Only quantity, no quality

The recent Indian Science Congress has been instrumental in once again bringing to fore the lack of scientific temper and the deplorable state of education in general in our country.

That our country’s education system at all levels – primary, secondary, graduate and post-graduate – is missing in quality is known to all of us. We have heard and read a number of times that our average class V student cannot read a class II textbook; that none of our university-level institutions make the cut into the top 100 of the world; and many more of such facts. Industry has always lamented that our men and women coming out of schools/colleges need a heavy re-orientation before they are productive as employees.

A number of reasons were put forth for the sad state of the education. Lack of adequate funds for primary education by the governments; lack of teachers, particularly in the rural areas; lack of infrastructure – school premises, buildings, classrooms, toilets, particularly for the girl students, roads and approachability of schools for the rural students; lack of motivated faculty in colleges; paucity of funds for research and development in higher level university education; political interference in school and university administration and so on.

It is true that the governments at the Centre and states have, over the decades, done very little in promoting the quality of education in our country. What they generally do is to increase the quantity where it is easy to do so.

For instance, they increase the number of IITs and IIMs by sanctioning huge government-owned plots of land. They sanction the increase in the number of private technical colleges where every college management aspires to convert itself into a private university in the shortest possible time.

Increasing the number of rural schools and teachers is a comparatively difficult job and, hence, only lip service is rendered towards it. It is said that many schools in some of our Indian states have teachers who rotate between not just classes but also between schools. So, a student sees the face of the teacher once in a fortnight perhaps.

Increasing the number of technical and management colleges is a lot easier than finding the right faculty for them. Therefore, some private management and technical colleges are forced to schedule many classes whenever a visiting faculty is available. Therefore, the quality of education imparted suffers at all levels – school and college.

However, the predicament of the lack of quality in education is deeper than the explanations mentioned above. The hitch is at the societal level. The problem is that most Indians have little desire for education as such. For a vast majority of us, the education is only as good as the job it fetches. Education is treated as a mere commercial venture. Its real objective, as one that makes us better human beings, is lost on us. Therefore, a teacher or a professor is perceived akin to a commercial trainer.

Since we do not value our teachers, we fail to attract good individuals in the teaching profession. The very fact that we do not value education results in our educational system paying low wages to those engaged in that profession. That may be a part of the reason for repelling well-qualified teachers at all levels.

Inadequate salary is a minor reason for any good teacher to undertake the teaching profession. What s/he earnestly desires is recognition for knowledge and respect for her/his spirit of enquiry.

Freedom to be constantly in search for new frontiers in knowledge is a great turn-on for any teacher worth his salt. Unless the system respects these values of ‘search’ and ‘discover’, no teacher will be truly respected.

Encourage free enquiry
How will a good scientific work come out if the society and, therefore, the governance system does not encourage – it  discourages, in fact – free enquiry? A society where the teacher – school or college – is seen as a low paid person dispensing the stock of information would get teachers of the same caliber. They would be good enough to just impart rote learning i.e. giving out the same information year after year. India as a society cannot make much progress unless there is primacy for thinking, imagination, innovation, search and research.

Unfortunately, today our citizens value mainly two things: cash and clout. We want rapid ‘growth’ in our economy. Not a bad objective to aim for. But, we want it quickly. We are full of greed – now we name it as aspiration.

Indians value power or clout. We have inherited it from the Babu culture of the bygone British rule and we are assiduously sticking to it. British wanted to have a large pool of clerks and super-clerks who were given some powers. We look in awe of those in power. Power and politics interests us like no other people in the world.

For example, if an opinion on an academic matter is to be discussed or consulted, we tend to invite the Vice Chancellor, Dean or Director of the institution who may have very little idea of the matter. We rarely invite the teacher/professor doing the relevant job.
We equate administrative position with knowledge. We may even invite a government bureaucrat or a CEO or a senior VP of a company. Knowledge has little importance. Mentally, we are still in an archaic, autocratic society.

If teachers and education are not valued, how will the standard of education ever improve?If it doesn’t, how far can the so-called economic growth take us?
(The writer is former professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore)

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