Today, our educators not only are expected to complete the school syllabus and ensure students score well in examinations but to also help solve problems faced by the nation.
THE Holy Prophet Muhammad said, “Seek knowledge and train to be dignified and calm while seeking knowledge, and humble yourselves with those whom you learn from”.
This is among the sayings or hadith of the Prophet on the relationship between students and teachers.
This hadith also indicates the elevated position of teachers in Islamic tradition. The role of teachers and education is crucial in preparing a better and developed nation in the future.
The fate of our young people, the future of society and the nation’s prospects depend, in large measure, upon teachers and the education system.
It is teachers and the education system that produce responsible citizens who are able to think critically, behave respectfully, act independently, respect diversities, build social cohesion and consequently construct a united nation.
The duties and responsibilities of teachers to impart and cultivate knowledge have never changed, since the beginning of human civilisation. But the situations have changed. Changes in the socio-environment have made teaching among the most challenging professions.
Being an educator for more than 20 years at the tertiary level myself, I find two great challenges teachers are facing: eliminating social ills and building unity of the nation.
In the current decade, and also in the future, teachers are not only expected to complete the school syllabus and ensure students score the highest marks in whatever examinations are specified within the education system and policies, they are also expected to solve problems faced by the nation.
In the same vein, teachers are expected to develop the young to achieve the highest level of humanity.
The nation now has moved very rapidly and rigorously towards the digital era. Meanwhile, development in technologies has made the globe become a village.
As a result, the nation is facing challenges due to uncontrolled information and communication.
This situation has developed new dimensions within society and to some extent, affects social stability which has caused social ills.
Thus, teachers and education are expected to cure the illness by educating the young to cope and be resilient towards changes in technologies, and at the same time, retain their indigenous identity.
In a melting pot society like Malaysia, we inherit diversity. Thus, apart from fulfilling the expectation to cure social ills, teachers are expected to build unity in diversity; to unite the nation by teaching the young to live together.
Teachers are expected to build a nation with a national identity, who respect one another, work in teams, resolve differences in a peaceful and respectful manner and participate in living together peacefully.
Be that as it may, teaching and learning to live together is not easy. In fact, living together is the greatest challenge in the 21st century.
In order to live together, history, geography, languages and civic education are vital. In addition, the nation must also be capable of sharing a common language and aspirations.
Living in the world today, we find that traditional institutions such as family, religious institutions and communities, in general, are under threat. This situation has made teachers’ responsibilities more challenging.
Thus, in assisting teachers to fulfil the expectations of society, education policies must be able to attract, recruit, train and support competent, caring, knowledgeable and committed teachers.
Failure to provide teachers with proper assistance and a conducive eco-system means denying a better future generation; it is a breach of human rights.
While we are living in this massive economic, social, technological and political transformation, teachers are to take up new roles. Thus, it is essential that teachers must have integrated knowledge and confidence, and be more resourceful.
Integration of knowledge is important for teachers to not only be able to teach the subject of specialisation but to know, to deliver and to act on general or common subject matter such as patriotism.
As mentioned above, teachers are also expected to be able to raise the sense of unity and to encourage the young to live together.
More than that, teachers must be models of what they advocate: they must themselves continue to learn, and must be provided with opportunities to do so.
It is therefore, the duty of all – the government, parents and society – to together provide a serene eco-system for teachers to carry out the expectations that society has of the profession.
While teachers cannot guarantee every child’s excellent score in examinations, forestall all social ills or unite the nation to the best level expected, teachers are the nation’s central hope, not only to build the nation but to build a better world.
Whatever the challenges teachers are facing, teaching is an amazing vocation.
Happy Teachers Day.
Associate Prof Dr Shamrahayu A. Aziz is Principal Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.