“It’s not about my, or my passion for education”, I blushed. “It’s about the students, the teachers, who are on the frontline of this battle day in and day out.”

I sounded like the cliche our education system had become. I used to write essays like this at school. And then helped my son and my nephews with those. Great King? Write about his land reforms, he built roads, dug wells and did great things to get justice for the poor. Climate Change? Write about land erosion, tree roots, ecosystem, microclimates, ozone layer and extremes of temperature. We knew our ‘seven points for five marks’ formulae. Everything was a formula. Running a classroom session? There’s a standard method to that. Teacher’s Day? write an essay.

So I did. To reflect.

There is no formula for quality education at scale for a nation as large as India. And as each year, September 5, Teacher’s Day comes as a day of celebration, and of reflection. The road ahead is long and troubled, true. But the road traversed was no mean feat indeed. India, today, stands at the brink of success. We can do it, in one great push, all together. It is time for India’s Educational Dunkirk.

The good news first? We have so many metaphorical boats ready to reach out in the education sector. Today, on teacher’s day, I want to salute these navigators, who kept themselves afloat and reached out to do so much good in the land of teaching and learning.

I salute those teachers who landed up at school everyday, professional and perfect, holding fort and ensuring that nothing stops the journey of education. They too must have had tough days, but they did not give up. Some commute for hours to get to school, some fight battles at home to get to the classrooms, and some fight inner demons to control themselves to stand and deliver in the classroom. My first salaam to them.

I salute those school heads who hold things steady so that teachers can build real learning for their students. Those who lead from the front and take the risk of saying, “Let’s try this”, and when it works, celebrate the moment of happiness with their schools. To these great leaders goes my second salaam.

Then, I salute those who work in education for less pay than they would get in the world outside – the volunteers, the NGOs, the interns, the researchers and so many more who dig deep into their well of resources to give to every learner they meet on the road to good. Some are teachers who are not rich, but will buy school books for their students, some are people who will go deep into the jungles and set up village schools, some are professionals who set up help centres to encourage more to follow in their footsteps, and some are students themselves who reach out to other students. Each giving a part of themselves, for we are in it together. We raise the tide for us all. My third salaam goes to them.

But more than these, I salute the silent warriors of education. The people who quietly teach one or two students each year in their neighbourhood and charge nothing. The ones who quietly create class notes and put them online for all to share. The ones who stop on the way, even when their lives are so rushed, and share a bit of their learning with those who need it. And do it for no credit and for no money. These quiet soldiers are the ones who create magic – and my deepest salaam is theirs.

They are the ones who build the fabric of the future. When times are tough, I think of them and I am inspired again. When stories of cheating in exams, of plagiarism in reports, of teachers that beat students, of sexual assault in schools, of university shut downs and falling standards hits the stands, then I think of these – the recipients of the four salaams – and I know, it will be fine. For every corrupt soul who lets greed and laziness create ignorance and stupidity in the country, there is another who is lighting the lamp of critical thinking, of debate, of curiosity and of personal growth.

This is why my last salaam today goes to teachers who are learners, and to learners who are teachers. Not just within the classroom but to each one of us who converts a moment into a learning moment. To the everyday people who demonstrate learning attitudes all around us. To to the everyday inquisitiveness of the aunty who wants to know your salary, and the uncle who wants to know how much rent you pay, to the random person who knows where you are going on a train or a bus – and to all of them who join in to tell you of a better way. To all the teachers within them, a salaam. A salaam to those who will join in the public debate on which route is better, whether it is about getting to a place or a career. And one to those who will walk on past their destination, because they are curious to see what is next. Another to those who will jugaaad their way to the goal. To the Sharmaji ka beta, who is not a bad sort at all. And to their neighbour who will tell him how useless his quest is – competing quietly and so encouraging each other to do better. To each of us who learns, so that we can tell each other how much better we are than them, another salaam.

Our quirks make us who we are, and who we are at our core is a nation of teachers, (Let me tell you what to do…) in one way or another. Here’s to the learners within the teachers, who learn indefatigably, so that we can all tell each other how it should be done. And so we all learn and grow together, in our own Indian way.

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