When rigidity kills innovation

LETDOWN

When rigidity kills innovation

Analysing the demerits of liberally granting autonomy to higher education institutions, P U Antony observes that rigidity kills the essence of innovation and fails to promote the genuine implication of university education.

With several prominent educationists and policy makers standing strongly for granting functional autonomy to higher education, a plethora of self governing educational institutions emerged in the recent past. The rapid didactic revolution driven by the private sector enterprises in India over the past two decades offered students prospect for a new era of edification through the best of infrastructure, overseas educational trips, seminars and placement help.

Failed enterprise

Unfortunately the enthusiasm gone into the liberal granting of autonomy for higher education institutions has not been translated into desired outcomes. With first class buildings, second class laboratories and third class faculty, many of the modern scholastic centers turn into mere entertainment hubs to attract the clientele. Ploys like beautiful landscaping, posh eateries and safe living in a gated community magnetize students and parents to these institutions. The draftsmen of modern education are yet to apprehend that higher education system in our country can’t be brought to a whole new level by putting it in a comfort zone.

Distorting customary learning

Instead of giving due importance to the diversity of academic background by bringing students from arts, commerce, culture, science, etc. the new generation universities concentrate lopsidedly on money spinning lucrative subjects. The alarming factor is not only the universities narrowing down to merely single subject academia but also they shrivel in their scope by plummeting themselves to the level of schools with rigid rules such as assigning class teachers, forcing professors to prepare course plan, work done diary, attendance register etc. and enforcing dress code for lecturers and students. In this process of disciplining the academic community the greater responsibilities delegated to universities of creating knowledgeable and audacious individuals is totally ignored.

Overburdened with the semester system, mechanical continuous internal assessments and lack of proper vacations, our current university education turns further obdurate. In fact this move has completely distorted the customary concept of learning. Autonomy - the engine of modern educational revolution - gradually turns into a joke being played out on hapless youngsters who are confused about selecting suitable courses and institutions.

Innovation – the key

A survey carried out by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2009-10 and released in this month has found that the rate of attendance in the 20-24 age group (graduation and above) has recorded the highest rates of growth in several decades. However, worryingly, the dropout rate has also kept pace. Compared to the 1991-2000 period, the past decade (2001-10) saw attendance rates for the higher age group increase by 71% for boys and 110% for girls in rural areas. In urban areas, the growth was 40% for boys and 45% for girls.

Although the rise in percentage is a marked improvement over previous decades, the data shows that the picture remains dismal at the ground level. In 2009-10, the attendance rates were just 19% for boys and 8% for girls in rural areas; in urban areas, the corresponding figures were 33% and 24%, respectively. This state of higher education compares badly with those in the 5-14 age groups, where 87% of boys and 84% of girls were attending school in rural areas, and 91% of all boys and girls in urban areas.

After assessing the report, eminent scientist and former chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC), Yashpal opined that at the higher education level, we need to do away with rigidity, allow more freedom and innovation, and link the courses to life. Prof Yashpal had headed a high-level committee on 'renovation and rejuvenation' of higher education which submitted a detailed report in 2009. Its battery of suggestions included increased funding for higher education and stricter regulation of private entities. The government is yet to act on the report.

Lacunae crisis  

While our conventional state run universities have a pool of experienced teaching faculty in their various affiliated colleges, the arrogance and timidity of a handful of academics create crisis in the new self governed institutions. Lack of experience and reluctance on the part of the administrators of these institutions to be open to ideas from other sources make them mostly frogs in the well. This narrow mindset is often manifested through the lacunae in their curriculum revision, examination and evaluation patterns.

The term university in its ancient designation means a “School of Universal Learning.” This description implies the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot for communication and circulation of thought. It is a place of concourse, where students come from different quarters for every kind of knowledge. University is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, rashness rendered innocuous and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.

Comfort zones sans quality

The youth of yester years learned hard lessons through uphill struggle. They had to study in classrooms with minimum comforts.  Palatial buildings were rare and personal amenities were limited. In the absence of workers to clean their class rooms and toilets they learned self discipline through manual work and cleaning-up of their surroundings.
Student union activities and self study through wide readings made several good orators and leaders from our previous campuses. But currently the Indian academic world boils down to a comfort zone with  less productivity, less competition and less resilience to help young graduates prepare for the future. Achievements come through breaking out of the comfort zones and striving hard to excel.

Academic freedom and quality education are a student’s birthright and are very important aspects of shaping a nation and its future generations. But the architects of the modern campuses least realize this and they curtail the liberty of both staff and students to express their views either publicly or within the confines of the institution. This approach destroys the intrinsic motivation, creativity, and conceptual understanding of the students and faculty. Institutions must not employ too rigid of a system. Rigidity kills the very essence of innovation. Creating show case babies who are insensitive to discriminations and circumstances is a crime worse than foeticide.

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