Teachers Have to be Made Accountable

A teacher using a sacred space of instruction as a stage for prostitution is as good as sacrilege - not merely for the institution but for the teaching community in the nation.

The shocking incident of (New Delhi teacher) Uma Khurana allegedly forcing schoolgirls into prostitution presents to us not merely the degradation of virtues in the guru-shishya parampara (guru-disciple tradition) but also the dawning of a sexual revolution smug in the assurance that we have virtually wriggled out of tradition's grasp and are now enamored by the sheen of free love and the quest for materialism.  

Teaching and learning depend upon the bedrock of ethical integrity of teachers and students to honor the truth and to engage in the pursuit of truth at all times no matter what the economic status of teacher or pupil. This case is the violation of a moral standard that jeopardizes the core integrity of the learning experience. How can an institution tolerate the loss of its fundamental ethical credibility?

Sadly, the incident of this teacher reflects the free-play zone and the shallowness of current mores, as well as the erosion of human experience, not to mention the tenuous nature and grubby mechanics of the decadence of institutions. Academic integrity and institutional integrity walk side by side.

Interestingly, while the media have flashed reports, no one is talking about accountability and ethical integrity in a performance driven age. As the web of intrigue stretches around the sting operation, the government and authorities need to look at the need for academic and moral integrity among the community of teachers. Good teaching does not come from mere technique; it comes from the identity and integrity of a teacher.

Coaxing innocent girls into prostitution is a highly abusive and objectionable act that goes against the very grain of the age-old definition of friend, philosopher and guide. A good teacher maintains a strong sense of personal identity that commands respect and remains connected with his/her pupils. A good teacher advocates the adage of `contentment being the best of riches'. But greed and avarice can change and destroy the very core of human characteristics that we take for granted.

If the allegations turn out to be true, Uma Khurana will fall in the category of a teacher who went beyond the basic dictums - perhaps in many ways like the student who defined an unethical teacher as "Someone whose words float somewhere in front of her face, like the balloon speech in cartoons".

Is there something in the wake of continuous progressive teaching called `accountability'? If we have to keep pace with the world, the accountability of teaching is what matters most in improving the degree of credibility amongst teachers in schools. Schools that have students from economically weaker sections require teachers with a greater degree of commitment and devotion. No matter who or where the student is from, education demands child-centered connectivity. A teacher's capacity for connectedness must increase according to how energized she becomes in class. The underlying bottom line is the mere truth that teaching cannot just be a profession; it has to be a mission. The difference between the two is painfully obvious!

What is our goal as a nation? Is it to ensure that we will provide every student, especially students placed at risk, with what should be their educational birthright: access to competent, caring, and honest teachers? Or is it just to appoint someone who will fill a vacant chair in a classroom? How are we as a nation able to develop consensus about principles and guidelines for the design of honest policy and practices unless we have a blueprint for the same that goes through all schools - rural and urban?

The case of one teacher highlights major implications for educational policy, and makes the lesson explicit. Indeed, in a nation like ours let us acknowledge that policy is the vehicle for systemic reform; effective practices in transparency cannot be widely implemented without a policy of accountability and integrity to support them.

We need new standards of teaching; a high degree of ethical professionalism and a monitoring that includes student feedback as a mandatory repository. The student teacher partnership is one that goes beyond the classroom, it is a bond for life, and it works on the cardinal assumption that academic and personal integrity is a crucial and critical determinant of true educational progression.

Research has clearly demonstrated that effective teachers are instrumental in helping students learn and meet challenging standards. Given the skill demands placed on teachers in today's classrooms, teaching must be conceived along the lines of a professional model of a code of ethics. Academic integrity is fundamental to the pursuit of academic excellence. Aristotle said: Example is a lesson all men can read.

The alleged example of Uma Khurana is a testimony to the teachers of our nation; if true, it is one that sinks the teaching trade into the abyss of everlasting shame. For a handful of girls it is the end of innocence and the inheritance of loss. 

(Uma Nair is an English teacher at Don Bosco School, New Delhi. She can be contacted at umatnair@gmail.com) 


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