Empathy and a deeper understanding of one’s self and human nature are all components of emotional intelligence, which is the trademark of great thinkers, scientists and leaders, writes Nabeel Iqbal
IF TEACHING is an art, then surely the teacher is an artist. Like all artists, the primary role of a teacher is to inspire, transform and move the students to higher states of being and consciousness. The role of a teacher cannot be to only to dryly teach theories and formulae. A true teacher, like an artist, must also inspire and instil wonder and awe for this magnificent universe and a yearning for truth and knowledge. According to Aristotle, ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’. It goes without saying that a teacher in addition to academic knowledge should also teach and inspire universal human virtues, such as courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom.
How can a teacher, like a true artist, inspire and enlighten her/his students? Firstly, the teacher herself/himself must be truly inspired and enlightened and must embody noble virtues. Undoubtedly, along with relevant skills and qualifications, personality traits and characteristics should be important factors in appointing teachers if we want to preserve and pass the virtuous humane qualities along the line. Otherwise, the hope of a kinder and fairer future will grow even dimmer. Imagine a highly qualified teacher with despicable qualities which are ultimately passed on to your children. Certainly, not a happy thought!
Some may argue that individuals learn good characters and morals during childhood from their parents at home. However, nowadays students are spending ever increasing amount of time at schools, coaching centres and campuses. Thus the amount of virtue and vice they pick up from these places are increasing. As much as we need our teachers to act like guardian angels in schools; so do we need our university teachers to be sources of inspiration for students and to inculcate virtue and morality in students.
Recently, Bangladesh witnessed sensational incidents of substance abuse, suicides and violence against women among the student community. Partly, these incidents are due to the failure of the education system which has not focused enough on the emotional dimension of education. The fight against drug addiction, intolerance towards racial and religious minorities, violence against women and children must start at our schools and campuses. For that we need teachers who themselves are empathetic and actually care about social, global justice and are not apathetic towards the suffering of others.
In addition to recruiting teachers who are both qualified and humane, the education system should also allow certain creative freedom to teachers. One cannot hire an artist and then restrict her/him to only paint in black and white. Such restriction would grossly dampen the creative potential of the artist. If an education system wants to attract creative minds and get the maximum out of the teachers as well as the students, then the system must allow creative freedom and, if needed, tolerate some artistic eccentricities. Otherwise, we will keep on perpetuating the doom and gloom atmosphere of our classrooms which inspired the famous Pink Floyd number, ‘We don’t need no education.’
One might feel that this line of thought is too idealistic and not pragmatic enough for today’s fast-paced and competitive world. But, is that really so? Studies indicate that emotional intelligence is one of the important determinants of success. Empathy and a deeper understanding of one’s self and human nature are all components of emotional intelligence, which is the trademark of great thinkers, scientists and leaders. Hence, reforming our education system to ensure that these qualities are nurtured and developed in students can ensure individual success of students and also gift the society with enlightened and altruistic individuals.
Rabindranath Tagore once argued, ‘The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence’. This, indeed, is the need of the hour. We need to teach and inspire future generations to live in harmony with nature and environment.
Nabeel Iqbal is a lecturer in the school of business and economics, North South University.
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