Teachers as Transformers

Professor A.N. Maheshwari

6th September 2000


The primary school teachers who have achieved extraordinary results in enrolment, retention and achievement without any formal support from outside can provide very useful leads for policy and institutional reform. In 1994, Ravi J. Mathai Centre for Education took up a project at the behest of the Gujarat Government in developing a management plan for primary education. The team of Professor Anil Gupta, Professor Vijaya Sherry Chand, Shri Shailesh Shukla and their other colleagues adopted a grassroots up approach and looked for solutions from outstanding primary school teachers in meeting the goals of universal primary education. From their work I want to share a few examples of innovations as they have touched my heart.

Ms Bhanumati Upadhyay tied rakhi to every male person in her village. The people in the village asked Bhanumati ben as to what should they give to the school in lieu of her gesture. Should they get a room built, or install a cooler or do something else. She did not show any interest and refused to accept anything. When people insisted too much, she said that she would ask for some gift only if they promised not to refuse. People were intrigued a bit. But they agreed. She then asked them to give her their daughters. After that day, there never was any problem in getting girl children in the school.

Mr. Thakershi Kumbhar was very keen to have 100 per cent enrolment of all the children in the school. He bought 300 post cards at his own cost and started sending greetings to the children on their birthday. When parents approached him to enquire as to what was it about, he would look at the card and mention that he was waiting for their child in the school after six months, a year, two years or whatever time applicable in each case. Parents were overwhelmed. They never kept track of birthday ordinarily. Here was someone who was reminding them months or years in advance about the need for admitting their child in the school. The reminder had a tremendous impact. The financial cost was negligible but emotional payoff was enormous.

Ms. Sambhavi Joshi helped children of labour class and poor families to take pride in their appearance. From her own resources, she bought combs, mirrors, and napkins and started bathing children in the school. The joy of children went up and so did their regularity in school.

There are innumerable other examples of innovations that are being carried out silently by primary school teachers using their own resources. We do not know of them, as teachers have preferred to remain invisible for they work without clamouring for recognition or reward. The destiny of the country is indeed being shaped in its classrooms.

We thought that we should understand innovations of the primary school teachers and their policy implications directly from them. We are very fortunate that we know a few such teachers to represent this galaxy of teachers that are engaged in transforming their students. They are Shri Ajit Solanki, Shri Motibhai Nayak, Shri Ramlal Soni, Dr Jhora Dholia, Shri Manjibhai Prajapati and Shri Gyaneswar Dubey.

About six months ago John Shotton, who is a professor in the Homerton College, Cambridge University, mentioned to me about a publication entitled Teachers as Transformers around the innovative experiences of some of the rural primary school teachers from the State of Gujarat. He said that in this publication that was supported by the UNICEF innovative experiences of primary school teachers have been compiled by Professor Vijaya Sherry Chand and Shri Shailesh Shukla of the Ravi J. Mathai Centre of Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad. I had not seen the book. I started thinking about the concept of Teachers as Transformers as it appealed to me and gave this term my own interpretation that I thought might fit in well with the concept of learning from outstanding teachers. My interpretation of this term is that

"Each person can trace contribution of some teacher who helped that person to transform into a good human being with a more positive self-image, more self-confidence, more commitment and motivation to pursue excellence. This role of a teacher is universally acknowledged."

I will give two illustrative examples; one an incident recalled by a teacher that resulted in a positive transformation of the personality of a student and the other a tribute paid by a student to his teacher:

I joined a primary school in Ahmedabad district in 1951. I started with Gijubhai's philosophy, which says, "we do not need to punish or penalise children, rather, there. is need to understand and love children." I started my very first day in school with this view. I offended almost every teacher colleague. They said, "these children are very notorious, unlike urban children. You better forget these good urban ideas." But I was determined to be a teacher!

Bhagwat, a Rajput child had challenged my determination. Seizing an opportunity, he 'broke' my hand and ran away home, about 8 miles away from school. Two days later, I personally fetched him from home and brought him to school. Bhagwat cried when he saw a plaster on my hand - by then he had understood me.

I met Bhagwat's father after ten years. He was very happy man. He told me that Bhagwat had become a police officer. With tearful eyes, he said, "You have transformed my son into a new being. We are very happy."

After almost ten years, the Principal of a B.Ed. college in Ahmedabad informed me of Bhagwat's death. I was told that politicians, alcohol traders and criminals had murdered him. They added: "We have lost a honest and competent police officer."

I went to meet Bhagwat's father. He said, "Jyotibhai, I am very proud of Bhagwat. He has brought respect to our village and family. I am really very grateful to you. I had always thought that Bhagwat could never study, that is why I had sent him to you. You not only brought out a good human being in him but also a warrior. He died for his principles. I do not want any thing else from life."

He had tears in his eyes and the feeling of pride and satisfaction on his face cannot be expressed in words.

I got my hand fractured. Bhagwat gave his life! I remembered the blessing of Gijubhai : love children do not punish them.

The second incident is a tribute paid by R.K. Laxman, world famous cartoonist, to the primary school teacher who had transformed him when he was in perhaps in class 1. I have excerpted it from Laman's autobiography entitled a Tunnel Through Time.

One day, instead of leaving the class in charge of the monitor before stepping out, he (teacher) set up a task: we were ordered to draw a leaf, any leaf.

This was something new and exciting and all the boys at once set about it enthusiastically. We were soon absorbed in the creative task. Some boys sat wondering trying to imagine a leaf. One fellow drew a banana leaf that was so big it went out of the wooden frame of the slate. Another boy, after pondering for a while and failing to visualise a leaf, announced loudly, 'I am going to draw an elephant instead!' Thus were so busily engaged that we had not even noticed the teacher either leaving or returning. A couple of loud thumps on the table with the cane brought us back to reality.

He asked us to queue up and began to critically examine our efforts one by one, murmuring comments and giving marks. Sometimes he twisted a boy's ear or brought the cane down on the leg of another. When it was my turn, he stared at the drawing for an alarmingly long time and asked me, 'Did you draw it yourself, Laxman?' I was frightened and stepped back, expecting a shower of blows. I replied, 'You asked us to draw, sir... I sat there and drew...' fumbling for a safe excuse. But to my great surprise and joy he held my slate up before the class and announced, 'Attention! Look how nicely Laxman has drawn the leaf!' He turned to me and said, 'You will be an artist one day. Keep it up.' He gave me ten marks out of ten. He was very impressed by the perfect shape of my peepal leaf and the details of the veins branching out along the midrib. I had seen these leaves countless times strewn on the road under the peepal tree, and I could draw them effortlessly. I was inspired by this unexpected encouragement. I began to think of myself as an artist in the making, never doubting that this was my destiny.

--R. K. Laxman


I am sure reading these two reminiscences your own thoughts would have drifted to the teacher who transformed you or to your own role as a teacher in transforming your students. I shall be thankful to each one of you if you can jot down now itself few lines on the concept Teachers as Transformers from your own life and share it with me. Your contribution will be posted on the Homepage of the NCTE, where a link has been created for developing a forum called the Teachers as Transformers.  

The challenge before us that instead of continuing with the conventional top down approach to teacher education the time has come for attuning it to the experiences of our teachers and for rooting it in the ground realities of our schooling system.