Not just teachers but researchers as well

Last Updated 19 August 2015, 18:32 IST

Today, teaching and research are not separate entities. Technology has made it easier and the compartmentalisation should not exist, writes Anu Singh

In higher education, research and teaching were distinct activities till two decades ago, when research scholars pursued research and teachers taught students. Teachers used to read, acquire and acquaint themselves with new developments in their academic disciplines and disseminate them in classrooms.

Research scholars, on the other hand, expended a lot of effort, time and money for research activities like field visits, library work and drafting their research.

This dichotomy is emblematic of the Father of Economics, Adam Smith’s ‘Division of Labour’, under which each labourer becomes an expert in one isolated area. Sticking to one task saves time and money. But as far as the education industry is concerned, ‘division of activities’ does not work efficiently. It takes long gestation period for real research based teaching-learning to take place.

However with the advent of technology, the dichotomy between teaching and research is no longer valid. Today, the research process is much easier with readily accessible data which could range from a country’s gross domestic product to literacy rates and crime rates to metrological trends and population patterns to social caste and political constituency compositions.

When information is readily accessible through cyberspace, knowledge is easy to gain; therefore the teacher and research scholar must necessarily fuse into a single entity. As a result, the earlier compartmentalisation between research and teaching should no longer exist.

Students require updated and in-depth information in their learning process. Today research is integral to teaching and plays a greater role to bridge the gap between generation of information and acquisition of knowledge. Hence, not only should teachers be encouraged to include research based lectures, but students are also required to gain knowledge through their own research.

The role of a teacher is now more of a facilitator of information and knowledge in the existing education system. Education through research helps both teachers and students to learn and acquire updated knowledge which is relevant to the times.

On-going research

Textbooks only tend to teach developments from an earlier era, which students cannot immediately relate to. But in the present era of multi-disciplinary research it is necessary for teachers to have a pulse on emerging social, political, economic and scientific trends. To that extent, higher education now demands not only deeper knowledge of a subject but also its linkages to other subjects. Therefore teachers need to keep abreast of emerging developments in their respective disciplines which are only possible only through on-going research.

Today higher education is characterised by a proliferation of private universities and potential for entry of foreign universities, has transformed the structure of the sector.  Therefore, specialisation in higher education transcends a post graduate degree and PhD. It demands continuous research in one’s domain to contribute to the existing body of literature.

One school of thought opines against the idea of a permanent or one time PhD to scholars. Instead they advocate that doctoral candidates must strive to update their PhDs from time to time to sustain their PhDs. It is similar to medical doctors in private practice who are required to update their knowledge of medicine in order to keep abreast of latest developments in pharmacology and clinical practice.

Integrating research and teaching

Nowadays universities across the globe strive towards the integration of research, teaching and learning in the education process. But with the practice of semester and trimester system in higher education it challenges a teacher’s capabilities to concentrate in one particular area for more than six months without break.

For a symbiotic relationship between research-teaching-learning to be set in motion harmoniously a teacher needs to teach his/her niche area of a discipline for over a semester.

Any diversion or break from teaching a particular paper in a subject to another one would definitely hamper the research process. Therefore teachers should teach the same paper over four semesters which would approximately replicate the minimum time taken for basic research on a PhD thesis. The first and the foremost requirement of research, is to have a deep interest in the subject.

This is possible only through continuous reading and teaching the same paper for a prolonged period of time. According to Adam Smith, repetition of any task results in specialisation. In the same manner, if a teacher handles a particular paper of a subject for a longer period of time, they are bound to evolve a better understanding of that specific area of study.

Thus, in order to create a research environment an intensive approach towards a particular paper in a discipline becomes necessary. Moreover, continuous engagement with a specific body of knowledge enables a teacher-researcher to identify gaps in scholarship and pursue the same as research themes.

It enables teachers to help student pursue their own research, as they can be strong knowledge providers in their respective spheres. A well read teacher can only create a well read students and scholars.

(The author is an assistant professor of economics at Christ University, Bengaluru)

(Published 19 August 2015, 14:40 IST)

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