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Sunday, August 28, 2011

HAVE TEACHERS FALLEN FROM GRACE?

There is a general feeling that education is must for democracy. The functioning of our universities however tells a different story. Universities are repositories of highly educated persons; they mould the clay to make men and women who create and transmit knowledge. When we see how our teachers associations and students’ unions function, we realize how wrong we are. It is rare for a good teacher or a good student to become president of the teachers’ association or students’ union. Look at the way our courts/senates function; many of them have been kept at abeyance for years, because they do not help the university function well. A look at the age old courses, teaching methodologies, teacher-student interaction and research output tells a grim story of how our academic councils, faculty boards, boards of studies, and departmental committees function. All of us who profess to be teachers have to mull over these issues. Teachers are the longest lasting people in the university system. Without their willing cooperation, nothing can improve the universities. They should be paid better so that they can pay full time attention to reading, writing, teaching, and researching.
Today teachers in India are fairly well paid. In general a fresh lecturer in the university gets a salary of at least Rs. 5,00,000 per annum. And under the present rules of promotions, he is sure to retire as university professor. This is his destiny whether he teaches or not, whether he researches or not, whether he writes articles and books or not, and often whether he comes to the university daily or only occasionally. Please compare this with average Indian income of Rs.15000 per annum; let me emphasize the word average to bring home the fact that at least one-third of the people do not get even one-third (Rs. 40000) of this amount.
True, most of our teachers are sincere, and given the circumstances in which they work, they have done pretty well. A large number of them work more than they are paid for. But the number of full time politicians, bullies and shirkers is on the increase. It is unfortunate indeed that teaching profession for many of these highly paid teachers has become a springboard for party politics and within and outside the campus. Full time politics, coaching for competitive examinations in mushrooming coaching centers out side the university, or just sitting at home take precedence over teaching, guiding and helping their students. Now it is confirmed that salaries alone do not produce good teachers, good teaching, and good research. Pride in the profession and motivation alone can make a good teacher.
Our university teachers refuse to sign attendance registers because they think it below their dignity. But they compare themselves with middle level government servants and want to have all the facilities they have but not all the responsibilities. Not teaching at all or teaching something that was relevant only fifty years ago, is part of their academic freedom.
When we look at the structure, contents, and relevance of our academic programs, we find the situation highly depressing. We refuse to introduce new courses and new teaching methodologies because both involve extra work. Very often we design courses to suit our conveniences rather than the needs of the students. Narrow self-interest has blurred of our visions to the extent that we have started cutting the very branches on which we are sitting so comfortably.
Source: R. P Misra, Former Vice Chancellor

Friday, August 12, 2011

LIVING ACADEMIC LIFE ON THE EDGE

It is said that we are all victims of our own ignorance. Those that will venture to go out and discover themselves and their full potential will experiment with things that are completely out of the way, away from the mainstream.

Today after having accepted the first batch of the students at Auro University, I want to share my experience of living life on the edge in the field of academics. It has not been an easy journey but then I was not looking for an easy way out on anything in life. I have been a lone fighter hoping to make a difference in the field of education. I had all the opportunities to join the mainstream and become part of the government sponsored education mafia. Offers came to me to be part of committees and commissions but I refused to sell myself to the status quo. I was branded as arrogant by those who sold themselves at a cost that is national loss for the generation X. 

Sometimes it seems that I am fighting a losing battle but there is something within me that says that the whole world rest on hope and if I give up hope there will be no change. I introduced new methods of teaching and learning along with colleagues who believed in the philosophy of transforming the educational landscape of this country. There has been a lot of success in the new models that were introduced. But still there is a long way to go to make it a popular means through which education reforms can be introduced.

Even today I find myself fighting a losing battle but my enthusiasm and energy are as high as they were 14 years back when I returned to India from the United States. The biggest challenge today in education is the commitment of the teachers. While saying that I would also like to put on record that there are still some very good teachers left in this country. However, most of the teachers seem to have taken the easy way of considering teaching as a job to make a living. Unfortunately this is very destructive to the whole culture of academics. We as teachers have to carry the responsibility of training the next generation of leaders of this country. This requires teachers to go beyond the call of duty as they are bestowed the responsibility for the future of India.

Over the last several years I have been trying so hard to convince policymakers to look for new solutions to old problems in our education system, but they don’t see that there is any problem at all. I am listing the steps that need to be introduced in our educational systems to make it more robust and to align it to the realities of the new economy.

1.       Move away from percentage system of examination to credit based examination. The completion of a degree program should be based on completion of the required credits rather than the number of years of study. This will allow hard working students to complete their degrees in less time than the normal time it takes today.

2.       Introduce general education as a requirement in all degree programs irrespective of the area of study. It is important that students have a good understanding of areas such as Indian culture, India’s Intellectual traditions, History, sciences and mathematics. These provide students a holistic academic experience.

3.       Let us get over from the concept of teaching, nothing can be taught today. We have shift gears from teaching to learning and this can be achieved only if we engage the students in a learning process. Students need to learn by doing things rather than to hear lectures in a classroom environment.

4.       We need to experiment with new system of examination. Do we know why we are examining students; the need to focus on application of fundamental principles should be emphasized in today’s environment. We as teachers have to accountable and transparent. Students should have the right to see their examination scripts and get feedback on what went wrong so that the same mistakes are not made again. They need to be given an opportunity to learn even from the mistakes they make in an examination.

5.       New methods of delivery are more required today than ever before. Hearing, seeing and doing have to be incorporated in our educational delivery in the classroom environment. We are not pushing our students to think, we are just forcing information into their heads which is already available on the internet.

6.       Teachers need to walk the talk. They are good at telling what are the right things to do but very poor at being a role model to students. It is all visible to the students in the world we live in.

There are so many other issues that can be discussed but I will hold it for right now. I will still continue to live life on the edge and keep trying to make that small difference that we all need to make. As teachers it is our responsibility to ensure that we have done enough for our children and that they will be able to lead a good life when we are not there.

It is ok to live life on the edge in whatever you do in your life…. Just keep making that small difference..

Happy reading..