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BW Businessworld

"Unless We Improve The Lot Of The Teacher, No System Can Improve"

‘The state governments can learn from the workings of Kendriya Vidyalayas...then things can improve drastically. Renumeration is not the main issue’

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Gurdial Saroop Saini, a former teacher and official of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, talks to BW Businessworld, about education, teachers and their lot, while reminiscing about his days as a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya, and a bright student named V. Vaidyanathan, MD of Capital First. Excerpts of a conversation with both:

How have the last 200-odd days been for you?
G.S. Saini: Actually, I have withdrawn from many worldly affairs. To tell you the truth, I had not been out of my house for the last almost six months. The nearest township is about 2 km away from my village. So, I have been busy trying to develop a park in my village. The park gives people good oxygen, a beautiful environment and they appreciate my efforts.

The new education policy came out a few months back. What do you think can be done to improve the lot of teachers?
G.S. Saini: I am of the firm opinion that unless we improve the lot of the teacher, no system can improve, no right system can survive. It was my good luck that I was a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya. I am proud to say that we have wonderful teachers in Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, which is a government organisation. These schools are giving wonderful results consistently. And our students, they are really gems. That’s because of the efforts the teacher makes to nurture them. But I am sad to say that state government schools are not doing well.

What should be done for government school teachers? More remuneration?
GS Saini: The state governments can learn from the workings of Kendriya Vidyalayas, their method of teaching, their syllabus, how they go about everything, then things can improve drastically. Renumeration is not the main issue.

In a class, there are lots of students. You give equal love, care and academic inputs to all the students. But how do you spot bright students early on? Is there a playbook for that?
G.S. Saini: When we enter the classroom, we can sense the response of the students from what we see on their faces — they reflect their inner self to us. We can make out the inner character a boy or a girl has, the potential the child has. To give you an example, I was a senior teacher in KV No. 1 at the Pathankot Air Force Station. I was the class teacher of 9th grade. When I first went to that class, I saw Vaidyanathan sitting at his desk. I made him the monitor of that class. There was an incident related to that classroom that I remember very clearly. One day, during a break, I noticed that a lot of noise was coming from the classroom where Vaidyanathan was the monitor. I entered the class, and gave a hard slap on Vaidyanathan’s face for not minding the class. Then I asked him, ‘Are you the monitor of this class?’ He said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Are you minding the class?’ He looked straight into my eye but was mum.

After the class, he came to me and apologised. I told him to keep the class busy during breaks by, say, preparing a lesson in Maths or doing something constructive. What made me really happy is that after that incident he not only prepared a lesson in Maths but also in English, Social Studies etc. and never repeated the mistake of neglecting his duty. What I’m saying is that students, basically, are good, and we need to give them proper guidance. When required we should be also be strict with them.

That student has gone on to become a well-known entrepreneur in financial services. Talking about this student, when you started your coaching practice, he was the first student you enrolled, that too for free. Why did you enroll him for free?
G.S. Saini: He was disciplined and punctual. He was a sure-shot to clear the competitive exams in his first attempt. I thought that by enrolling him for free I was making an investment that will repay me back many times by way of advertisement. With that objective I took that decision.

How did you find Vaidyanathan after 30 years? G.S. Saini: Actually, I left the Pathankot KV in 1993. He completed his 12th in 1986 from that institution. After that we were not in touch with each other. About four or five years back, I got a call from my old school in Pathankot. One of the teachers who called me said that “some employee of a bank” had come to the school, wanting to know my telephone number, and asked if he should give my number. I said, ‘Ok.’

I got a surprise call from Vaidyanathan. He said, ‘Sir, you remember me? Sir, you helped me. I thought I must remember you and give you the good news that I am very well placed in life.” So actually it was he who found me.

So, Vaidyanathan found you out. And he subsequently gifted about 1 lakh shares of IDFC FIRST Bank to you. When a student who has done so well in life, remembers you, tracks you down, expresses his gratitude and appreciation, and then follows it with, if I may say so, a gurudakshina, how does it feel?

