Focus on Higher education

Bijoykumar *

Director of Education (University and Higher Education) Building in Imphal :: March 2013
Director of Education (University and Higher Education) Building in Imphal in March 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The recent policy measures and announcements made by our Education Minister make it clear that he means business. It is no longer the business as usual approach. The intentions are good but many good intentioned programmes have fallen by the wayside because we did not implement them properly.

The extension of age of superannuation, promise to look into the condition of part timers and aided colleges, the use of biometric attendance monitor, etc are wonderful measures to be appreciated by all stake holders in higher education. What is now required is to push further to consolidate the positive energies released by such measures.

In other words, the recommendations of the UGC regarding the service conditions should be implemented in toto. Teachers are now reasonably well paid and there is nothing wrong to expect proportionate returns from them in terms of production of good students, academic work of higher standard and of course being socially relevant.

We keep on saying- the best will happen in education when teachers become educationists- education defined in the broadest sense. This is true for all levels of education. I have been teaching for the last thirty years and in fact I am a third generation teacher in my family.

What I always keep in mind is that my teaching of economics may equip my students to examine social processes from the economic perspective but never adequate to face the multidimensional reality. Reminding my students of their responsibility and incomplete nature of their learning are considered equally important. It is in this sense that five hours in college is still inadequate.

Teaching is a very challenging profession. Eminent educationist of Manipur late H. Ranabir Singh used to tell me that we would start enjoying it once we get on the air current, flying high like a bird with ease. Sky then is the limit. Unfortunately, the daily humdrums of life distract us from our noble profession. Such lack of focus and drive make us look like a bunch of opportunists crying for more and more of right, conveniently going deaf when the question of duty comes up.

Of course, nothing is better than getting it free. Unfortunately, there is nothing like free lunch anymore. Social reality is that some time, somewhere we have to pay. The teaching profession should try to salvage its image by contributing more to the society. I cannot forget the irony of an interview celebrating the success of a topper with his mother whose school scored a perfect zero. Can we compare it with Smith's Invisible hand which guides the selfish individuals to come up with a socially optimal outcome?

The children of most teachers do well. We cannot extend it to students because the failed students are also taught by the teachers. Sometimes I am surprised at the blank look of teachers whenever the issue of students' performance comes up. What they can do for their children should be done for their students also.

The parents have entrusted their wards in our custody and it is our responsibility to guide them to become responsible citizens. I never believe that good students become necessarily responsible citizens. A good student may have a good start but it does not guarantee success in life. Success in life cannot be derived from books. This is where the role of real education and a good teacher come up.

In addition to the process of accreditation of institutes of higher education, UGC has introduced the assessment of teachers using academic performance indicators (API). Promotion to higher grades from Assistant Professor Stage I and selection to Associate Professors and Professors are on the basis of API. Every grade has a minimum requirement.

The recent interviews and appointments in Manipur University were done using API scores of applicants. Manipur University has already introduced a performance based appraisal system (PBAS) of university teachers which is slightly different from the UGC regulations and such difference is permissible. This system has successfully introduced a fresh vibrancy in the university system. Now departments and faculty members are competing to outscore each other.

Even professors have to compete for senior professorship after ten years of professorship which only a lucky few would get because senior professorship is for only 10% of the professors. But the prestige associated with it is too tempting to be ignored.There is indeed a proposal to modify the API system, not scrap it outright. Commercial interest has got the better of the good intentions of the proposals and there is a general consensus about the need to plug the loopholes. PBAS is part of the exercise to ensure accountability.

Unfortunately such activity is not visible at the college level. Our teachers are yet to be provided with a conducive environment. Should we keep on waiting for the provision of the environment by the government? I was very impressed by the academic environment in Maram Don Bosco College where every available resource was optimally utilised.

The stakes of the administration, the teachers, the students and the locality were respected and pursued with determination. When I visited the college a few years ago, I met a retired and eminent professor of science from Chennai who had been teaching there. The performance of students from this college in university examinations has been very encouraging and the discipline of participants from this college in university festivals is simply high class. In the government run institutions such commitment and flexibility are rarely seen.

We know sooner or later globalisation will bring the best educational institutes in the world at our doorsteps. No amount of appeal to swadeshi pride will succeed in retaining our students because they will go for the better one. If we want to survive reasonably well with pride we should leave no stone unturned to equip ourselves with the latest in teaching techniques and content. We do not want the history of death of government schools repeating in higher education.

Just as our education minister has boldly given a lot to the teachers' community, he should be bold enough to get the optimum service out of them in the interest of the society. The conducive environment should be developed by active participation of all stakeholders. Performing teachers identified by using available criteria should be rewarded and non performers should be encouraged and advised to perform.

Higher education should not be left with the invisible hand. If such steps are not taken up in the near future, the sincerity and purpose of our education minister may be questioned.

* Bijoykumar wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on March 13 , 2013

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