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Relecting before Teaching

Are we preparing a dehumanised genera- Reflecting before Teaching tion or do we have to reap the harvest of a brotherhood society which can integrate with the global culture and yet maintain A K Verma its identity? And finally, how can educa- Unless we take a holistic view of education and infuse it with the right values, we cannot hope to reap the harvest of a humane society that can integrate with global culture and yet maintain its own identity.

DISCUSSIONdecember 8, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly78Reflecting before TeachingA K VermaThis is with reference to Geetha Venkataraman’s ‘Teaching Students to Think’ (EPW, August 25). The on-set of a knowledge society has resulted in the proliferation of educational institu-tions all over the country. Acquiring a good education has become the gateway to a bright future. After 60 years of demo-cratic life, we are on the threshold of a social transformation that seems congruous with our dream of becoming a developed nation by 2020. The desire of the prime minister to open more centres of excellence in higher education seems to be in order.But, as we venture in that direction, we are faced with a very piquant situation: a situation where we see a great divide in the educational world. On the one side, we have institutions which can compete with the best in the world, on the other, we have “starving and staling institutions” both in terms of infrastructure and resources. Most of our policy planners have been alumniof institutions in the former category; hence, they have hardly any idea of the plight of the latter category. That plight is in spite of the huge resources made available to such institutions: resources which are mostly consumed on paper and cleared through audit by well known methods.We cannot defer revamping our educa-tional system because of that divide. The time has come to think hard and take bold action. If we defer that for long, we may miss the bus. It is true that unlike China and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, we have to do it democratically. How to convert our weaknesses into our strength is an impor-tant issue and before we can produce a “thinking generation”, we ourselves have to think first and fast.We have to think about several questions. Are we taking a holistic view of education which integrates primary education with school, college and university education? Do we have any sense of direction? Is it al-right to make education bereft of values? Are we preparing a dehumanised genera-tion or do we have to reap the harvest of a brotherhood society which can integrate with the global culture and yet maintain its identity? And finally, how can educa-tion address the callings of the present and the future? Looking WithinBesides these substantive issues, some more mundane aspects too may have to be urgently attended. With the government rolling back investment in education and the private players coming in a big way, the focus in private educational institutions has shifted from the academic to the com-mercial. With a burgeoning neo-rich mid-dle class, such places have become “educa-tional malls” where they can offload their wealth for the benefit of their wards. But what about the multitude whichremains captive in government and government-aided schools and colleges? At both the places, “thinking” is the first casualty; in the former, money substitutes thinking; in the latter, thinking flounders due to a highly pauperised academic environment.After teaching for three decades, I can see all-round deterioration in university and college education. The entire scenario is so inimical to teaching and research that most of the students have started abstaining from classes. And why should they not? The irrelevance of school and college education forces students towards tuitions for professional examinations. Two, market orientation has encouraged evaluating even teaching for the value of money; the cheap university education en-courages students to skip that as they want to derive full value of the high fees that they pay to the coaching centres. Three, most of the teachers are so indifferent to studies and research that they hardly inspire students to attend classes. And in-terestingly, those students who do not turn up in the classroom still manage good marks in the examination – thanks to our questionable evaluation system.In most of the universities and colleges, conducting examinations has become first priority; teaching and research have taken a backseat. How can this be reversed? Why cannot we think of building up incentives A K Verma (anil_verma@vsnl.net) is with the department of political science, Christ Church College, Kanpur.Unless we take a holistic view of education and infuse it with the right values, we cannot hope to reap the harvest of a humane society that can integrate with global culture and yet maintain its own identity.
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly december 8, 200779and disincentives, motivations and demo-tivations which can push up good students and teachers? Why not develop some form of accountability for everyone? Why do we force examinations on students not ready for them? Why cannot we give them a choice to take the examination any time in the year that they feel best prepared? And why cannot we make the evaluation total-ly transparent? Why fail anyone? Do we have any reliable data about suicides by students simply because they failed, may-be owing to an undesirable examination and faulty evaluation? Who really must take the blame for all this?Bringing Back SportsAnd why has sports been banished from the educational domain, be it schools or colleges and universities? On the one hand, it is perhaps the only arena where the entire nation celebrates victory or mourns defeat. But neither parents nor institutions do an-ything to encourage good sportspersons; and those who excel do so in spite of them. Corruption and nepotism in the sports bureaucracy are virtually killinggenuine and budding sportspersons. How can we bring back sports into the educational mainstream? It is important to develop “a healthy mind in a healthy body” and the team spirit which is so necessary to cope with moments of victory and defeats in life. It is also important to amalgamate the head, heart and hand in everyone. What is the purpose of making students study for so long? Get a job? But, they find a long endless wait there. The profession-ally qualified may get jobs, but what about the ordinary graduates and postgraduates in the humanities and social sciences, as well as in pure sciences? Are they just des-tined for call centres or other exploitative jobs in the private sector with tremendous insecurity? Is it by any stretch of imagina-tion proper to take the best of their youth and golden moments for a pittance? Why don’twe encourage our students from the plus-two stage to start exploring an entre-preneurial idea after schooling or gradu-ating or even postgraduation? Why cannot we make our weakness our strength? Most of our youth is consuming one-third of his/her life just in a job hunt that in most of the cases, ends up in deep despondency. What thinking can we expect from a youth caught in this quagmire? Money making or a job hunt is the only thought occurring to such students at the end of a long tunnel.Great ExpectationsDo we realise that such a youth is at war not only within the self, but with the entire society and mankind? Can we expectsocially-oriented behaviour from him/her? How easy it is for them to fall prey to the nefarious designs of the detractors of the nation is anybody’s guess.Withthe “tiranga” draped around the victorious twenty20 worldcupteam at Durban, the pride of India knew no bounds. But, is our educational system doing anything to conscientise our youth to the callings of thetricolour? It is so painful to see independencedayandre-public day celebrations in schools, col-leges and universitieswithoutstudents. Can we do anything to revive thevalue of nationalism and ancient culture: certainly that is not the exclusive domain of the saffron brigade. We must refuse to produce a breed which is devoid of nationalism, bereft of values, terribly atomistic, socially devi-ant,and at war with everybody. Such a breed will become a social liability and danger to humanity at large. The only ray of hope is a political leadership which puts educational reforms on the top of the agenda. Producing a thinking student is fine, but more important is producing a human who can think about his/her family before self, who can think about the society before family, and whocan put the nation and humanity above all. SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS1857Essays from Economic and Political WeeklyA compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, the essays – that range in theme and subject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit viranganas idealised in traditional songs and the “unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: to enrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher. The articles are grouped under five sections: ‘Then and Now’, ‘Sepoys and Soldiers’, ‘The Margins’, ‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available fromOrient Longman LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact: info@orientlongman.com

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