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Off the mark: Why were teachers ignored in Modi's Teacher's Day speech

There is little doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interaction with 1.2 crore students of the country encompassing 18 lakh schools was a success despite the controversies regarding the whole programme. Notwithstanding the response of the students to the prime minister, many questions have been raised about the relevance and focus of his speech. The nearly two-hour long interaction was largely anecdotal, interspersed with pints of advice to India's youngest generation about different aspects in life.

 Off the mark: Why were teachers ignored in Modis Teachers Day speech

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with the children at the Teachers' Day function, at Manekshaw Auditorium, in New Delhi on 05 September 2014. Image courtesy PIB

The biggest criticism about the speech was that it was focused on students when it should have actually been aimed at teachers.

Neither the prime minister's speech nor his interaction with students contained any vision for the improvement of the education system in India.

Instead he advised students not to miss the beauty of childhood by only concentrating on their books. He also told them that children could contribute to nation-building through cleanliness and saving electricity and water. All good words but perhaps not exactly apt for the occasion.

"There was absence in silence. He said nothing about the big issues in education. I would have liked to see more engagement with teachers and on the problems of the education sector in India. The success of the event worries me.  It was choreographed. The dialogue with the children had a certain structured quality toit. It was an innocuous speech but he got the way wrong. He is trying to change his own image but he appeared contrived," professor at OP Jindal Global University Shiv Visvanathan told NDTV during a panel discussion.

Educationist Gowri Ishwaran shared Visvanathan's views in the sense that it missed the core issues which would have been very relevant on Teachers' Day.

"It was good that the PM communicated with the students directly. But he never really addressed the problems faced by teachers in the country. There is a shortage of 12 lakh teachers in the country. The BEd programme has become archaic. It would have been great if the PM had spoken about teacher expectations. I wish he had spoken more about the quality and problems of teaching," Ishwaran said.

The Congress party felt that there was nothing new about the whole thing in terms of ideas.

"This was a PR exercise. There was nothing new in what he said. Save power, save environment was always there. When is he going to walk the talk on girls' toilets in schools? What about the plight of teachers? Even the picture of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was not there," said Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza.

She however did not agree with other panelists that the former prime minister Manmohan Singh was not accessible. "Manmohan Singh was not running a self-propaganda programme like Narendra Modi," Oza said.

Others felt that the PM had hijacked the event for political advantage.

"There was a political message in the programme which was sent out very cleverly. He indicated that he is going to be PM for two terms. He was addressing the future voters of the country. But he did not talk about the lack of infrastructure in schools. In reality, school infrastructure and the quality of teachers should have been the focus of his speech. It was more like a Children's Day programme rather than Teachers' Day. Did he realise that schools were pushed to cough out Rs 25,000 to arrange equipment for his speech?" said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia.

To a question by a student in Imphal, asking for tips to become prime minister, Modi's response was clear in one aspect — that he didn't think there was going to be a vacancy till 2024 and that he would be there for two terms. "Prepare for 2024. Till then I don’t have any threat...," Modi said.

BJP spokesperson Shaina NC completely disagreed that the speech ignored the teachers or that it was politically motivated.

"Look at the number of teachers and students who heard the speech. The PM spoke to the students as they are the present and not the future of the country. It was a historic day for the students who were listening. How many previous PMs spoke to teachers and students directly? They never had the chance of meeting or questioning the PM. If we inculcate social responsibility in our children on Teachers' Day what is wrong in that? PM was not pretending to be on a sales pitch today.

Modi had the prerogative to communicate as PM but earlier PM's did not utilise the opportunity," Shaina said.

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Updated Date: Sep 06, 2014 12:24:00 IST