While globalisation is forcing change in the way knowledge is imparted, no real change can take place unless teachers are better qualifed.
P V INDIRESAN,
Former Director, IIT Madras
‘When a large share of teachers are themselves poorly qualified, you cannot possibly expect them to encourage students to ask questions’
On the whole, it’s difficult not to agree with the view that India’s colleges and universities do not really encourage questioning from students, preferring instead to get students to learn by rote. I can say from my experience in the field of engineering education that, of the 2,500-odd colleges that impart engineering education, just around 100 of them will be encouraging students to question what the teachers are saying or writing on the board — the ones encouraging a serious degree of questioning will be a fraction of even this. In other words, just around 4,000 or so teachers of the 100,000 that teach in various engineering colleges across the country will be encouraging some sort of intellectual query.
The reasons for this sad state of affairs has to do with the background of the teachers that are now coming in. Till 1986 or so, a large number of the teachers in the better engineering colleges in the country were masters or doctorates from the IITs; today, many of the teachers have come from smaller colleges and many of them don’t even have a masters degree. Naturally, then, most of them will not be very good in their work and they will not encourage students to ask them anything, for the very simple reason that they may not know the answer to a question being asked. I know of a lot of teachers who don’t even give lectures but just go and write out their lectures, so where is the question of them encouraging students to look at things differently?
A related reason stems from why the teachers are in the jobs they are in right now. Unlike in the past where there was a passion to educate that drove us into the teaching profession, many of those teaching today are there because they have not been able to get other jobs. Once again, the result is the same, an intellectually lower level of teachers as compared to the situation 20 years ago. So, for these reasons, unless you’re studying in one of the few prestigious colleges like the IITs or IISc, the teachers will have low intellectual abilities and will naturally encourage students to remain at their levels, if not lower.
While I’m not sure the Shanghai University kind of rankings (in which just two or three Indian universities figure in the list of the top 500 global ones) are the best way to judge universities, it is a fact that our levels of research work in universities is very poor; and teachers who do not encourage their students to think cannot be expected to be doing good research either. In any case, it is also true that apart from the top few universities/colleges, none of the others even have facilities for research. The fact that India has a poor record in terms of filing patents is, once again, a symptom of the same low intellectual level in universities and the lack of facilities for research.
(As told to Sunil Jain)
REV VALSON THAMPU,
Principal, St. Stephen’s College
‘Globalisation is changing the old teacher-is-right mindset but it is unfair to expect that all knowledge has to be imparted only by the teachers’
Rahul Gandhi was essentially comparing the two contrasting paradigms of education eastern and western when he said that our education system does not encourage us to question. From ancient times, the guru shishya concept went by an approach where the student accepted what the teacher said. The western liberal notion of intellectual freedom was not a natural concept here.
Freedom to acquire knowledge was also limited to the socially and economically elite. We are also bogged down by the sheer weight of numbers. In the west with fewer people, it is easier to have interactive sessions. The inadequate promotion of higher education, which I feel is part of a silent conspiracy to exclude the majority from education and hence employment, is responsible for these over-crowded classrooms.
But fortunately we are going through radical changes. From a closed society we are moving to a globalised world. Now our comparisons are not between institutions within the country but with institutions outside the country. So there is nothing surprising in what Rahul Gandhi said. It is something which should have been said ten years ago, underlining the need for radical rethinking of our higher education. Ideally the goal of education should be enlightenment and not employment. Only if this goal is accepted will the classroom transform. But today the shrinking of the world, through technology and access to the outside world, is creating avenues for intellectual growth if they are missing in the classrooms.
Today the dependence on teachers has come down in higher education and that is a positive change for the better.
Learning is too precious to be left to teachers alone. In Indian philosophy, it is said that we learn a fourth from books, one fourth from friends , one fourth from teachers and one fourth from experience. So the role of teachers is only as important as that of other sources of knowledge. Even in the past, our college used to encourage dialogue and interaction. I used to take children for a walk or have two hour sessions for a discussion. Today if I were to have that, no one will turn up. For most of them would be doing this or that course or are already fixed on the corporate world. But our goal is still finding ways to enrich the experience of learning, so that it goes beyond employment.
You can ask three kinds of questions, one to embarrass, the other to know and the third, which very few ask, is to bring about change. What Rahul Gandhi asked seems to be the latter. Most powerful questions are those which are aimed at bringing about change from which millions benefit. The very fact that he raised this question of possible far-reaching consequences means that St Stephens did some good to him after all.
(As told to Sreelatha Menon)
6 months ago