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UGC regulations 2016 are welcome, but rot in Indian education runs deep

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Dailyo.in |  Valson Thampu |  25-05-2016 |  Opinion |

All right-minded citizens, who are even casually aware of the rot in higher education, will feel relieved that the UGC is now initiating some long-overdue, bottom-line cleaning up operations, via the UGC Regulations (3rd Amendment), 2016. As someone who has struggled in this sector a lifetime, I hail this initiative. First, direct teaching hours are proposed to be increased to 24 hours per week for assistant professors, and 22 hours per week for associate professors, in place of 16 hours and 14 hours per week, respectively.  The UGC had, earlier, reduced the working hours of college teachers from 18 to 16 hours per week for assistant professors, and from 16 to 14 hours per week for associate professors. And this, knowing fully well that teachers were almost laughably underworked. A doctor, who is more qualified than a teacher in the corresponding category, works 55-60 hours per week. The PM of the country logs nearly 120 hours per week. Daily wage workers, who are also human beings, work for 49 hours, under incomparably harsher conditions, and are paid a pittance and are not, unlike the teachers, paid for Sundays.

Underemployment is a greater source of mischief than unemployment. With the workload prior to the present amendment, the teachers were under-employed for the following reasons-

1. The logic for assigning a lighter workload to teachers is that they invest the resultant leisure into reading and research so that, (i) the quality of teaching improves, and (ii) they, through research, contribute to knowledge.

Neither happens. As per my first-hand experience, most teachers stop reading regularly, and preparing better, after the first five years of teaching. This is not in the realm of speculation. It can be easily verified from the lending logs of any college library. My investigations with respect to the borrowings of teachers in a very distinguished college, resulted in shocking revelations.  There were teachers who, in a whole semester, had not borrowed a single book from the library. It may be argued that these is no need to borrow books from the library. Internet resources are sufficient. Concede that this is correct (which simply is blatantly untrue), and teachers are improving their scholarship regularly through private means, the question then would be, “What, for goodness’ sake, have you produced in 20, 30, 40 years? Even a couple of meaningful lines?”

I suggest that the UGC spend a little money and commission a national survey of college and university teachers to ascertain the level and quality of their intellectual productivity.  Now, come to teaching: first, quality of teaching. The tell-tale sign is student truancy.  Why are class rooms nearly empty, if classes are held? I remember admonishing a student who was erratic in attendance. He kept quiet for a while and then said, “Sir, you do not know what we have to suffer. How do you know if the lectures are worth attending?”

The present system aids and abets lazy, mediocre teachers, by arbitrarily slapping on students an attendance requirement of 66. 6 per cent. This only serves to provide a captive audience to mediocrity and serves to protect and perpetuate unprofessionalism. It needs to be abolished.  A teacher who cannot motivate students to attend lectures/tutorials on the strength of quality, must be sacked. It is a crime to torture young people. I’d prefer confinement to a solitary cell in Tihar than have my mind abused by the voice (I mean, noise) of mediocrity day after day! The meagre workload prescribed for teachers did not work to the benefit of education. If anything, it has been ruinously counterproductive. It aggravated the intellectual laziness of most teachers, which is my second point.

2. The widespread tendency to bunk work in connivance with students increased, not decreased, after the workload was reduced last time. This is a fact. And the logic is simple. What the state meant as a measure to encourage serious, scholarly work, was misunderstood by a large proportion of teachers as the invitation to further laziness.  Confront the truth: one of the reasons why many people prefer to be in teaching is that it is the easiest, least demanding job, abounding in holidays and vacations than working days. (A former colleague of mine has barely taught 18 months in six calendar years.) There is no accountability. The system is custom-designed to institutionalise laziness, except in the case of those who have a clear sense of vocation. All of us know that such individuals are rare. This is not cynicism, but realism.

There are multiple problems here:

(a) By patronising laziness – albeit unwittingly – we ensure that teachers go not grow and stay stunted. They become, alas, an educational road-block.

(b) Since it is an unhappy and burdensome thing for them to teach, they bunk work. In order to do that, without the risk of being found out, they enter into a dishonest deal with students. Text messages are sent to students regarding cancellation of classes. No leave is applied for.

In the eyes of a student, the teacher is a cheat. And such teachers are expected to build the character of these students! No! they corrupt students. This is a crime against the nation. Stringent measures need to be urgently put in place to eradicate this national disaster. We need to hail the move to make API points-requirements more stringent. What I stated in a previous paragraph becomes clearer in this context. Since most teachers are doing no research and producing no worthwhile (leave alone original) insights, they resort to cheating in respect of API requirements.  Most publications, if you care to go through, are worse than undergraduate tutorials. In a particular case I read a whole book by a university professor replete with multiple mistakes on each page. It is a published work, entitling the charlatan to API points! This must end!  Only peer-reviewed publications should count. The PhD manufacturing industry must be dismantled. Cheating should no longer remain an avenue of profit. Anyone found guilty of this, must be blacklisted for life. Students are punished severely for cheating in examinations. This menace is increasing, but I will not blame students alone for this. Teachers are their role-models.

3. Assessment of teachers by students. It is only to be expected that teachers will resist this tooth and nail. They know the old adage, “the victim knows the truth”. But there is a problem here as well. This measure, if not implemented with due vigilance, will reinforce the already depraved student-teacher transactions. Teachers will bribe students by indulging them in many ways: granting them attendance gratis, inflated grades for tutorials (even for tutorials not held), fudging internal assessment data in their favour, and so on. The worst teacher could procure the best student feedback. The nation needs to wake up to the alarming rot and degradation in higher education today. Even poisoning the food we eat, is a lesser crime than poisoning our children. Education must become a zone of zero-tolerance for corrupt practices of every kind. Rest assured, teacher associations will go on the streets in protest. Accountability is deemed an insult by teacher activists. Teachers have become a stumbling block to every attempt to invigorate and clean up the education sector. This must not be allowed to continue.  If teachers agitate against measures meant to safeguard accountability and professionalism in education, they expose themselves badly in public. Only the dishonest and the hopelessly mediocre will resist transparency, accountability and standardisation. I would urge that the professional records of all such “negativists” (which is a more accurate term than “activists”) must be investigated. Substandard negativists, who are educational liabilities, must be weeded out mercilessly. The sooner, the better . –  Courtesy

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