V-P Naidu is correct: Google can’t replace gurus. But where are the teachers? | editorials | Hindustan Times
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V-P Naidu is correct: Google can’t replace gurus. But where are the teachers?

The reasons for the shortage of teachers are lack of regular recruitment, bungled deployment of teachers, lack of specialist teachers for certain subjects, and small schools, which cause available teachers to be thinly spread.

editorials Updated: Dec 21, 2017 17:37 IST
Technology today allows access to information to more people than ever before in history. Sitting in India, one can now access courses taught by the top-class faculty at the best universities in the world. Or re-skill yourself by doing a short course offered by platforms such as Coursera.
Technology today allows access to information to more people than ever before in history. Sitting in India, one can now access courses taught by the top-class faculty at the best universities in the world. Or re-skill yourself by doing a short course offered by platforms such as Coursera. (Reuters)

Emphasising on the importance of teachers and education, vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu recently said Google can never replace a ‘guru’ because a “guru gives not mere” academic knowledge but “insights as well”. What the V-P said is worth thinking about, especially at a time when search engines and social media have a vice-like grip on our lives these days.

However, blaming technology is unfair. It has its positives: Technology today allows access to information to more people than ever before in history. Sitting in India, one can now access courses taught by the top-class faculty at the best universities in the world. Or re-skill oneself by doing a short course offered by platforms such as Coursera.

But yes, as Mr Naidu, said Google cannot replace a guru because a teacher brings something extra to a class. Like a parent, a good teacher is a guiding force for children, mentoring them to negotiate not just their careers but life.

Unfortunately, this is where Indian children, especially those who go to State-run schools, are losing out: The country just doesn’t have enough gurus or teachers. Of the six million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, about 900,000 elementary school teaching positions and 100,000 in secondary school—put together, a million—are vacant, according to an IndiaSpend study. The reasons for the shortage of teachers are lack of regular recruitment, bungled deployment of teachers, lack of specialist teachers for certain subjects, and small schools, which cause available teachers to be thinly spread.

It is not surprising then that the learning levels of students in primary classes are so poor that they stand no chance later in life.

In rural India, the latest edition of the Annual State of Education Report shows that only 47.8% of class V students can read a class II-level text and only 43% of class VIII students can do class V-level arithmetic. In its annual “World Development Report”, released earlier this year, the World Bank describes this as not just a “learning crisis” but a “moral crisis”—amplifying inequalities between and within nations. Notably, this learning crisis comes at a time when enrolment levels have increased across the board.

At the university level, the situation is equally challenging. Earlier this year, a parliamentary panel expressed anguish at the “acute shortage” of faculty members in IITs, IIMs, and universities and asked the government to take steps to fill up the vacancies and to make the teaching profession more attractive. India is operating at more than 30% faculty shortage in the higher education sector.

The V-P has touched on a very important issue. The Centre and the states --- education is on the concurrent list --- must figure out ways to tackle this challenge; investing in infrastructure will not improve our educational levels, which can then seriously impact economic growth and high-priority programmes such as Skilling India. It is imperative we find gurus who can complement Google.