When his students approached him after he became India's president to commemorate Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's birthday, he respectfully declined, saying, "If you want to celebrate, please do it as Teachers' Day." Despite holding the highest position in the state, Radhakrishnan prioritised teaching.

Radhakrishnan began his teaching career at Madras Presidency College, where he honed his philosophical beliefs via discussions with his pupils. What is less well-known is that he was instrumental in educating non-Bengali readers about Rabindranath Tagore's writings and philosophy. The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, published in 1918, was a key work in this field.

After the Madras Presidency College, Radhakrishnan taught at the Mysore University, University of Calcutta, Oxford University and University of Chicago.

His appointment as the president of India was hailed by the renowned British philosopher Bertrand Russell who said that this was Plato’s dream come true. The Greek thinker had said that, “Until philosophers are kings or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy and political greatness met in one, cities will never have rest from their evils”.

One of Radhakrishnan’s prominent interventions in public life, before he became the vice-president, was to suggest improvements in the country’s university system. The Radhakrishnan Commission Report was independent India’s first evaluation of the university system.

Re-inventing the role of the teacher, in the spirit of the educator-stateman’s vision, has been a constant imperative — though not always appreciated. On Teachers’ Day, it is time to review the current state and public perception of the teacher’s perception. It has deviated badly from Radhakrishnan’s vision. The corruption in this sector, role of money in teacher recruitment, promotion, transfer and research supervisors accepting favours from scholars would have shocked the educator statesman.

In a rapidly-changing world, a teacher must keep updating her knowledge. In these times of information glut, students often enter classrooms with more information on a topic than teachers. With Google becoming an easily available “guru”, should the teacher be just a disseminator of information? As French essayist Joseph Joubert puts it, “To teach is to learn twice over.” So, the teaching process is an opportunity for the teacher to re-learn with her students. Thus, a good teacher will remain a life-long student.

This is a truncated article of the original published in The Indian Express. You can read the whole article here: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/sarvepalli-radhakrishnan-teachers-day-teaching-challenges-7487316/