G.S. Saini: Actually, Vaidyanathan called me on Teacher’s Day (2020), and there was an exchange of pleasantries like ‘Sir, how are you?’, ‘I am grateful’, — he paid his respects. Next day, he called and said, ‘Sir, I want your account number (demat).’ I told him, ‘I don’t have any account.’ He called me again the following day and said, ‘Sir, I really want your account number.’ I said, ‘I don’t have any account because all my papers are in Agra, and I am at Pathankot.’ He put his personal assistant on the job. She would call me daily and ask, ‘Sir, what’s your account number?’

Then, one day I gave him my account number. He gave me a massive surprise — he transferred 1 lakh shares of IDFC First Bank. I came to know about it from the videos and other people who called me. They said, ‘Gurdial, there is a lot of news about you. Vaidyanathan, IDFC First Bank MD has given you 1 lakh shares!’ I then called Vaidyanathan and told him, ‘I think this is too much. I don’t deserve it.’ His response was, ‘Sir, it is only my gratitude, it is an expression of my gratitude and my respect for you. Please accept it.’ It is his greatness. I had almost forgotten that episode of giving him money to get on the train. His father had already returned me the money through bank draft and even sent a letter thanking me, ‘You helped my son at that critical time of his requirement, I am grateful to you.’ So that episode was over for me. But maybe because of the culture in which he had been brought up, he did all this. He has made me a celebrity. Because of him, I am sitting before you. Otherwise nobody knew me actually, nobody knew me.

It is his greatness that I am here and through him so many people now know me.

So how are you planning to pay the tax on this gift?
G.S. Saini: Even the tax on the gift was transferred to my account by Vaidyanathan. In fact, on the very day following the transfer of shares to my account, Vaidyanathan wired Rs 8 lakh to my bank account.

Thank you for being a nurturer of talent and being such an honest, humble and truly great man. And you both have set examples by doing what you’ve done. I hope it serves as an example for other students to recognise their teachers...

G.S. Saini: I would like to draw attention to one more thing. I have a very close friend who is also in the field of education. Having called to congratulate me, he said, “Saini, what Vaidyanathan has done is an inspiration for the whole student community.’ And then after a pause, he added, ‘It is a motivation for the teacher community as well to dedicate themselves to the cause of education.’

Another very old friend of 40 years came to my home with his wife and we exchanged pleasantries. ‘I know you… you are a worthless person, but hats off to your student. I don’t have much money, but I am going to buy 1,000 shares of IDFC First Bank.’ he said. I asked him, ‘Why must you buy IDFC First Bank shares?’ His reply was, ‘A company where the CEO and MD has such ethics is definitely going to progress.’

He went on to add, ‘Vaidyanathan doesn’t have greed, he has such a strong character that he is after a teacher to give him respect. If such a person is the head of an organisation then that organisation has to flourish, I don’t have any doubt about that.’

In fact, many people have been calling up to congratulate me but at the same time they have also been saying that he (Vaidyanathan) is really an example, that he is one of those ideal students of KVS who has such a regard and gratitude for his teacher. I’m really proud of my student and I’m really proud that I had been his teacher.

Please tell us about the incident when Saini lent you money and how he supported you...

V. Vaidyanathan: I have already made disclosures with the exchange on this matter. He was generous in his help.

Saini says your father had returned the Rs 500 that he had lent you to get into college. Then why did you trace him and give him, if I may say so, Gurudakshina?
Vaidyanathan: The value of his help was not Rs 500 or Rs 800 — his help cannot be measured in monetary terms.

Is there anyone else who helped you for the trip?

Vaidyanathan: Yes, one Indian Air Force officer named Mr Sampath. I don’t know where he is now. He gave me Rs 1,500. If he reads this interview and calls me, I will be happy.

Saini says that he once beat you up for not minding the class properly…
Vaidyanathan: Yes, I distinctly remember that. He gave me a real hard slap on my face. I was lax in my duty of minding the class. I did do my duty better after that incident.

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