the word, care, has stayed in my mind and heart. What do we care about for ourselves? And what do we care about as a society, a country?

At the award ceremony we had Indian Hindi film stars, Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Parineeti Chopra. While they got their share of limelight for whatever reason, they remained oblivious to the fact that there was an Indian nominee sitting on the stage. Only if they cared enough to recognise her. Later during the post ceremony event when the students of the NGO, Kranti India, approached Akshay Kumar for a selfie, I’m informed, they were almost shrugged off from being photographed. Of course, in later days his selfies appeared in the media with Hollywood stars.

Well, if you are thinking that I am sour for the girls not being able to take a selfie with one of their favorite filmstars, I am not. Because, I think the girls - knowing their stories firsthand - are far bigger stars than any film personality can ever be. Nonetheless, that’s not the point.

The point is, what do we care to celebrate? Pick up a newspaper and scan. You will find we have become (or have always been?) a society that celebrate either trivia or glamor. Please don't get me wrong. I don't have an issue with celebrating glamor if it deserves to be celebrated. Filmstars work equally hard, I hope, if not more, to entertain us and their efforts should be recognised as well - and I think they sufficiently are. My concern is about the fact that even during a teachers' ceremony, we care to celebrate a filmstar’s selfie more than Robin's work in the space of teaching-learning. How do we think we can build and raise a higher collective conscience, knowledge and wisdom if we don't celebrate the work of those who work towards it day in and day out inside and outside their classroom? After all what is celebrated is what gets worked upon. Remember how our school system has for long celebrated rote-learning and academic scores and how that has affected the way children learn in our schools? Here's one woman trying some really alternate methods to educate some of the most marginalised girls, but we are still focused at Akshay's selfie with Salma Hayek! Are we so blinded by glamour that we don't see it? Well, may be yes.

A country which spends a considerable amount of airtime deciding whether not chanting “bharat mata ki jai” is anti-national, a country which has over ten awards functions to celebrate actors but only one, far-lesser-known, national award to recognise teachers, a country where “the money allocated for key centrally sponsored social schemes—Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS),  Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA or universal education programme) and  National Health Mission—declined 10%, 7.5% and 3.6%, respectively, over two years. Over the same period, money set aside for Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) increased almost three times where only 1% of Swachh Bharat Mission money spent on changing attitudes (source)”; it clearly is a state of misplaced priorities.

P.S. - Care to see how some countries celebrate their teachers? Check this.