Blackboard jungleEducational institutions should nurture mutual respect between teachers and students.
In yet another shameful incident that calls into question the culture of education in Nepal, a teacher conducting exams at the Kathmandu-based Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus was thrashed mercilessly for forbidding a student from cheating in a test. The teacher, Prakash Pudasaini, was simply doing his job when he was beaten up by a rogue student, who not only did not comply with basic academic etiquette but also defied the law. That, however, is not a one-off incident in a country that has done little to improve the relationship between teachers and students.
Just last year, Prem Chalaune, an assistant professor at Tribhuvan University, was assaulted by his own students after an altercation. It took months for Chalaune to recover while the students who beat him up walked out of custody on nominal bail. Such incidents do not only discourage teachers who are working towards enhancing the academic profile of educational students, they also encourage violent students who continue to believe they can get away with anything since they have the backing of the mighty and the powerful. Ultimately, what suffers is the teaching-learning practice at educational institutions. Each of us has to pay a price when the academic culture in educational institutions goes down.
One reason why the relationship between teachers and students has remained strained is that the students, who are often supported by the student political leadership, are encouraged to create terror in educational institutions. Student politics has almost always remained the domain of those who can use muscle and money to make things work in the way those “powerful” students want. This has been evident quite often in our universities and colleges, with students blocking teachers from doing their duties, and even attacking them physically. There is, therefore, a need to rethink the roles of teachers and students.
As much as the incidents of teachers being roughed up by rowdy students is a matter of shame, it is also the case that teachers have always treated students unfairly. The relationship between teachers and students is often limited to that of the powerful and the powerless, with teachers meting out excessive corporal punishment on students for as simple a mistake as not doing their homework. The feudalistic relationship between teachers and students must, therefore, give way to a more egalitarian relationship, which enables a culture of mutual learning and respect for each other.
There is no over-emphasising the fact that the relationship between teachers and students is symbiotic, and that a positive teacher-student relationship helps students learn and teachers grow as better teachers. It is in coming to the middle stage—or love and respect—that students and teachers can engage with each other meaningfully in the teaching-learning exercise. Schools and universities should enable and nurture that engagement by creating an environment where students are treated with the love they deserve, and teachers are treated with the respect they deserve.