By Baela Raza Jamil, CEO Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA)

Today is a day to celebrate teachers, our personal and collective learning through our lifespans. Teachers include, engaged parents, grandparents, extended family members and friends who taught us our first coherent lessons for life and of course the formal teachers who influenced us throughout our lives. I can tell you that as I look back and ahead there are so many to whom I owe a lot – in all of the above categories. I thank them for who I am today – for pushing my DNA to be bold in my learning, a risk taker, rebel, comfortable with expressing, sharing and re-examining many facets of learning and life frequently, liberated to enjoy creativity, aesthetics and much more.

I cannot help but share today some thoughts that are connected to teachers and the art of learning.

WDR 2018This piece is triggered off by cumulated research gathered regularly through a close association with citizen led assessments (2008-2017), our PAL Network , most recently the World Development Report (WDR) 2018, clarion call that our children are not learning; that the Learning Crisis now extends to 618 million children at primary and secondary levels (UIS 2017) and most importantly, that it is the poorest who are the most vulnerable to the learning gaps.

The compelling driving thought today is to ask ‘why?’

Is the problem ‘teachers’ or are they part of a very massive solution as one has always maintained? Aren’t they, after all, the ones who trigger and mould the ordinary into the extraordinary in our life’s journey? That is the real teacher – the catalyst capable of making the incoherent, coherent.

Yes we see both sides of the dynamic reality on a daily basis – highly empowered and also very disempowered and dragon like teachers! Yes honestly I mean it – on a daily basis in a school in Karachi, where I go to sharpen my own tools of observation and innovations, I see ample evidence of the yin and yang[1] of teachers. I see leadership in a ‘neutral administrative mode’ at best. A dumbing down decision by a school head to remain responsive to the departmental demands of mediocre administrative matters and clerk-like responses with a conscious undermining of her work as a ‘school leader’. By doing so she chooses to be a ‘sufficer’ not a ‘maximiser’. This tragedy of teacher leaders who want to play ‘safe’ and simply occupied by mediocre ‘passé institutional ‘housekeeping’ to keep the higher-ups satisfied through responsive work, comes at a high cost of totally ignoring the children and students who are only given the ‘left overs’ of ebbed out energy and ideas after satisfying the ‘system bosses’! This is an epic imploding of the system, where the centre becomes the periphery – or the outliers at best.

How can this be reversed?

How can the system and its bosses understand that transformations for quality lie with the teachers who, in turn, need to express their work by keeping the learner and teachers at the centre of the enterprise?   How can we salvage teachers who have the vision to be inclusive and a belief system that learning can take place through coalitions as much as through individual personalized, sometimes painful and also creative pathways?

Can the teachers who are acting out an ‘artificial’ self deprecating role – playing to a motely approval seeking gallery of administrators, rebel boldly against their inquisitorial warlords that take them away from their ‘professional and truly nobel essence’? I think firmly that they can. I think we can give a call for teachers to take positions – whose side are they on? – the learners or their torturing masters who are anti-learning and anti-inquiry? Those who have lost the art and desire of teaching will have to join another cadre of workers, but those who want to return to the world’s largest workforce in dignity, fired by innovations, passion and a chance to prove their mettle as co-creators of knowledge and experience, will craft a safe passage to the learning shores. At these shores the largest crowds ever will be awaiting their return to humanize and energize a profession that nature had so ordained where each wave of water and sand grain is unique – where every learning moment shimmers with a knowledge milestone or stepping stone; another set of question or questions; perhaps an ‘aha’ moment of ‘Oh I can do that!’; an inquiry frown and a redeeming smile for the learner to move forward in life’s journey creating the ground that they uniquely stand on.

This is how I learnt from my teachers and there were many.

Thank you my crafters  Ammi[2], Raza[3], Nanna[4], Dada[5], Abbaji[6], Amma[7] (my father’s phuppi); Middu[8] Chachajaan, Tariq my friend , spouse and soul mate, siblings, children, amazing friends and of course my innumerable teachers across 20 learning institutions (Pakistan, UK, USA, HongKong) who taught me hard through experience and principles that sometimes rocked my entire agitating being, and my very special mentor, Anita Ghulam Ali. Today, I remain a learner humbled with the wonder of new frontiers of knowledge, new technologies, new coalitions national and global, for learning and action across each living moment.

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[1] The principle of Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture in general. This principle is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example female-male, dark-light and old-young.

[2] Mother, in Urdhu Language

[3] The writer’s father Language

[4] Maternal grandfather, in Urdhu Language

[5] Paternal grandfather, in Urdhu Language

[6] Father, in Urdhu Language

[7] Paternal aunt, in Urdhu Language

[8] Paternal uncle, in Urdhu

Baela Raza Jamil is also the Director of ASER Pakistan , Founder of the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), Managing Trusteee – Sanjan Nagar Publice Trust (SNPET), Commissioner – the Education Commission and Member of the PAL Network Steering Committee.  Baela Raza Jamil can be reached at email: itacec@gmail.com

Blog originally posted on the ASER Pakistan Blog