Gurnam Singh, working as Master in Upper Primary School, Lahari which falls in Zone-Barnoti of district Kathua in Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir is this year’s National Teachers’ Award winner. A dedicated teacher who describes the achievement as ‘truly humbling and hugely gratifying’ is staunch believer in hard work and says, ‘I never worked with the expectations of getting an award someday but did my best to improve infrastructure of school besides ensuring that children get to feel no less than anyone and walk with their heads held high’.
Gurnam Singh, who has undergone 12 training programmes including leadership training programme at Bagar, Rajasthan and further trained about 1000 teachers in 16 training programmes has also involved students in social causes by sensitizing them on environmental conservation. He has made his students plant tree saplings, participate in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and national integration programmes. Serving in education department since 1992, Gurnam is so humble that out of award money that he got, he spent a considerable amount in installing a water-cooler for his students.
This was 61st year of the National Teachers’ Award wherein President Ram Nath Kovind felicitated Gurnam Singh along with 46 other teachers selected for the ward from across the country on September 5, 2019 at New Delhi and said that foundation of character building is laid in schools. For Gurnam, this being felicitated by the President was the best moment of his life who goes on to add, “We utilised, with honesty, the funds that were provided by the government for schools and kept involving children in all activities besides academics honestly”.
Born to S. Rameshwar Singh and Agya Kour, Gurnam has spent his better days in Kolkata where he did his schooling and MA Sociology besides BEd and later Gyani. Happy about the selection process for this award, Gurnam Singh said this was for the first time that a well designed Performa was sent out to educational institutions all over the India wherein applications received from teachers were scrutinised by ZEOs, CEOs and then by Deputy Director and finally Director in their specially formed committees.
No recommendations by elected representatives like MPs, MLAs or other higher officials were entertained and selected teachers were further asked to make power point presentations at Delhi. It was after going through this very process that my name like other teachers from rest of the country was selected. Strangely, Gurnam every day walks for two hours to reach his school in Laheri even in 2019. After driving for an hour he parks his motorcycle and then treks to reach his school.
This hardship, Gurnam Singh said means nothing to him especially when he returns satisfied having done justice with his students. Now that he is a National Teachers’ Award holder pain of travelling or trekking doesn’t stop him from working for students who he believes need the best. However, with this award he believes that his responsibilities stand increased. “I will work with thrice the energy,” he resolved.
Gurnam Singh said, “At one given point of time I bought with my own money neck-ties and batches for my students only to make them feel no less than anyone else. This little gesture not only boosted their morale but also made them feel at par with students attending private academies. Then I started involving them in extra curricular activities just to make them responsible towards social duties as well”.
At Lahari where he was posted, there was no electricity or water and even transport. He took this as challenge and started teaching children till late in the evening. Many a time when he used to stry put there in the village he would prefer to organise a bonfire and teach students knowingly that he himself had studied in good school in Kolkata and these children also deserve better education. It was here in this village that he once pledged to transform lives of these children who were deprived of even basic amenities.
When Singh was posted in this school it was operating from just one room. When the institution received grant for building a pucca school the challenge was to get land. He pursued community members who donated four bighas of land over which three new classrooms and a headmaster’s office was built which were fitted with a TV and satellite dish, and a speaker system.
He added that children of his school had never boarded a bus and on assessing this he once arranged an excursion for them. The students were made to visit some good places in Jammu city where they were given fast food just to realise what food people eat. These children he added had never had anything more than roti, rice or simple vegetables. These small gestures, Gurnam said elates him and makes him feel like taking care and raising his own children.
Regretting over deteriorating student-teacher relations, he believes that while teachers should act like parents and understand their fundamental responsibilities students on the other hand must also respect their teachers. Recalling the day when he reached school after receiving prestigious award that carried a silver medal, a certificate and cash reward of Rs 50,000, he said that students, teachers and villagers had all gathered to honour him and special meal was also cooked to celebrate the day. ‘I was garlanded with currency notes which brought tears in my eyes. This love and affection was the real award that made me more responsible towards needs of my students’, he said.
Teacher’s Day is celebrated across the country in the memory of Radhakrishna, who was born on September 5, 1888, given his exemplary contributions to the field of education. In 1962, the tradition to celebrate Teachers’ Day was started in order to honour Radhakrishnan and all the teachers. Gurnam Singh after securing 92 per cent marks in 10th in Punjabi language had started working for Desh Darpan, a Punjabi newspaper published from Kolkata since 1930.
Whenever, Gurnam saved some money he used to buy desks for his school only to make sure that children do not sit on mats. After completing his education his own son very recently joined Merchant Navy and daughter recently clear 12th class with 95% marks. This he believes is a boon and Karma that’s coming back to him in a good way. He has resolved to dedicate his complete life to education only and intends to build an academy where aspiring students of civil services can be trained. Satisfied with his salary he never encouraged private tuition and believes that student should be taught passionately in school class rooms only.
Raising finger on education system, he said many teachers in order to maintain their result encourage cheating which is completely wrong and needs restructuring.
Spelling out his educational achievements he said, “while teaching and learning process I always focus on individual differences and similarities which proved helpful in abundance in heterogeneous classroom teaching resulting 100% result up to 8th classes (Board Class) and 60-80% of class 10th. In addition to the classroom teaching I always emphasized on all-round development of students by way of co-curricular activities such as games and sports, their active participation on different celebrations like Republic Day and Independence Day in order to avoid their hesitation by sharing their ideas with their peers, teachers and elders”.
“At my present duty station i.e., Govt. Middle School Lahari (Kathua) I motivated the people of the village to denote some portion of land for school building, who in turn donated 4 Kanals of land for the purpose”, he says it with pride and sense of responsibility.