Reasons for change

SEAT OF LEARNING: Mysore  University dh file photo

Our best minds are becoming management experts, not teachers,” declares Prof N Manu Chakravarthy. Celebrations to mark Teachers Day make this Professor of English, published author and critic, break into a wry smile. “My under-graduate course at the Maharaja College in Mysore was a complete disaster, despite all the fame and glory of the college,”  he confesses.
“What stood me in good stead were my early influences as a young boy and my later years as a post-graduate student of literature,” he remarks. The early influences were his grandfather TT Srinivasa Gopalachar, aasthana vidwan (royal scholar) to Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, and his father Prof G N Chakravarthy, an expert in the Rig Veda.

“If it was magical to watch classical scholarship at its best when the Srirangam Andavan (or chief pontiff of the Vadagalai Iyengars) came home to discuss dharmashastra with my grandfather, it was a delight to devour the books in my father’s  library. He had everyone from Neitzsche to Shakespeare to the great Greek dramatists to Bertrand Russell on his neatly labelled shelves. It was this glorious exposure to the wealth of oral and written traditions that taught me there was something to teaching,” he says, readily admitting that he wouldn’t have chosen to do his Master’s degree in English without these influences.
Anguished by the fact that higher education has become “philistine” and “utilitarian”,  he attributes  the country’s preoccupation with the applied sciences to the failure of the National Educational Policy.
“It’s not the fault of the students or their parents that they rush to sectors like IT. Our education policy, till recently, has only encouraged market-driven choices, and when that market in certain sectors dries up, as it now has, courses are shut down overnight and students are left in the lurch!”

The tirade may be scathing, but it underscores why the Prof Yashpal Committee is working hard to bring back basic sciences and humanities into the National Education Policy. Among other curricular reforms, the committee has said teachers should have the freedom to design courses and students should be able to study subjects outside their courses. The committee has also stressed the need for more attention to under-graduate programmes, a multi-disciplinary approach to learning and a total revamp of the examination system.

 “Until three decades ago, students of science knew the literary classics, and students of literature were familiar with the basis of great scientific thought. Today, specialisation and professionalism have made our students illiterate. It has taken away the interest that students of one discipline had in another,” argues Prof N Manu Chakravarthy.

“Appointing a scholar like Prof Yashpal is the first step in the right direction but I fear policy often depends on the whims and fancies of politicians, and the eccentricities of the cabinet,” he remarks.

On the subject of great teachers, he believes that he met them all while doing his Master’s at the Department of English at Manasa Gangothri in Mysore.
“From Prof CDN (C D Narasimhaiah), I learnt to see language as part of a community and culture; from Prof U R Ananthamurthy I learnt to make remarkable connections between historical epochs, human self and literature; and from Prof B Damodar Rao I learnt what it meant to be responsible to a text and to see it as a living, breathing entity. From all of them, I learnt how much rigour is required to be an effective teacher.”

Is the classroom as magical a place as it was when he was a PG student? “I realise that I love to interact with bright young minds. The day I don’t, I will do myself and my students a favour: I will get out and look for another line of work,” he says.

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