Flawed policy and higher education

The proposed measure of the state education dept for evaluation of faculty is a half-baked idea.

Amused, confused, bewildered…well these were the sentiments one felt as a member of the teaching fraternity when one heard of the proposal of the Karnataka Higher Education Department to video shoot lecture sessions of teaching faculty, with the objective of assessing the effectiveness of the teacher by a committee, followed by feedback to be given to improve one’s teaching skills.

Well there can’t be a better example for misplaced priorities in the most critical sector in the country. Policy making in higher education is a classic case of failure of policy making in India. The focus on setting up colleges in every nook and corner with traditional degree programmes and outdated curriculum is out of sync with the changing market conditions. We are merely producing paper degree holders who are incapable of being absorbed into the job market.

Part of the blame lies with the teaching family who have failed to keep abreast with the changes in their subject areas. Curriculum design and development is an art that fails many of us. The much hyped skill-based education is a non-starter as skill component is not very well defined and even attempt to introduce vocational degree programmes in colleges have not elicited positive response from parents and students.

For a country which is on the brink of reaping demographic dividend, the education policy must have focused on practical skill education following the German and Japanese model. The attempt made under Skill India is commendable, but it needs a bigger push and greater participation of India Inc.

The foundation of a good education system is the teaching fraternity. The falling standards among members of this fraternity is not restricted to only government institutions where politics and caste equations have ruined centres of higher learning. In Karnataka, the steady fall in salary grants has led to compromising on the teacher quality in many private institutions.

The noble profession fails to attract the best of talents as it does not offer career growth and financial security. The motivation to upgrade skill sets and challenge one beyond their comfort zone is lacking among the teachers as we live in a society where economics rules. So to expect teaching fraternity to feel they are engaged in a noble profession and discharge their social obligations without worrying about the rising cost of living is utopian.

Government funds are largely directed at putting up college buildings and in many cases, putting up poor inadequate infrastructure. Labs with high-end equipment thanks to grants, are to be seen in many public and private colleges, but they are dusted and doomed as there is no focus on its regular usage and maintenance. The undue pressure on undergraduate faculty to engage in research is meaningless and has resulted in crores of rupees going down the drain in the name of funded research projects.

At the undergraduate level, the focus must be on enhancing the competency of the teaching faculty by updating the latest in the subject area and developing an effective delivery mechanism. This is not to undermine the importance of research, but this requires identification of faculty more tuned to research, and relieving them of teaching hours to a limited extent, so that the research is meaningful and result-oriented.

The higher education sector suffers from excessive regulations and bureaucratic interferences. The education policy can’t and must not be the monopoly of bureaucracy as they fail to understand the system. Even institutions which are granted autonomy are subject to mundane regulations and this limits their ability to innovate and be creative with respect to curriculum and evaluation.

Private universities

The last few years have seen the emergence of some niche private universities modelled on US university systems which have been successful in breaking the traditional mode of curriculum designing and evaluation but they are catering to the elite section of the society.

To conclude, novel methods of evaluating faculty performance and developing e-content is necessary but the proposed measure is a half-baked idea. Are the colleges throughout the state equipped, financially and technically to deliver on this?

Many of the teaching fraternity may also freeze in front of the cameras as many subject specialists, but not actors. Also, given the large number of teaching faculty, have the decision makers accounted for the time and monetary cost involved in screening the videos?

Frankly, as a teacher, my best evaluators are my students and not an external committee. A better alternative would be to encourage students to tap massive open online courses and access the easily available online e-content. Institutions which have the funds and competent faculty must be encouraged to develop e-content and the same must be shared.

Success of the Khan Academy across nations is a story we need to emulate and learn that developing effective learning content is an art that cannot be thrust upon the colleges and teachers.

Those who are competent will take the lead and share ensuring the benefit of it reaches the student community.

(The writer is with Dept of Economics, Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru. Views are personal)

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