Brief Profile of Dr. Shrihari Honwad.
Dr Shrihari Honwad is a senior academician with administrative and governance experience, the exposure and contributions to, various functions – from teaching at one end of spectrum to managing institutions at the other – defines his career. Having obtained his graduate degree in Chemical Engineering from BITS Pilani, and PhD from the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, Dr Shrihari became a teacher and remains a teacher till date. Beginning as a teaching assistant with Industrial exposure, his career spans through a path where he became a researcher, and eventually a teacher. He has had a teaching career transformed into an academic leadership career spanning two decades in several positions including Principal of a College with 2000 students, which was listed amongst to 50 Engineering colleges in the country and was part of a university which also has seen a phenomenal growth with 12000 students in 12 years first as Dean and eventually as its Vice Chancellor. He has had the privilege of getting into Academic governance through Board of studies and Academic Council and Institutional governance through Board of Management and Board of Governors. He has the unique experience of working in unitary, deemed and affiliating universities in India. He has also had the opportunity to visit universities abroad in Spain, France, Turkey, Malaysia and Thailand. He has published several international papers and has guided four PhD students. He is a chartered Enrgineer (UK) and a chartered Energy Engineer and Fellow of Energy Institute (UK).
Even today he believes in staying in touch with students through class room teaching while taking care of his responsibilities. His current passion is ICT intervention in improving learning outcomes.
GURU in a modern sense, the prodigious Teacher.
Traditionally Indians have considered the teacher to be the brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and shiva, the destroyer and in fact, the all powerfull, almighty God. However, this respect has rarely been given to a teacher and hardly in modern times which renders the definition somewhat mythological and many have tried to find alternative definitions and of course tried to borrow from the west. This is an attempt to see the relevance of this view held by Indians over the centuries. We must first examine if the role of teachers or the way teachers practiced their profession has changed over time. Ancient India had teachers in a sort of sanctuary away from society but nevertheless supported by the very society where students were cohabiting with teachers and were 24 by 7 students until they were declared fit to enter society. The teachers of course practiced their profession under complete autonomy and unquestioned judgement. This was possible perhaps because the knowledge was not doubling within the life time of teachers. But one should not discount that they resonated well with society, intermingled frequently and carried out relevant research for the society alleviating the problems. The solutions were available to mankind so it was indeed noble profession and the times were nobler. Circa 2020, what has changed, teaching is a job and sometimes a secondary one. The teaching is believed to be happening inside of a class room where the students are in contact with teachers and with each other. The society believes that a teacher’s job starts and ends in a class room so to justify their employment other jobs have come to stay with them namely elections and census at school level and so on as you go higher and from government to private institutions. Teachers do consider a lot of these activities not their “job”, yes teachers do consider teaching as a job and of course society ensures that view is reinforced. Any doubts about teaching being a noble profession are not only justified but the society strives hard to reinforce these doubts.
Let us look at several activities of modern teachers otherwise not considered their job. This article is not to justify these activities but to see if there are parallels in ancient India for these jobs. One of the activities the teachers are dumped with is during admissions and the counselling process. Teachers play a very important role in the admissions process through giving a trustworthy idea of the future to the student. The question is should teachers be involved in this activity at any level. The sage Vishwamitra is supposed to have asked for Rama and Lakshmana (in the Ramayana) to come with him and he taught them newer weapons which came in handy in their task to protect the Ashram. Closer to documented past Chanakya did pick up Chandragupta on possibly one of his talent hunt excursions. Even in Mahabharat, Dronacharya is supposed to have impressed the princes with his skills in archery. Please ask our youngsters who apply for higher studies abroad, the value they put on the reputation of the faculty. These are perhaps examples of creating students for you, and if you for one moment keep aside the divinity of being a creator, perhaps justify the comparison to being a creator in the sense that you create a student out of a human being, the one who wants to learn. It is difficult to find takers for this stretched argument justifying comparison of teacher to creator sans divinity. Divinity, if one insists, comes from the fact that end results which are in the form a career. For those who do not believe still, let us understand that, in modern times, this is an activity which needs to be repeated year after year and can not be based on one success in the form of one Chandragupta or Arjuna. Our teachers do indeed work harder for student recruitment (creation?) our primary teachers in villages are known to go from door to door to convince children to come to schools and at every school/college/university there are teachers who influence this process and become creators of student. A substantial number seem to get away without actively influencing this process but are teachers and deserve to be included in our definition. Even in modern times a true teacher, who truly understands the purpose and relevance of the course/module/class he is teaching, who is able to excite the curiosity of an attendee and create a student out of him, is a creator.
