Teachers' Day, celebrated on 5 September every year, has been observed by generations of students in India since 1962. The date, which marks the birth anniversary of S Radhakrishnan, independent India's second president, has been given a different spin by the Delhi government this year.
On Saturday, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said his government would celebrate Teachers' Day as 'Abhar Diwas' and award 122 teachers who “diligently discharged their duties” during the covid-19 pandemic, agencies reported. Of the 80 awardees in the teachers' category, 57 are women and 23 men. Out of the 21 awardees in the principals' category, 13 are women and eight are men. The awards will also be given to 14 sports teachers and two librarians.
According to a PTI report, “A music teacher who recently created a world record for playing sitar non-stop for over 32 hours and a maths teacher who helped students of Delhi government schools crack the IIT examination will be given the 'Face of DoE' (Directorate of Education) award.”
Raj Kumar, a music teacher with a Delhi government school, entered his name into the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the sitar non-stop for 32 hours and 20 minutes. Suman Arora has an M.Sc in Mathematics from IIT-Delhi and helped Delhi government school students crack the IIT examination.
"Teachers of Delhi have played an important role in the tough times of Covid. They have not only worked shoulder to shoulder with the administration but have also done remarkable work on the vaccination front, at quarantine centres, in distribution of food, mask enforcement and airport duty," said Sisodia, who also is also in charge of the education ministry.
While performing these duties, the teachers also continued to teach children online and did not let their education stop, he added. During the pandemic, Sisodia said, there was large-scale migration of people and many children went to other states. The teachers worked to find these children, helped them return to Delhi, provided devices to those children who could not attend online classes and ensured that they had an internet connection.
The eligibility for Delhi State Teachers' Award 2021 have been relaxed to cover guest teachers and private tutors, while the number of awardees has gone from 103 to 122. The criterion for a teacher to have 15 years of teaching experience to be considered for the award has been relaxed to three years, Sisodia told PTI.
Two special awards have been earmarked for Bharti Kalra and Rani Bhardwaj, who provided tablet devices to students and supported them in various ways during the pandemic so that they could continue with their studies, Sisodia added, urging people to call up at least one of their teachers on Teachers' Day and express their gratitude towards them. #TeachersDay is trending on social media platforms already.
While it's a laudable gesture to award teachers who have gone out of their way to fulfil their duty, the pandemic months have also exacted tremendous toll on their mental and physical well-being, across schools in India.
In July, a report by Central Square Foundation, an NGO working on the quality school education in India, indicated that 55% teachers faced salary cuts due to fall in revenues in schools by 20-50%. Schools in urban areas bore the brunt of the losses, as the number of admissions dwindled, forcing scores of teachers to supplement their income by offering private tuition and coaching.
The psychological impact of pivoting to online teaching has been profound, too, especially on teachers who have always shone inside classrooms and in front of a physical blackboard. As Mint reported in July 2020, teachers struggled for the first few months of the pandemic to adapt to technology and to manage online classrooms from home while looking after their families.
A report from May this year further highlighted the plight of government school teachers in Uttar Pradesh, who were forced to go on election duty during the panchayat polls in the middle of the pandemic, in spite of their concern over safety protocols. More than 700 teachers died of covid, and many others were infected.
Teachers deserve to be celebrated through the year, not just fussed over on one day, especially during these trying times. Hopefully, the award ceremonies and felicitations would make way for better economic support and infrastructure for India's educators.