New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday stayed away from rhetoric or big declarations, but called on teachers and students to become conscious citizens of India and make small contributions by doing things like saving electricity and promoting cleanliness.

“We need not become robots. We should nurture sensitivity," Modi said on the eve of Teachers’ Day while interacting with school students from across the country.

Addressing the criticism that he got last year for speaking to students on Teachers’ Day, he said, “People wonder why I choose to spend time with students on Teachers’ Day. I feel that students are an image of their teachers. We all have a memory of something our teacher has given us when we were young. After a certain age, children spend more time with their teachers than their family. There is a huge responsibility with teachers at this time. Teachers make generations. It is time to commemorate teachers who have made scientists, doctors who are working for nation-building."

Modi said his government was working on replacing the “character certificate" that students get after their school-leaving examination with an “aptitude certificate". He said every quarter, the feedback of teachers, peers and friends of students will be captured digitally to produce the aptitude certificate, which will mention the areas of excellence of students when they finish school.

The Prime Minister said a true teacher can never retire and gave the example of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and his passion for teaching. He also urged professionals from across the country to spend at least 100 hours every year voluntarily for teaching.

Giving small life lessons, Modi said that to be a good orator, “you need to be a good listener. And this will increase your confidence level".

During the course of a nearly two-hour interaction, Modi reiterated his commitment for rural electrification and touched upon the key issues taken up by his government, including promotion of khadi, creating awareness about yoga, Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

Replying to a question on how he will make the Digital India campaign a success even when several villages don’t have electricity, Modi promised to take electricity to 18,000 villages without power in the next 1,000 days.

Responding to a question on how to enter politics, Modi said: “Good people and people from all walks of life are required in politics...leadership quality is essential. You must also be clear why you want to be a leader: to fight elections only or to make a difference," he said.

The Congress party, however, asked Modi to attend the class held by President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi. “Today the President also taught children. If Prime Minister would have attended the President of India’s pathshala, he would have known what Congress did in 60 years," said Shaktisinh Gohil, a national spokesperson of Congress.

This is the second year in a row that Modi has addressed students and teachers on the occasion of Teachers’ Day. He took questions from several students through video conferencing from Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and the north-eastern states, among others.

Modi was joined by human resource development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani, junior HRD minister Upendra Kushwaha and junior finance minister Jayant Sinha.

During his informal interaction with teachers, Modi exhorted them to continually strive towards improving the quality of education in the country. He said teachers should keep abreast of technology and imbibe it judiciously as part of the teaching routine.

The sorry state of India’s students is well-known. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, India was ranked at number 73 among 74 countries in 2010-11.

Similarly, the 2014 Annual Status of Education Report by education non-profit Pratham said every second Class V student in rural India can’t read the text of a Class III level. In 2005, when the first ASER report was published, three out of five children in Class V were able to read a Class II text.

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