Crisis in student-teacher relationship, by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu

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Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu
Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu

I start in the name of God, “Bismillah Arrahman Arrahim”, which is a way that Muslims use to acknowledge the existence of the omnipotent and omnipresent God whenever they start something important. It is similar to acknowledging the presence of people at high table in any important gathering. God as a Highest Being should be acknowledged first before going to mention any other being in the ontology of creation according to the one of the scholars of Koranic exegesis late Sheikh Mutawalla Assha’awary. While some Muslims think that the Arabic Word “Allah” shouldn’t be translated to the English word “God”, I am on the side of the linguistic and religious philosophers who said that the arguments presented by these Muslims are baseless on the verge of theological confusion.*

I also want to thank the Kano University of Science and Technology Wudil in particular and the Muslim Sufi Movement of Nigeria and other students in general for finding me worthy of invitation to speak in this important  gathering amidst men of God, intellectuals, professors and, above all, Islamic mystics. All my life, I have been running away from university, intellectual and academic works, but it is as if any move of mine is attracting me to them in a way that theoretical physicists may call quantum entanglement. Series of dropouts (or should I call it transfers) didn’t stop me from acquiring diplomas and degree. Although I have been trying to resist offers to fall into academic settings, my work as a researcher and research assistant to a university professor pulls me to academia! I think it is time for me to make a u-turn and start doing what is destined of me by joining university again.

My fellow students, the topic I was given is “Student-Teacher Relationship”, but I think it should be “Crisis in Student-Teacher Relationship” to reduce the size and the magnitude of the topic. I wanted to add “Philosophical” or “Mystical” view, but I fear that some people, philosophobic among them in particular, might misunderstand the message I intend to send, so I decided not to add any sub-theme. Although the time given to me is too short, I will try to touch the surface of the topic and leave you with the rest of the job.

I think there must be some connections between the topic given to me and the recent unfortunate riot that took the name of this great university to the pages of newspapers, radio stations and bloggers’ fingertips. This topic, I believe, is intended to create a concrete relationship that will transform Student-Teacher relationship into something more like Son-Father relationship as it is in the traditional methods of learning in the circles of gurus of Hindu in India, Sufi of Islam in the Zawiyas and Rawiyas of West Africa and, I hope you will not misunderstand it, Almajirai of traditional Qur’anic schools in Northern Nigeria. I hope at the end of this gathering, students and their teachers will go with fresh idea that may help in cementing their relationship.

Whether the students decide to say it or keep on hiding it in their minds, secularisation of knowledge and materialistic approach to educational outcomes lead them to believing that a teacher is nothing beyond a machine that produces what is required to create a labour and nothing else. A teacher, in today’s world, is seen with materialistic eye. He is just like a taxi with salary as gasoline that takes the students to their destinations with expectations of nothing else beyond that money. The emphasis in today’s world is on building, money, fame and other mundane things thus making the Student-Teacher relationship mechanical without any spiritual attachments.

I put the blame of these problems to materialism and secularisation of knowledge and little emphasis on the sacred part of the education. Long before colonialism, the traditional way of learning among the Sufi mystics which is somehow similar to the Hindu gurus and to some extent almajiri system of education, the emphasis is on spiritual growth with total submission to God through the teacher. Unlike today when the modern comercialized societies have transformed the relationship between teacher and students to something that acquired  impersonal complexion. This, I believe, is the greatest danger which needs to be faced immediately. Paraphrasing the words of Hossein Nasr, one of the greatest Islamic philosophers of the contemporary world, as long as teacher remains a person with faceless attributes, as a mere functionary without divine touch, the students will take him as more or less useless.

Let me start with, of course according to Islamic values, what is expected from a teacher. The reason why I start with a teacher is because psychologists see the teacher as a mirror with which students see their reflection. He is central to the practices and behaviours of the students. Once his approach change, the approach of the students will change, albeit unconsciously.

It is very unfortunate to say that the conception of a teacher has been undermined today by the secularisation of knowledge and modern changes. One could hardly dream of a time when teacher will say that he agrees to teach students without emphasis on salary and allowances. We should ask ourselves, why there is total obedience in the Sufi mystical Zawiyas and almajiri system of education to the sheikhs and mallams respectively? The answer is very simple though difficult to say in a university with teachers looking at you. While in universities ASUU goes on strike time-to-time for allowances and salaries (I’m not saying that they are not fighting for their rights), in the almajiri and Zawiyas  system of education, it is not students nor any governmental authority that are expected to give tuition fees, the teachers are the ones who take care of their students!

If we stop looking at a teacher as a mere functionary that draws salaries either from the state, private organisations or the parents and guardians of the students, the result will be harmonious relationship that will render social smoothness and be a good insurance against crimes in and off campus. However, I’m a little bit pessimistic. Call it modernisation or commercialisation, everything has changed. Ask any student of secondary school “why do you want to be a university lecturer?”. I believe you will not be surprised when he replies that it is not intellectual pursuit nor academic interest that drags him to find the profession appealing, but the money, big house and big car that he may get when he becomes a university professor.

Teachers contribute a lot to this view. When I was student of Agricultural Engineering at Bayero University, Kano, there were newly taken graduate assistants that thought us some courses in levels 1 and 2. They helped in creating psychological distress among the teenagers and rising blood pressure among the elderly in the class. The assistant graduates would always tell you that they have cars and it was because of high grades they got their jobs, and that if you end up with low grades your fate will be in doom! What they were unconsciously teaching was indirectly affecting us. They made us believe that the benefit of education is only in getting job, and nothing else! This, I believe, is a dangerous approach. If education is to make a good citizen then emphasis shouldn’t be put more on jobs than on characters.

Students on their part are mere robots and puppets that are unconsciously controlled by their teachers. Although psychologists describe persons in teens with tumultuous and turbulent behaviour, and fortunately or unfortunately students of universities (especially undergraduates) are teenagers, teachers can control them by changing their behaviours and the teachers can change their approach to students to the more traditional way without exerting an iota of physical force.

However, students on their parts should take their teachers as parents and stop looking at them as enemies. Teachers are the ones shaping our future, destroying them is tantamount to destroying a vehicle that will take you on a long journey in the middle of nowhere. Teachers used to be students like you and they know the ups and downs of university life more than you do. They experienced it. You should work hand in hand with them in making your future bright. Some of you will be teachers and I believe none of you will like to see his students disrespect him though older and more experienced than him. They are not your enemies. Don’t  misinterpret the way they mark your results with hatred. That one is working according to the strict rules and regulations of the university marking scheme which some of you will know in near future. It is a way of working without tolerance to wrongdoings in the academia.

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*A text of the speech I presented at Kano University of Science and Technology Wudil on 8th September, 2018.