A teacher who truly understands the expected outcome of a course and is able to convince his class of the outcomes is surely creating a learner with focus and is very successful on one count that is becoming a creator. This only justifies that creating a student is indeed a very important part of the teacher definition and needs to be retained with or without the divinity associated with it because a teacher probably needs to create a learner in every one of his class, as it may be temporary and last only part of class. It still is a teacher’s role of a creator and can be extended to all teachers and teachers at all levels. One can extend it of course to a teacher-researcher as creator of new knowledge, creator of a new course/program/training etc and so on. Now this definition of teacher being a creator should be acceptable to all.
What about activities that involve teachers acting as counsellors, understanding personal and personality issues of students, advising them helping them cope up with learning process; those that involve teachers taking up mundane repetitive activities such as time tabling, orientations, examinations, alumni, outings etc. While a lot of these are not liked by teachers and there may be resentment about these not being teachers’ job, these are very important for the learning process of the students. These activities seem to protect students from difficulties rooted outside learning environment, bewilderment in unknown atmosphere, disturbances from those not interested in learning process. Do these teachers play a role of a preserver of students or learning process. Perhaps yes, but so do faculty who work on connects with external world, network with experts, find projects and mentor students. These activities do protect the learning environment. Amongst all these teachers, those who ensure outcomes are delivered, protect the student from many difficulties in future. Continuing education program for alumni would be a great example of life long help or do we say protection. Teachers trying to understand possible future and accordingly changing their curriculum, pedagogy and content are in fact trying to protect their students from as many future problems as they can by preparing them for those. Then there are teachers who ensure critical thinking skills so the students are prepared for unforeseen situations too. In short, teachers are trying to protect their students even in the modern era and the role of preserver needs to be part of the definition. Every activity in academic institution needs to be for the students to protect them, protect them during the learning phase and protect them by making them lifelong learners.
The last part of the definition that of a destroyer needs some explanation. A teacher’s fault either in evaluation or any other disciplinary judgement may destroy the career of a student. Teachers need to define and decide what kind of destroyer they want to be. Extending the learning process beyond examinations would help destroy misconceptions and confusions for many of our students, just let them all see their answers, evaluations and rationalise. Counsel the failed student and destroy fear of learning. Consider failure is punitive in itself and refrain from adding further punishment which may destroy the learner. Enable slow learners to learn at their own pace through flexibility and destroy the possibility of their developing inferiority complex or even losing their way altogether. Be strong enough to destroy hindrances to the learning process and not the learner. So many of our teachers play this role forcing us to keep the destroyer role as part of the definition. In fact, any activity which is part of teaching learning process gets classified under these three broad definitions of creator, preserver and destroyer. This may not make the teacher divine but puts the same responsibility as that of the almighty.
In conclusion, the ancient definition does hold good even today except it needs an appropriate interpretation, that the teacher needs to create a learner, protect the learning process and the learner and destroy any threats to the success of learning with a responsibility similar to that of the almighty as consequences are too dangerous for the society for which the learned workforce is being prepared. There are indeed teachers who live according to this definition and they are indeed respected by society almost as if they are divine.
Author_ Dr. Shrihari Honwad
Chemical Engineering from BITS Pilani, and PhD from IISC Bangalore